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The bird nerd loves the words

Bell rings in the gongs. 

by Isabella Mellios 

The powerhouse behind Spun Johanna Bell has been on a creative winning streak recently.

The Darwin-based creative has revamped the beloved community storytelling event Spun for the sold-out Darwin Festival show, and has recently bagged a few gongs at the NT Literary Awards.

Spun will be broadcasting their Darwin Festival live event, for the first time ever, from The Lighthouse to Darwin Airport’s new venue, The Green Room. 

Bell says this will spread the power of telling Territorians stories to a wider audience. 

The idea for Spun was sparked back in 2014, when Bell was living in Katherine, where her passion for untold stories grew. 

She was working for Katherine Regional Arts, encountering people from all different parts of the community who had incredible untold stories.

“I thought ‘imagine if you could get everyone in the same room to hear each other’s stories’,” Bell says. 

The award-winning author grew up between Sydney and the Solomon Islands and began a career in social research, before giving in to her creative soul. 

Spun was born and founded soon after that in 2014, as a part of her umbrella company, StoryProjects.

Spun is a live storytelling event that brings together a community of people from all backgrounds, helping individuals of the Northern Territory tell their powerful stories.

“It is the belief that stories make us who we are, the more we focus on storytelling the more we have to belonging to a place,” Bell says.

Adding to the success of Spun, Bell won two awards at the Northern Territory Literary Awards last month.

She won the Flash Fiction Award for her piece Virginia Woolf would be proud and the NT Writers’ Centre Poetry Award for her piece, What to do with the foam in my mouth

Before the win Bell had a long and tough run of generic rejections, with her work not going anywhere. 

But, she was extremely thrilled and was surprised to win the poetry award, as she had just started a couple of years ago, more so out of need to make sense of the world. 

Bell says that both the poem and short fiction entries orbit around a woman needing to make a decision in her life. 

“Most of my work deals with ideas about desire and what to do with desire and landscapes,” she says.

But the awards didn’t stop there, a week after the Lit Awards Bell won the Territory Read Award for Best Children's Book for Go Home, Cheeky Animals.

The book is a the product of continued collaboration with Dion Beasley, an Indigenous artist with muscular dystrophy and profound deafness based in Tennant Creek. 

Beasley’s main way of communicating is through his artwork. 

The moment Bell saw Beasley’s work, ‘Cheeky Dog’, in a gallery, she knew it would make great characters in a children’s book. 

Eight years on the pair are still collaborating and are currently working on a memoir about Beasley’s life. 

“The book is the voice of someone who doesn’t have a conventional voice, so it’s important for it to be represented true to Dion,” Bell says. 

Bell enjoys working closely with Beasley and his carer, Joie, as they both have a wicked sense of humour, and says there is a lot of mucking around.

“They lift me out of my serious undertone, they bring a lot of lightness, humour and play,” she says.

Bell is currently working on a novel set in Darwin, as well as a project called Inside Out, which is a two-year audio storytelling project of women in prison sharing their stories.  

“It’s important to create opportunities for storytelling, particularly when it’s outside the box,” she says.

When Bell isn’t writing or creating opportunities for storytelling she is out bird watching. 

“I am a bit of a bird nerd,” she says. 

INFO johannabell.com

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