mindshare 2021 Award Winner: Jo Withers

Jo Withers writes short fiction and poetry for children and adults. Since she began writing in 2016, her work has featured in various magazines and anthologies including ACU Prize for Poetry 2018, Bath Flash Fiction Volume Four and Best Microfictions 2020. Jo placed first in The Caterpillar Story for Children Prize in 2017, Furious Fiction in September 2021 and mindshare Awards 2021.

Jo is the winner of the 2021 mindshare Published Established Writers with ‘In Twelve Years In and Out of Hospital, Mum Sat in the Waiting Room Playing Word Games to Occupy Her Mind’.

What does this win for your writing mean to you?

I was thrilled and honoured to win the mindshare Award in the established writer category. Mental health has featured heavily in our family over the last five years and charities such as mindshare provide crucial support. The most important aspect is the community spirit amongst this group of writers and artists. There is no judgement or stigma, just the realisation that people from all walks of life live with the ever-changing highs and lows of mental health. I’m so grateful to have my work recognised by this awe-inspiring community.

What inspired your winning work?

I knew I wanted to write something structurally different, something in stages which reflected the changing aspect of everyday mental health. The idea of the word ladder puzzle seemed to fit perfectly and after that the title and scenario quickly followed – the supportive mother doing word games in the hospital waiting room as her daughter receives care. It was also very important to me that the daughter was seen as a strong, caring figure with a multitude of positive personality traits outside her addictions. The movement from NURSE – SOBER in the piece reflects this as does the final sections where the roles have reversed, and the daughter is now responsible for her mother’s care.

What drives you to write?

It has become an addiction! Since I started writing in 2016, I have written poetry and short fiction for children and adults which has been published all over the world. It’s mind-blowing to think that there are people in America and Europe that have read my words. One of my micro-fiction pieces was even translated into Arabic! As a naturally shy and anxious person I’ve found that I can connect with people and express my feelings through my writing.

How do you incorporate writing into the rest of your life?

It’s certainly not easy and time factors are what stops me attempting longer pieces at the moment. When I have an idea, I write fragments on the go, notes on my phone, post-its in my lunch box, jottings on receipts. My writing process is weeks of these jottings and then one big sit-down session to bring it all together and hopefully thrash out something that works.

Which other writers have inspired or influenced your work?

I thought the other short-listed works in the mindshare Awards were amazing especially ‘Kintsugi’ by Martina Kontos.

Elsewhere, I have a real fondness for classic literature. Favourites include the plodding tragedy of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost, the grotesque details of ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream’ by Wallace Stevens and all short fiction by Edgar Allen Poe. I love literature with high fantasy elements and enjoy a good thematic twist such as the fragile beauty of monsters.

Have you faced any barriers establishing yourself as a writer, and if yes, how have you overcome them?

You have to develop a very thick skin, very quickly. If you decide to submit your work for publication at some point you will experience rejection and disappointment (sometimes it’s the pieces we love most as authors which receive the most ‘Nos’ from editors). The writing world is hugely competitive, and it can be hard not to negatively compare your own work to successful authors or feel despondent during a run of rejections.

What are you hoping to achieve with your writing?

I feel that I’m entering a phase now, after five years, where I’m beginning to settle into my own ‘voice’. People in the writing world allude to this a lot and for a long time, I wasn’t sure what it meant. At last, I feel that there’s something individual about my writing, both in topic and structure. I know that my writing style will fall in and out of favour, but I would like to continue to develop this voice, to build towards a larger body of work (such as a short fiction collection) and enjoy writing for as long as I can.

What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out?

Be yourself and don’t try to fit into a particular style to suit what you think editors will like. Experiment and have fun with imagery and structure. Reach out to other writers by joining writing groups or become part of an online community like Twitter. Above all, relax and enjoy the journey and remember, writing is subjective – not everyone will love your work but with a little practice you will find your reading audience.

mindshare 2021 Award Winner: Alex Schelleman

Alex Schelleman currently works as a radiographer at a major trauma hospital and has a reputation throughout the department for being heard before she is seen. After a 7-year hiatus, Alex began writing again at the start of 2021 and loves to find the humour in even the most challenging life experiences.

