Dame Fiona Kidman and her Ockham Book Award-winning novel This Mortal Boy

Tick tock boom: at last, we can announce the 2019 Ockham award winners

Fiona Kidman! The clock strikes nine and we can reveal all. Fiona Kidman Fiona Kidman Fiona Kidman!

Congratulations, Fiona Kidman, winner of the 2019 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, the richest prize in New Zealand literature, for This Mortal Boy, ahead of Vincent O’Sullivan, Lloyd Jones and Kate Duignan.

Fiona wins $53,000 and a lot of muttering about how it should’ve been Vincent.

Other news which we have been sitting on for ages and can now blurt out into the world: Helen Heath won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for Are Friends Electric? The Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction went to Joanne Drayton for Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love. Stand by for a Spinoff extract from Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing, by Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot, which won the Illustrated Non-Fiction category.

That lot each take home $10,000 and maybe a bit of muttering about how it should’ve been Tayi, or it should’ve been Chessie. Those two both won best first book prizes and $2500, though, along with Kirsten Warner (for fiction) and John Reid (for illustrated non-fiction).

Ockham Book Award winners, from left: Timoti Karetu, Joanne Drayton, John Reid, Chessie Henry, Tayi Tibble, Helen Heath

A discretionary $10,000 award for Māori language, Te Mūrau o te Tuhi, went to Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Dr Wharehuia Milroy, for He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao. Dr Milroy died early this month, aged 82, after a long illness. Sir Kāretu couldn’t make the awards tonight, but will be up for an Auckland Writers Festival event later in the week, which will be held almost entirely in te reo. We very much wanted to interview him but he declined; he is grieving his friend. 

“Staunch advocates of our spoken reo have relentlessly sought to sit down with these two most influential exponents of reo Māori, from the past and for today,” said the Awards’ te reo Māori judge, Dr Ruakere Hond. “Few have had the opportunity; this book now opens that door. Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy invite the reader into their conversations, their yarns and musings from decades of cultural experience. This book’s value is undeniable. Its language, accessible.  This is a doorway to their world.”

While we’re on spiels from judges, here’s what the Acorn judges – Sally Blundell (Listener journalist, arts and history fanatic), Rachael King (author and puller-together of the fabulous WORD Christchurch), James George (writer and tutor; Ngāpuhi) and New York writer Joseph O’Neill – had to say re Dame Fiona Kidman.

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“In This Mortal Boy, Fiona Kidman has written an intensely human and empathetic story, recreating the events leading to the real life hanging of ’jukebox killer‘ Paddy Black at Mount Eden prison in 1955.

“With seeming effortlessness, she pulls the reader into mid-century New Zealand – the restlessness of a new urban youth culture, the moral panic that led to the Mazengarb report, the damning assumptions of the legal profession and the unchallenged omissions that eased the pathway to a young man’s death.”

The Spinoff’s books editor is ludicrously pregnant, so while the country’s literary scene mills around and mutters and blitzes the champers, she’ll be eating liquorice and reading Ruby Porter’s Attraction (which is fantastic by the way and should absolutely be up for something this time next year). But we have multiple scouts at the scene, and will report in full tomorrow.

Congratulations all, and to all a good night.


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