Acorn Foundation Fiction Book of the Year Award

Last night I attended a local do at Books A Plenty to announce the longlist for the brand-new Acorn Foundation Book of the Year Award – Fiction.

Why was it being held in Tauranga? Because the Acorn Foundation is a local initiative that is having a big impact. The organisation, which has charitable status, receives legacies and donations which are then put to work for the community. During her speech, Acorn general manager Nicky Wilkins revealed that Acorn now holds $14 million (!) and from that has distributed about $550,000 in 12 months.

The money for the new literary award has come from an anonymous donor who was prompted to act, Nicky said, after wondering why someone at a cricket match could win $1 million for catching a ball one-handed while the country’s premier book awards were about to collapse because sponsor NZ Post had withdrawn.

Not only did this donor offer to help continue one of the awards but upped the fiction prize from $10,000 to $50,000 to encourage and support New Zealand authors. Nicky said that this is now one of the biggest awards for fiction in the world! And it’s a donation in perpetuity!!

The shortlist will be announced in March and the winners of all the NZ Book Awards on May 10 at the Auckland Writers Festival with the authors then appearing over the weekend at the festival.

Besides the Acorn fiction prize, other categories in the Ockham Book Awards are non-fiction (split into two awards) and poetry. Four ‘best first book’ awards will also be presented, one from each category.

The recently formed New Zealand Book Awards Trust is running the awards and trust chairwoman Nicola Legat, publisher at the newly established Massey University Press, was at last night’s function, along with Harriet Allan, fiction publisher at Penguin Random House New Zealand.

Harriet said that 25% of book sales in New Zealand are fiction – but only 3% of that is New Zealand fiction, and described the new prize as a ‘gold-plated acorn’ for Kiwi writers.

Celebrating the new literary prize last night were, from left, Harriet Allan of Penguin Random House, Bill Holland, past chairman of the Acorn Foundation, and Nicola Legat, chairwoman of the NZ Book Awards Trust. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In previous years, Nicola told me later, the prizes were judged by a panel of five who did all the categories (amid numerous complaints, apparently, from the poets!). This year each category has its own set of three judges. The Acorn prize is being judged by award-winning author Owen Marshall CNZM; Wellington bookseller and reviewer Tilly Lloyd, and former director of the Auckland Writers Festival and former Creative New Zealand senior literature adviser Jill Rawnsley.

Long-listed books in the Acorn prize are: The Antipodeans by Greg McGee (Upstart Press); Astonished Dice: Collected Short Stories by Geoff Cochrane (Victoria University Press); The Back of His Head by Patrick Evans (Victoria University Press); Chappy by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House); The Chimes by Anna Smaill (Hodder & Stoughton); Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing); The Invisible Mile by David Coventry (Victoria University Press); The Legend of Winstone Blackhat by Tanya Moir (Penguin Random House); The Pale North by Hamish Clayton (Penguin Random House); Reach by Laurence Fearnley (Penguin Random House).

Books A-Plenty co-owner Chris Baskett gave a useful run-down on each book (she’s read almost all of them and is in the process of completing the set) and offered the occasional opinion on her preferences. Many books were sold.

Worth mentioning is that The Chimes was long-listed for this year’s Mann Booker Prize and that Stephen Daisley, while born in New Zealand, lives in Perth in Australia and won the 2011 (Australian) Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction for his first novel Traitor.

Read the other long lists and judging panels here.

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