Alex is the winner of the 2021 mindshare Unpublished Emerging Writers with ‘the day I was prescribed antidepressants’.

What does this win for your writing mean to you?

I wish I could adequately describe the little warm, honey-coloured feeling that this win gave me. My personal goal was simply to finish a piece that was good enough to enter, and I was proud of myself for getting that far! The event that I wrote about was deeply emotional, and I didn’t realise how much I needed to articulate those feelings until I opened a blank document on my computer and the words came spilling out. To have such a vulnerable piece of work be rewarded is very cathartic.

What inspired your winning work?

My work was inspired by my own journey through depression. I’ve struggled with a variety of mental health conditions, but seeking out medication for my depression was one of the hardest and most rewarding actions I have taken. When I reflect on when I felt my ‘lowest’, that whole weekend bleeds in to one big dark blob, and I felt an urge to unpack the events leading up to my being prescribed antidepressants.

What drives you to write?

In all honesty, my psychologist really encouraged me to write more. I used to write frequently in my early 20s, but I got out of the habit while I was studying radiography. I’ve worked in public health for seven years, and I’ve collected plenty of weird and wild stories along the way. I expressed to my psychologist that I had a desire to write again and she was incredibly encouraging.

How do you incorporate writing into the rest of your life?

Most of my writing is quite scientific and work-related, but I am trying to take more time to write outside of work. My research partner once kindly told me that my writing was very descriptive, but not necessarily the right tone for a journal article! I do education work with students and other health professionals, so a lot of my writing is taking complex concepts and distilling them down to be more palatable.

Which other writers have inspired or influenced your work?

 There are so many writers who have inspired me to write. As a medical professional, all of Adam Kay’s books speak deeply to my sleep deprived, cynical soul. I’m endlessly in awe of Annabel Crabb’s ability to craft beautiful, poignant writing on so many subjects. I have also been obsessed with Aubrey Gordon’s work on fatness and fat activism, and she is such a talented writer and orator.

Have you faced any barriers establishing yourself as a writer, and if yes, how have you overcome them?

I am definitely in the very early stages of establishing myself as a writer! At the moment, my biggest struggle is internal. I don’t believe I am good enough, and then I do not write. When I have these thoughts, I simply set an alarm for 30 minutes and write anything. Usually, once I begin, all of those internal voices quickly become quiet and I begin to love writing again. I also find being a shift worker very challenging, because I spend much of my ‘spare’ time exhausted. Sometimes I just have to give myself grace and realise that I don’t have to write today, I can write tomorrow or on the weekend.

What are you hoping to achieve with your writing?

I am not sure yet, I am definitely still finding my voice and my rhythm and my passions and my tender spots. I would love to do more freelance work around body image and mental health. I also would love to write a TV show based on my work at a public hospital, I have stories that you couldn’t make up if you tried!

What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out?

 Set a timer, and set a goal. It could be 5 minutes, every second day or it could be an hour once a week. And just write anything at all, because anything you create is good and worthy and valid.

mindshare 2021 Award Winner: Bethany Cody

Bethany Cody is a writer of short stories and poetry living with vision loss on Kaurna land in Adelaide, South Australia. She currently works in the not-for-profit sector for young people with disabilities and explores her experiences with mental health and sight loss through the written word, photography and art.

She is the winner of the 2021 mindshare Published Established Poets with ‘Lines’ (trigger warning: description of self-harm).

What does this win for your writing mean to you?

This win at the 2021 Mindshare Awards for my writing means so much. It is the recognition of not just my creative writing ability but also a deeply personal struggle with self-harm and mental distress. It recognizes the importance of mental health and the role that creative writing plays in expressing, sharing, understanding and living with trauma.

What inspired your winning work?

My winning work is inspired by a time in my life when I was about thirteen to sixteen where I struggled deeply with reactive depression and self-harm. It was a very dark and desperate time where feelings of shame, embarrassment and self-hatred manifested in very painful and ugly ways. I was unable to cope with feelings of rejection, figuring out who I was and my identity and really struggling to deal with change. I didn’t know how to ask for help or to admit to anyone, not even close friends or family, that I was struggling. 

What drives you to write?

