Ockham NZ Book Awards: Catherine Chidgey, Victoria University Press the big winners
Waikato author Catherine Chidgey was the big winner at this year's Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
The Ngaruawahia resident took home the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize for her best-selling novel The Wish Child. That and the other category and first book award prizes were announced on Tuesday evening at Auckland's ASB Theatre.
A judging panel consisting of Bronwyn Wylie Gibb, Peter Wells, Jill Rawnsley and Canadian writer Madeleine Thien awarded the prize to Chidgey because they thought her book "exposes and celebrates the power of words – so dangerous they must be cut out or shredded, so magical they can be wondered at and conjured with".
Describing the The Wish Child as "elegantly written, compelling and memorable", they thought readers would be "caught by surprise with its plumbing of depths and sudden moments of grace, beauty and light". Published in November by Victoria University Press, the 1939-set novel tells the story of German families caught up in a nation's dream.
It is Chidgey's fourth novel and her first in 13 years. One of her previous works, 2000's Golden Deeds, was chosen as a Book of the Year by Time Out (London), a Best Book by the LA Times Book Review and a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. Her debut novel, 1998's In a Fishbone Church, won a Commonwealth Writers Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific).
Category winners, who each took home $10,000, included Paris-based Andrew Johnston who won the Poetry category for his collection Fits & Starts (Victoria University Press), a book described by the category's judges' convenor, Harry Ricketts, as "a slow-burning tour de force".
Meanwhile, Wellington's Ashleigh Young added to her recent success in winning the Yale University Windham-Campbell Prize by taking out the The Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction for her collection of personal essays Can You Tolerate This? (Victoria University Press) and Dunedin writer and historian Barbara Brookes won the Illustrated Non-Fiction category for her meticulously documented work A History of New Zealand Women (Bridget Williams Books).
Four first-time authors were also rewarded for their efforts, each earning $2500:
★ The Judith Binney Best First Book Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction went to Ngarino Ellis for A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830-1930, with new photography by Natalie Robertson (Auckland University Press).
★ The Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry was awarded to Hera Lindsay Bird for Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press).
★ The E.H. McCormick Best First Book Award for General Non-Fiction went to Adam Dudding for My Father's Island: A Memoir (Victoria University Press).
★ The Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction was won by Gina Cole for Black Ice Matter (Huia Publishers).
The winning books were selected by four panels of specialist judges from a shortlist of 16, which in turn were drawn from 40 long-listed titles from 150 entries. Tuesday night's ceremony also double as the first public event of this year's Auckland Writers Festival.