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mindshare 2021 Award Winner: Bethany Cody

2021 mindshare 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.