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!