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Working with Words: Amy Hetherington

Read Monday, 20 Aug 2018

Big Issue editor Amy Hetherington talks dog-washing, procrastinating and keeping stories in suitcases.

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Photograph of Big Issue editor Amy Hetherington

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

My mother was a wonderful bedtime storyteller. She would make us laugh with her funny voices and take us away to magical worlds with tales she told from the top of her head. She also read to my brother and I most nights. Just before my eighth birthday, we read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild about sled dogs in Alaska; some nights the three of us would all be sobbing.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I was always writing as a child. I still have a self-published library of stories packed away in a suitcase. There are fictional stories about flying grannies, adventurous fairies, kid detectives and mischievous teddy bears, mixed in with reports of real-life adventures and catastrophes.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

In my younger years, I was a dog washer, guinea-pig breeder and check-out chick. In my school holidays, I judged competition entries at Southdown Press, giving away holidays, cars and a bread-maker. They were the best phone calls I’ve ever had to make. I’ve spoken with some really interesting people in unique circumstances, and it taught me that everyone has a story to tell.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I fancy myself as a spy. I like the idea of piecing together different clues to uncover the bigger narrative. That, and saving the world James Bond-style.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best: Just do it. I am a terrible procrastinator and I need a deadline.

The worst: give up on journalism, journalism is dead. Now that’s fake news.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now? 

I’m always emailing myself notes and ideas in the middle of the night. Most of my midnight ramblings are nonsense, but some mornings I wake up a genius.

Argh! My cheeks are hot just thinking about this. My teenage diaries are full of long-form self-loathing, bad poetry and outrageous drama. They are a wonderful glimpse into my past self, and I go back to them every now and then to connect with that person, and tell her she’s okay. But it’s also a reason I don’t keep a journal these days, perhaps regrettably.

Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

My aunty Jean gifted me with The Hobbit one Christmas, as a pre-teen. I tried, several times over the years, but his world was too wordy for me. Underrated? Well, I may be biased, but I truly believe The Big Issue’s fiction edition should be in every house, library and waiting room around the country. It’s a great read with diversity of stories and voices – plus it’s providing an income and purpose to the people who sell it.

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

I’m always emailing myself notes and ideas in the middle of the night. Most of my midnight ramblings are nonsense, but some mornings I wake up a genius.

Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

Well … I started out in gossip mags a month after Princess Diana died. There are a few nuggets that would’ve gone better untold.

Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with? 

JK Rowling … so I can ask her to be in next year’s Big Issue fiction edition!

The Big Issue fiction edition is on sale now, featuring stories by Tony Birch,  Maxine Beneba Clarke, Elizabeth Flux, Garth Nix, Marija Peričić and more. The edition costs $7, with $3.50 of each magazine sold going directly into the hands of the vendor.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.