I have been writing since I was very young. My first and most clear memories are of being about four or five and sitting at the kitchen table with my mum, writing short, illustrated stories of mermaids – at the time I was obsessed with Disney’s The Little Mermaid – and it became one of my favourite things to do, write stories. I am an only child and I often wonder if this contributed to my strength of imagination, having spent so much time by myself, daydreaming, playing and conjuring up fictional worlds. I’m also rather introverted and shy around new people, always have been, so I often find that I’m able to confidently express myself through writing much better than speaking in-person. 

How do you incorporate writing into the rest of your life?

I am a big fan of writing to-do lists! If I’m not at my laptop tapping away at a short story or poem, I’m scribbling in my faux leatherbound notebook – fragments from dreams, nightmares, scraps of memory or moments from my past, my goals and hopes for the future, the ever-pressing list of chores to do around the house and shopping lists. In the last three years I’ve also begun to explore my experience with vision loss through writing and I’ve found great importance in spreading awareness of inherited retinal diseases, mental health and for advocating for these issues in online spaces, breaking down harmful stereotypes and stigmas.

Which other writers have inspired or influenced your work?

Growing up, I was always drawn to darker narratives, perhaps from a sort of morbid curiosity. I enjoyed reading all of the Goosebumps books and notably Stephen King. I have a few favourite, stand out novels such as The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Birdy by William Wharton and more recently The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward and The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. Unfortunately, my poetry repertoire is rather lacking and I’m struggling to think of some favourite poets, however I tend to gravitate towards free verse poetry, language that is less constrained to a particular rhythm or set of rules. A bit of light rhyming never goes astray though! 

Have you faced any barriers establishing yourself as a writer, and if yes, how have you overcome them?

I have been very lucky that from a relatively young age, a lot of the adults or authority figures in my life, especially my teachers, have been incredibly supportive of my writing and have really stressed to me that my work is worth putting out into the world. Having their support and belief has led me to keep my inner critic, the sometimes vicious voice of self-doubt, in perspective. 

What are you hoping to achieve with your writing?

In the future, I hope to achieve a few of my writing goals like finishing a novel – many of which I have started and have yet to complete – to reach bigger audiences and to connect with others who have similar and unfamiliar experiences to mine, to learn and read more, to find a sense of community, to educate and advocate and to nurture this space where I write as a constructive outlet for my own mental health. 

What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out?

If you are new to writing or just starting out, first of all, that is so awesome. Secondly, I’d say to read almost as much as you write. You are a sponge. Soak up other writer’s words. You might find that your writing voice changes or begins to emulate the author that you’re reading at the time, but don’t despair! This will help you to find your own voice and uncover what makes you unique as a writer – learning what you like and dislike in other people’s writing will help you to define and hone in on what works for you. First drafts are supposed to be rough and give you gravel rash. It’s very rare to get a sentence down perfectly the first time you go to write. The magic happens in revision and editing. Don’t be afraid to take risks with your writing, this is also how you discover what you like and dislike. Try not to take rejection too personally – I’m still learning this too – judges unfortunately have some bias or preferences going in to reading your work and sometimes it’s just not the perfect match. That doesn’t mean your writing is bad! If you’re feeling stuck or in a writing rut, search for a few themed writing competitions, there are a plethora you can find online (for free!). Themes and prompts might give you some inspiration and act as a springboard for you to push on with a new project. 

Art Gallery of South Australia launches an Accessible Guide

The Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) has launched an Accessible
Guide, developed for Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and vision-impaired audiences. The Accessible  Guide gives these audiences the opportunity to watch Auslan videos, read transcripts and listen to Audio Descriptions of works of art.

The Guide has commentaries on thirteen pieces of art on display in in the Elder Wing of Australian Art which showcases the work of some of Australia’s finest artists from 19th Century.

Designed for in-gallery use, the Accessible Audio Guide is also available in its entirety through AGSA’s website, as part of the gallery’s initiative to enable access to works of art from home, for all audiences. It has been developed for computer and handheld devices anywhere to ensure that anyone, including families and friends who may have different needs, can have an enjoyable social experience together.

Karina Morgan – Education Support Officer and Auslan interpreter at AGSA, tells us more about AGSA’s Accessible Guide. 


Could you tell us a bit about AGSA’s Accessible Guide?

