Over 80 writers entered New Zealand’s premier literary award – but only 10 have made the shortlist.
We’ve sent out emails of regret to the unsuccessful applicants for the 2018 Surrey Hotel Steve Braunias Memorial Writers Residency Award in Association with The Spinoff but right here, right now is the first time that the 10 shortlisted writers will know they’ve made the cut.
The award, now in its third year, offers a first prize of a week-long residency at the amazing Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland, along with $500 hard cash and pizza allowances. There are two runners-up awards – five nights and four nights accommodation, no money, no pizza – for writers to sit down and work intensely on their project. Kelly Dennett won the 2016 prize, and went on to write The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong, published by Awa Press; the brilliant Charlotte Graham-McLay, one of the runners-up last year, is working towards finishing her psychological study of the classical ballet dancer.
The 2018 winner and two runners-up will be announced next Tuesday by Jesse Mulligan on his National Radio afternoon programme.
To the shortlist, of eight women and two men, including novelists, poets, and writers of non-fiction, some established authors, some complete nobodies, one or two hacks, also students, academics, booksellers, lawyers, dole bludgers, dopers, in alphabetical order:
- Nelson journalist Naomi Arnold: “My book Southern Nights is a history of New Zealand astronomy and stargazing, to be published by HarperCollins next year. I’ve just handed in the first draft to my editor and an astronomy expert, and am awaiting their feedback. I’m anticipating some heavy edits, which I’m feeling increasingly nervous about tackling. The prospect of being able to look forward to addressing these and probably rewriting the whole book within the plush confines of the Surrey would help soothe my nerves a little.”
- Rotorua writer Claire Baylis: “My novel is about a trial involving a group of teenagers set in Rotorua. The boys invent a ‘game’ which leads to them being charged with multiple sexual offences against three younger girls…. I have worked for about four years part-time for the Victoria University of Wellington, Monash University Jury Research Project, where I interviewed jurors in cases in Rotorua and also did the preliminary analysis of over 300 New Zealand juror interviews. This insight into actual juror perspectives is very rare as jurors in New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries are not usually allowed to speak about their experience…I have a draft of approximately 46,000 words which is about half the novel.”
- John Dix, author of the classic history of New Zealand music, Stranded in Paradise: “A warts-and-all book about four key pioneers in NZ music, and the talented people they attracted – drummer Bruno Lawrence, guitarist Doug Jerebine, singer/band leader Max Merritt and American jazz saxophonist Bob Gillett. Most major interviews have been conducted, the book has been time-lined and a first draft completed.”
- Megan Dunn, author of one of the most critically acclaimed books of 2017, Tinderbox: “My book I’ve Heard the Mermaids Skyping is a piece of narrative non-fiction that captures the rise of professional mermaids. I’ve been researching this book since early 2017, conducting Skype interviews with mermaids and mermen worldwide, from the most famous professional mermaid in the world Hannah Fraser to award-winning special effects artist Robert Short, who made Daryl Hannah’s tail for the 1984 film Splash. In October 2017 I spoke at the interdisciplinary conference Mermaids, Maritime Folklore and Modernity in Copenhagen. In mid-June 2018, I’m travelling to America to attend the infamous Coney Island Mermaid Parade, the largest mermaid themed parade in the world….I’ve Heard the Mermaids Skyping combines my personal quest to understand why so many little girls want to be mermaids with the stories of a generation of adult women (and men) who have grown up to become mermaids.”
- Sharon Lam began her manuscript last year during her MA at the IIML at Victoria University: “Lonely Asian Woman is about Paula, a lazy young woman stuck in a rut. While streaming an episode of Survivor, she sees an ad for ‘lonely Asian women looking for fun’. She realises, somewhat profoundly, that she too, is a lonely Asian woman looking for fun. Taking on this new outlook, Paula is driven to shoplift a cheesecake-holding supermarket trolley. What she finds in the trolley, however, is much more than just cheesecake…”
- Westport journalist Becky Manawatu: “I want to work on the first draft of my second novel, Mess. It is about an autistic woman living on the West Coast who is trying to find out why a man she’d only just met killed himself. About one third of the novel is written.”
- Gisborne criminal lawyer Jonathan Natusch: “I’m engaged in writing a collection of short stories, generally of a somewhat macabre nature, being a mixture of horror, science fiction, and magical realism. They are inspired by Dr Jarrod Gilbert’s history of gangs in NZ as well as Maori myths and legends, and the scenery of the East Coast.”
- Wellington poet Freya Daly Sadgrove: “I wanna work on a bunch of poems to go in my manuscript for a debut poetry collection. My working title is HEAD GIRL ;). At the moment the manuscript is primarily made up of mean-spirited poems about my ex-boyfriend, but really about my crippling mental illness. They are pretty good though, legit. Pretty funny and stuff but also dark and like, cool.”
- Thames author Tracey Slaughter: “Hotels, in all their shady glory, feature strongly in the collection of short stories I’m in the process of completing. My stories often track people to the low-lit limbo of hotel rooms, places on the threshold where their crises or desires are played out or drained out. Here’s a quick sample: ‘This morning I squatted in the hotel showerbox and shaved my snatch for my husband, the way I would have done for you.’”
- Auckland poet Carin Smeaton: “I’m developing a fascinating and original writing project that straddles both Maori and European geographical and historical space, based on the history, heritage, and modern identity of Auckland places that include the Waitematā.”
Congratulations to the 10 shortlisted writers who have made it through a tough field. “Congratulations,” said Steve Braunias, literary editor of the Spinoff Review of Books. “It was a tough field.
“The quality was way higher than previous years and it was an honour to receive entries from numerous published authors – not all of whom made the final cut. Reputation counts for nowt. The Surrey Hotel award recognises genius or promise of any stripe.
“But it was a horrible and depressing duty to narrow the field down to 10. There were so many brilliant entries, and strange, thrilling, original ideas. Like this one: ‘I’m writing a romance novel set in modern day North Korea.’ And this one: ‘Four unlikely friends start an underground fight club in their all-girls high school.’ Also this one: ‘I’m working on a book about what happens to Pākehā people when they die.’
“One writer is working on ‘a post-apocalyptic murder mystery in a post-peak-oil world’. Another has in mind ‘a crime novel about two female forensic experts. They are brought together by a case that involves a dead carrier pigeon and the handwritten note it was conveying.’
“I wasn’t too sure about this one: ‘My novel contains (spoiler alert!) women going up and down the Dixon St steps in Wellington… I may be making it sound more exciting than it currently is.’ But I loved this one: ‘Inuk and Kuu are cosmonauts, living in a permanent moon colony. Suddenly the moon base is disabled by a mysterious blast.’
“There was a proposal from the author who currently has the number one best-selling novel in New Zealand. A veteran music critic is preparing a book on the works of the great Phil Judd. A well-known journalist had a cracking idea – a book about an Israeli spy turned Auckland socialite – but withdrew their application in mysterious circumstances.
“Thanks to everybody who entered. It was a pleasure to go through each entry, and a torment to sit down with a panel of judges and select the shortlist. If only the Surrey could accommodate everyone! Imagine that – the hotel as a writer’s commune, the rooms full of tapping, dreaming, composing, struggling, working.
“And so to next Tuesday, when the winner and two runners-up will be announced live on National Radio, at 1:35pm. As with previous years of the award, I’ll slip Jesse Mulligan the names on a slip of paper, and he’ll read them out. He has such a beautiful voice – the winner’s names will never sound so sweet.”
The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books.