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mindshare 2021 Award Winner: Billie Wallace-Yarrow

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24 February 2022

Billie Yarrow likes to keep chocolate nearby at all times, is a prolific drinker of various types of green tea and usually has at least one knitting project on hand. Billie wrote her first poems at the age of nine; they were mostly about baths and the smell of summer rain. Twenty-six years later, now a mother of three and a graduate with honours in creative writing and anthropology, Billie’s passion for writing and exploring the human experience remains as strong as ever.

Billie is the winner of the 2021 mindshare Unpublished Emerging Poets award with ‘Self Portrait in the Time of Disaster : After Deborah Paridez’.

What does this win for your writing mean to you?

I have been stuck on this question for so long. I honestly don’t know how to put it into words. It took so much courage just to submit my work. To be shortlisted was amazing, to be announced the winner was an unexpected joy. I know it’s cliche to say you didn’t expect to win but I truly didn’t. The calibre of the other shortlisted works was spectacular and it was an honour just to be counted among them. This win means opportunity, connection, validation, community, but most importantly joy. Hearing that my piece moved people the way some other peoples work moves me was such a wonderful feeling.

What inspired your winning work?

I wrote this piece last summer, sitting in the boot of our wagon, under the shade of a huge tree outside my son’s psychologist’s office. We’d started the appointment inside together and then I’d waited in the car until he was done. He wasn’t quite 12 yet so not required to wear a mask but I was. A poet I follow on Instagram, Hungry For Spirits, had January poetry prompts and that day the prompt was inspired by a poem titled Self-Portrait In The Time of Disaster by Deborah Paredez. Aside from both writing about our children my poem ended up quite different to Paredez’s original though the very apt and relatable title remains.

What drives you to write?

There’s something in my consciousness that is always writing. I’ve written thousands of poems and stories in my head but few of them make it to the page. Being a mum of three, by the time I get to some paper, laptop or phone I’ve usually forgotten what it was I wanted to say. There is a feeling I get though, when it all falls into place and the words come together in just the right way that makes me want to keep coming back for more. Even when I go long spells without having a chance to properly write, the memory of that feeling always brings me back.

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

Please tell me the answer to this because I do not have it yet. Now that I’ve finally finished my uni degree (only took 12 years) and no longer have assignments to do, I find it difficult to place writing within my current life. I have a chronic illness, I’m Autistic, have ADHD and OCD,  and I have three kids 12,10 and 7. I want to write so much more than I ever do (on paper that is, my brain is writing all the time!). When I can, poetry prompts like the one that inspired this poem are great because they don’t take up too much of my time but the perfectionist in me who freezes at the first possibility of “failure” and the ADHD struggle to be consistent, mean I almost never finish a full list of prompts. My OCD brain wants me to believe that this means I’m failing but I want you to know that this is ok and that writing when you can, if you can, as long as it’s making you happy, is enough.

Which other writers have inspired or influenced your work?

Too many to count! In this particular instance I was specifically inspired by Kate of Hungry for Spirits and Deborah Paredez but as far as poetry goes I was also very much enjoying the work of Amy Kay, Sabrina Benaim, Olivia Gatwood, Philip Kaye, Sarah Kay (yes lots of Kays and I’m fairly sure none of them are related!), and of course Adelaide locals Dom Symes and Louise Nicholas are two who always seem to move me with their work and inspire me to write more. This is by no means the full list of my poetry inspirations! I’d also have to give you a whole other one for prose!

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

I was diagnosed with ME/CFS in my early teens. It affects my physical body through fatigue and pain as well as causing cognitive difficulties like brainfog. That has always been a barrier to my writing by making it hard, not just to write, but also to become involved in the writing community, particularly through local face to face events. It wasn’t until after I finished my bachelor of arts in Creative writing and Anthropology and an honours degree in Creative Writing (something that takes most people 4 years but took me 13) that I was also diagnosed with OCD, ADHD and now Autism. I now realise those things have also been a huge barrier for me in not just the act of writing, but also in creating connections, putting myself out there, submitting work, and taking chances. It took a lot of work with my psychologist in understanding the way my brain works before I was able to take the huge step which was submitting my poem into the mindshare awards.

What are you hoping to achieve with your writing?

Writing makes me feel good and that’s the main reason I want to do it. If I can make other people feel good when they read it, that’s a bonus. If I can help other people understand things about me, or people like me through my work, that’s even better. Mostly though, as long as I can keep writing for me then I’ve done everything I have set out to achieve.

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

Read a lot, and learn from it, but try not to compare yourself to others. It’s ok if you suck, we all suck sometimes, some of the best writing started out sucking quite a lot. The best way to get better is to make mistakes and learn from them. Reach out to other writers in your community, especially ones whose work you admire and enjoy! Sharing constructive feedback among peers can be an amazing opportunity for your work to grow (for example, without feedback from my friend Dom, my poem would have had a different ending line which wasn’t anywhere near as impactful as the one it ended up with.). Be authentically you. And don’t be too hard on yourself if none of these things come easily or naturally. All of the advice I’ve just given is stuff I have to remind myself of every single day and I still don’t always manage to follow it. It’s ok. Nobodys perfect.