The Accessible Guide provides another way for our diverse audiences to be able to engage with AGSA’s collection using their own smartphones, tablets or desktop computers straight from our website, without having to download any apps.

A selection of works of art from our Australian collection is presented in three tours – self-guided audio, audio description and Auslan videos. Transcripts accompany the audio, and closed captioning for the videos.
Currently audiences are able to engage with the Accessible Guide remotely – from the comfort of their own homes – and when the building re-opens in June, audiences onsite will also be able to use this guide in front of the physical works of art.

 

Why did the AGSA to create the Accessible Guide?

Over the past three years in particular, AGSA has been steadily increasing our Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and vision impaired audiences so that the artistic, historical and cultural experiences are friendly to all visitors.

We acknowledged that for these audiences rich information is often not accessible at cultural institutions, particularly in South Australia. In fact, feedback we received was that many people from these communities feel so unused to having their needs met that they have felt disengaged until regular programming was put in place.

The Accessible Guide also connects to our Reconciliation Action Plan which aims to promote understanding and respect through the power of art and provide more opportunities for the community to learn about the diversity of First Peoples art and cultures. AGSA is proud to be the first state gallery in the country to prepare a RAP – one which includes Auslan actions.  

 

What is the AGSA hoping to achieve by developing the Accessible Guide?

AGSA designed the Accessible Guide with all users in mind so that it is enriching and satisfying for all. We are not just building for accessibility; we wish to create a social experience so that a range of diverse families and friends can enjoy the Gallery together – not just at programmed times but at any time they are able to visit.

We hope this also encourages remote users to learn about our collections with the aim of visiting in person, perhaps attending one of our regular Access Programs.

For those who are unable to visit us in person, we hope this provides a pathway to connecting in a meaningful way with our wonderful collection.

 

What makes you the most excited about launching the Accessible Guide?

An important part of this project was the community consultations. We wanted to ensure that we put users at the forefront. We didn’t want to just build an experience for these communities, but with them as well, allowing findings from these sessions to guide us in our next step, taking on board any feedback.

The Auslan video presenters came from the South Australian Deaf community, including a young emerging artist, William Maggs who was awarded the main SALA award for his self-portraiture in AGSA’s student drawing exhibition in 2019.

I feel that together we have created an Accessible Guide that everyone can feel proud of and I am excited about increasing engagement with diverse communities, and to expand the Accessible Guide in the coming years ahead.

I would love to turn around the initial comments about some sections of our audiences feeling like their access requirements are not met and that we see more engaged people like emerging artist, William Maggs, connecting with us and our collections.

 

How do you feel the Access Guide will assist Deaf and disabled arts audiences to connect with art pieces at AGSA?

The Accessible Guide allows our audience to choose their preferred method of communication – whether this is in English or Auslan, and also provides blind and vision impaired users an option to receive more information through an audio description. We hope to be able to increase access by adding an easy read/listen guide option for audiences who may have intellectual or cognitive disabilities, or for those who identify as being neuro-diverse. Ultimately this would also be useful for English as a Second Language (ESL) users as well.

 

What other access services does AGSA provide to Deaf and disabled arts audiences?

I am a certified NAATI interpreter and I interpret the weekly Tuesday lunchtime talks, and provide Auslan interpreted collection/exhibition tours one weekend tour every month. This audience has been continuously growing with between 5- 20 Deaf audience members participating every month. Special additional Auslan interpreted talks are also held during large exhibitions. Auslan tours will also be imbedded into other Gallery programming areas such as the Start program (for Families and Children), and Neo (for teenagers). The 2019 Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art had for the first time two Deaf Aboriginal Guides leading the Auslan tours. 

Another staff member, Ryan Sims who also works in AGSA Education, has undertaken Audio Description training and has developed and maintained connections with the South Australian School for the Vision Impaired (SASVI), as well as implementing a program of regular Audio described and Tactile tours.

Other Access programs we have initiated, include our Art and Dementia program run by our dedicated Gallery Guides. AGSA has also offered training to the National Gallery of Australia in 2019.  We also currently have partnerships with selected residential care facilities and anticipate building upon this program to include more members of our community.


To visit AGSA’s Accessible Guide, please click here