Working with Words: Andreas Heger
Andreas Heger is a Sydney-based lawyer and the author of a new novel, Cooktown. He spoke with us about writing on paternity leave and his dream dinner-date with Anne Enright and Alice Munro.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
The first book that I remember making me laugh out loud – reading alone as a young boy – was Pagan’s Crusade by Catherine Jinks.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?
I did. I was fascinated with knights and dragons as a boy – so mostly fantasy stories – and then short stories as a teenager. Against all advice I wrote an impromptu short story in my Queensland Core Skills Test free-writing exam. It was about a boxer who lay dying after his final fight. I wish I still had it.
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
I currently work in criminal law policy at the NSW Department of Justice and have previously worked in public policy at the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet. The people I’ve met and issues I’ve worked on all feed into my writing. My volunteer work as a student at the Aboriginal Legal Service and the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre (now the Australian Centre for Disability Law) also exposed me to people and issues that have informed my writing.
I’m going to say it. Ulysses is overrated …
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Gardening and walking the dog. My long-suffering chocolate labrador, Harris, bears the brunt of my writing absences, as I write in the periods when I’m not working and my kids are asleep.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
I heard an interview with Clive James once where he said (I’m paraphrasing): when you find writing that blows you away, enjoy it, then try to figure out how they did it. There is no substitute for creativity, but understanding technique is important.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?
Not since I was a child. Not enough time in the day.
Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?
I’m going to say it. Ulysses is overrated, unless you’re a literature nerd, in which case it’s brilliant.
Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?
Sorry – I’m not that interesting. I wrote Cooktown on my year of paternity leave in the 30-minute windows while my infant son was napping (when I wasn’t washing or cleaning bottles). There wasn’t time for quirks. I do wake up with lines or plot ideas at all hours, but I assume everyone does that. I especially find the things that happen as you fall into or come out of sleep are worth capturing.
Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?
Dead: Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I would learn Russian and Spanish for the occasion. I could translate.
Living: I’d love to have dinner with Alice Munro and Anne Enright. I suspect they’d get on like a house on fire and I’d just listen and learn.