Top New Zealand novelist Sarah Laing says winning Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards was 'pivotal'

Author Sarah Laing says winning the awards was pivotal for her career.

Author Sarah Laing says winning the awards was pivotal for her career.

The Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards is returning for its 32nd year. 

Entries for the prestigious writing competition open soon, with last year's judges returning. Novelist Stephanie Johnson, one of the co-founders of the Auckland Writers Festival, will judge the open section. Writer Paula Morris, convenor of the Academy of New Zealand Literature and a creative writing teacher, will judge the secondary schools section, and Star-Times editor Jonathan Milne will judge the non-fiction entries. 

The competition has helped launch the careers of many New Zealand writers including Eleanor Catton, Carl Nixon, Norman Bilbrough, Barbara Anderson, Linda Olsson, Sarah Quigley and Andre Ngapo.

The awards helped launch the careers of many authors, including Eleanor Catton.
ADAM DUDDING/FAIRFAX NZ

The awards helped launch the careers of many authors, including Eleanor Catton.

For Sarah Laing, winning the open division of the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards was "pivotal" in launching a flourishing writing career.

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Her story 'The Wrong Shoe' won the top award in 2006, and the encouragement she took from that win was so important that it features in her graphic memoir Mansfield and Me, which comes out in October.

"I had written an awful lot, but it was a major turning point for me," says the author of Dead People's Music and The Fall of Light. Laing had been published in literary journals but was still a virtual unknown, with a stack of rejected manuscripts at home.

"I threw [my entry] in the letterbox without much hope." 

To be shortlisted was exciting, but winning "was this endorsement — Owen Marshall awarded me first prize." 

As well as earning a cash prize and a session with longtime book editor Harriet Allan, Laing found she was elevated from the dreaded slush pile when she submitted the manuscript for her first book, the short story collection Coming Up Roses.

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From being a "frustrated, wannabe novelist" she became a writer whose name was known by key people in the publishing industry, and that made a big difference.

"I was on my way as a proper author," she says.

Laing's tips for awards entrants include submitting stories to "ruthless" editing, and reading widely and often.

"New Zealand has this wonderful rich history of short story writers. Read a lot."

 And, although the cliche makes her laugh, Laing says to "never give up". You never know what may come of entering the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards.

* The Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards 2016 open soon - so it's time to get writing. Click here for more information.

 

 - Sunday Star Times

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