Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize Longlist

Last night was the Tauranga event introducing the longlist for the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, worth $50,000 and part of the Ockham Book Awards. As you may remember from the inaugural announcement last year, it’s an anonymous Tauranga resident who has donated the $50,000 prize – in perpetuity – which the Acorn Foundation administers.

A recent Book Council survey found that New Zealand fiction is little read and offered some reasons why. Read the Booksellers NZ response to that report. In September The Listener quoted a 2014 figure of NZ fiction making up only 3% of total book sales in this country.

Chris Baskett, co-owner of Books A Plenty, gave us a great run-down of each book and noted that before the Acorn Award (ie, November 2015) the store sold 5.8% of NZ fiction from its total – now the figure is 11.2%. “That’s one of the great thing about awards,” she said. “They give readers a focus.”

Catherine Chidgey, author of The Wish Child and a multi-winner of awards and prizes, came ‘over the hill’ from Ngaruawahia to talk about her book – which comes 13 years after her third novel, The Transformation – and to read from it.

Catherine Chidgey at last night’s event. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She said her first book, The Fishbone Church was set in New Zealand and written while living in Germany. This book is set in Germany and written while living in New Zealand. The Wish Child is set in World War 2 and told from the viewpoint of two children with a mysterious narrator – to reveal the identity of the “obscure historical figure from the 1930s” would, Catherine said, destroy the story. Anyone in the audience who had read it, nodded in agreement.

The longlist comprises:

The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)

A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Lawrence & Gibson)

My Mother and the Hungarians by Frankie McMillan (Canterbury University Press)

Love as a Stranger by Owen Marshall (Penguin Random House)

Tail of the Taniwha by Courtney Sina Meredith (Beatnik Publishing)

Billy Bird by Emma Neale (Penguin Random House)

Deleted Scenes for Lovers by Tracey Slaughter (Victoria University Press)

The Name on the Door is Not Mine by CK Stead (Allen & Unwin)

Dad Art by Damien Wilkins (Victoria University Press)

Strip by Sue Wootton (Makaro Press).

Chris noted the number of poets represented among the authors – and it was also interesting that a number of the books are, effectively, short story collections, a genre that a leading literary figure told me in 2014 “no one wants to publish”.

Book sales were great on the night. Photo: Sandra Simpson

See the full set of Ockham categories and nominees here.

The shortlist will be announced on March 7 and the winners on May 16.

Something that Chris neglected to mention last night: Books A Plenty was the deserving subject of the winning Love Letter to Bookshops competition held in October by Booksellers NZ. Read the winning letter from Marcus Hobson of Tauranga.

Update, May 16: And the winner is The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey!

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.