At last, the truth can be told. I hope I kept a sufficient poker face over the past few weeks when conversation turned to this year’s New Zealand Post Book Awards and people kept telling me how certain they were of at least one of the fiction finalists: The Conductor by Sarah Quigley.
No, no The Conductor. And no The Larnachs by Owen Marshall, either.
They are the two most notable absences on a shortlist this year’s award judges said was difficult to limit to just three books. They said the same about the poetry.
“Having all the categories restored to five finalists [as it used to be with the Montana New Zealand Book Awards] would more accurately represent the quality and breadth of New Zealand’s writing,” said judges convenor Chris Bourke, winner of last year’s general non-fiction, People’s Choice and Book of the Year awards for Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964.
Back to the drawing board, then, yet again for the award organisers.
“We are committed to ensuring writers are best served with these awards,” said governance group chair Sam Elworthy, “and the reduction in fiction and poetry finalists was made after extensive consultation with the literary community. Nonetheless, getting the right format for the country’s premier book awards is all-important. It is a challenge the governance group accepts.”
Accepts rather like Jim Phelps would accept his challenges. What was that show called again? Oh yeah, Mission: Impossible. That is certainly what getting the right format for these book awards seems to have become.
They are under review at the moment in more ways than just the length of the fiction and poetry shortlists and “exciting changes” can apparently be anticipated next year.
Meanwhile, in the two-part podcast below, Bourke talks us through this year’s finalists and the overall standard of entries amongst the 166 books submitted for the awards.
And here is what we wrote about the finalists – because we seem to have reviewed or had features on the lot of them (if you allow a little licence in a couple of cases). We must be doing something right.
Bourke isn’t about to get specific when it comes to what exactly would have been fourth and fifth in the fiction and poetry categories. Along with The Conductor (or if you prefer an author interview) and The Larnachs (again, if you prefer an author interview), one might also speculate about Emma Neale’s Fosterling and – or is this just me? – Tim Wilson’s The Desolation Angel when it comes to the fiction shortlist.
As it is, the judges opted for Fiona Kidman’s The Trouble with Fire, Sue Orr’s From Under the Overcoat (short-story collections the both of them) and Paula Morris’s Rangatira (with Morris talking about the novel here).
All three of these books are going to be the Listener Book Club‘s choices for July, giving you the chance to turn them inside out and decide if the judges are right.
2011 saw strong collections from veterans Peter Bland and Vincent O’Sullivan, as well as Jenny Bornholdt and Janis Freegard, but the finalists were The Leaf-Ride by Dinah Hawken, Shift by Rhian Gallagher and Thicket by Anna Jackson.
The Best First Book Award went to John Adams for Briefcase.
The general non-fiction finalists look a solid selection – although there will be those who might have championed Dark Night: Walking with McCahon by Martin Edmond, Other People’s Wars by Nicky Hager and even Daughters of Erebus by Paul Holmes. (Few, however, would argue at the judges’ exclusion of Paul Henry’s What Was I Thinking. That would certainly have been a Paul too far.)
It was the year of the big hitters, with Anne Salmond’s Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas (you might also want to read this and this), Joan Druett’s Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator, Peter Wells’s The Hungry Heart: Journeys with William Colenso, Fiona Farrell’s The Broken Book and Peter Graham’s So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder that Shocked the World.
A couple of art books leap to mind as contenders for the illustrated non-fiction shortlist: Peter Simpson’s Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann (we had a great Sally Blundell interview with Simpson but wouldn’t you know it our website has eaten it up) and Fiona Pardington: The Pressure of Sunlight Falling edited by Kriselle Baker and Elizabeth Rankin.
But the judges opted for Gregory O’Brien’s A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History by Diane Pivac et al, New Zealand’s Native Trees by John Dawson and Rob Lucas, Playing with Fire: Auckland Studio Potters Society Turns 50 by Peter Lange and Stuart Newby, and Whatu Kakahu: Maori Cloaks by Awhina Tamarapa (with apologies for that misspelling of “Whatu” I’ve just noticed in the review).
The Best First Book Award for Non-Fiction went to Michael Smythe’s New Zealand By Design: A History of New Zealand Product Design.
So, what do you reckon?
Good calls on the part of the judges, who also include writer, reviewer and Landfall editor David Eggleton, writer, publisher, book designer and typesetter Mary Egan, poet and reviewer Paula Green and Maori and Pacific literature specialist Reina Whaitiri?
Please comment below – about the judges’ selection rather than the appropriateness or not of Downton Abbey actors judging literary awards.
But first listen to what Chris Bourke has to say for himself.