A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “No, the book awards are next door.”
Mein gott! The book awards are on tonight, in a matter of hours, any minute! There will be so many intellectuals as well as publishers. And the thing that will be occupying the thoughts and anxieties of just about everyone attending is going to be Oh God how do I look?
It raises many other questions. Do writers know how to dress? Do they know how to dress themselves? Should they be seen in public?
We asked three authors, all past winners at the book awards, what they wore when they hoofed along to the biggest literary event in New Zealand.
Paula Morris won the best novel award in 2012 for her book Rangatira.
“I bought a black dress from Moochi in Newmarket that was to be My Good Dress for several years. (It still is, really.) I had my hair done and my only regret is that I wasn’t wearing higher heels.
“In the past few years I’ve been to the Man Booker Awards dinner twice (at the Guildhall in London) and also, last year, to the dinner for the EFG Sunday Times Short Story Award, another black-tie do in a medieval building in London with lots of big-name writers in attendance. I wore the Moochi dress to the first Man Booker dinner, and a black Zara top with short velvet skirt to the second. I was sullen at both because I’d had foot surgery (left foot then, a year later, right foot) which meant I had to wear FLAT SHOES. This almost ruined both events for me.
“Last year, when I went over to London for the story awards I bought a new teal-coloured dress at Ricochet on High Street, and wore fantastic silver-scaled high heels (bought two years earlier in the UK). This meant I was a virtual cripple by the end of the evening, but it was worth it.”
Emily Perkins won the best novel award in 2009 for her book Novel About my Wife.
“My publisher had recently sent over a black 50s cocktail dress she’d found at a vintage store and had repaired for me, so I didn’t have to think twice about what to wear to the book awards. I mean, that is what you want in a publisher. She’s amazing. She was on the other side of the world but wearing it felt like a good luck charm, although the judges have made their decisions well in advance of the nominees getting changed for the evening. You could wear a T-shirt that said Man Alone Is Overrated and if you’d already won there would be nothing anyone could do about it.
“If you lost you’d look pretty sour grapes though, and the main goal of getting through an awards ceremony is to appear as if you really don’t mind if you lose.
“To that end, focusing on clothes is a great distraction. I thought the Time Out bookstore women really brought it in terms of style to the last book awards I went to (I was a loser that time – but in a velvet dress).
“There are some very good dressers in the book world – I’m going to single out the Victoria University Press team, although Aucklanders will accuse me of regional bias – and some who clearly have higher things on their minds. Steve Braunias always looks sharp.”
Cheers! One tries. And yet many others plainly don’t.
Paula Morris: “Some writers (male and female) seem to think that if they don’t wear a fleece jacket onto stage to collect their awards, then they are betraying Art….I think some NZers make a stupid point about being casual at all times, as though dressing up makes them appear royalist and non-egalitarian, fuming because their authentic selves are not visible at all times. In fact, I think they’re just conforming to a cliched image of the artist as scruffy, anti-establishment and oblivious to worldly conventions. It’s more of a costume than black tie or a black dress.”
She didn’t say that I looked sharp. She singled out someone else: “The most stylish at any of these Awards ceremonies is Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins, of course.”
Jarrod Gilbert, who may or much more likely may not wish to dispute that claim, won the people’s choice award in 2014 for his book Patched.
“I wore a tux that had been given to me by a mate who had bought it off a rental company on the occasion of his sixth form ball some 20 years previous. Fashion often suckles from the breast of the ridiculous and as Zeus as my witness I looked like a tit. Supporting this I had a woman shave my beard so that I looked like a paedophile.”
He will be at tonight’s awards in his capacity as a judge.
“Recently I separated from my motorcycle at great speed. The result is a pink and green cast. Watermelon is so hip right now. To show it off, I will wear shorts or no pants at all.”
It’s no idle threat. Dr Gilbert has form.
The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books.