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Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Finalists Announced: Debut writer nominated for $50,000 prize

A Wellington writer’s first novel is a finalist in the country’s most prestigious book awards, rubbing shoulders with literary heavyweights, all contenders to win the new $50,000 Acorn Foundation Literary Award.

David Coventry, whose debut book The Invisible Mile, about a New Zealander who in 1928 rode with the first English-speaking Tour de France team, is one of four Fiction category finalists in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, as are the distinguished novelist Patricia Grace (Chappy), Emeritus Professor Patrick Evans (The Back of His Head) and Stephen Daisley (Coming Rain).

The fiction titles are four of the 16 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists announced today, after a year-long hiatus that sees the awards return with new sponsorship, increased prize money, and a winners’ ceremony open to the public as part of the Auckland Writers Festival.

The convenor of judges for the Fiction category, Jill Rawnsley, notes that the four finalist books are all historical novels.

“All are masterful examples of storytelling, using multiple narrative points of view, conjuring up hugely memorable – if not always likeable - characters and vivid portrayals of hard physical and psychologically complex lives.”

The Poetry category’s convenor of judges, Elizabeth Caffin, says choosing a shortlist of four from the ten longlisted poetry collections seemed at first a breeze. “Extraordinarily, we all instantly agreed on three books: Roger Horrocks' The Ghost in the Machine, Tim Upperton’s The Night We Ate the Baby and David Eggleton’s The Conch Trumpet.

“Choosing the fourth finalist was difficult, given that the three remaining long-listed titles – by Leilani Tamu, Chris Tse and John Dennison – each showed a sophistication, a technical skill and an originality you would normally find in much more practised writers. We decided at last on Chris Tse’s debut collection How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes.”

“There are some threads linking the four General Non-Fiction category finalists,” says category convenor Simon Wilson. “They’re all by, or about, writers who are better known for fiction. For most of them the author has invented the manner of the storytelling, and done so with remarkable skill. They are also, each in its own way, pathfinders.

“A literary biography – Maurice Gee: Life and Work by Rachel Barrowman and a literary memoir – Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood by Witi Ihimaera - give us a pair of much-loved authors we may feel we have known all our lives, but we discover we have not known them like this. The cultural failure of the Christchurch rebuild told by Fiona Farrell in The Villa at the Edge of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City and the tragedy of the Holocaust in Lost and Gone Away by Lynn Jenner are visited with deeply affecting originality,” says Wilson.

The shortlisted titles in the Illustrated Non-fiction category would be standout books anywhere in the world,” says the category convenor Jane Connor. “Subjects that each reflect an aspect of our culture are treated with the depth and care they deserve, by authors, photographs and publishers alike. The research is impeccable, well-chosen images are beautifully integrated with strong and authoritative text, and design and production are of the highest standard.”

The 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists are:


The Back of His Head, by Patrick Evans (Victoria University Press)

Chappy, by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House)

Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing)

The Invisible Mile, by David Coventry (Victoria University Press)


How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, by Chris Tse (Auckland University Press)

The Night We Ate the Baby, by Tim Upperton (Haunui Press)

Song of the Ghost in the Machine, by Roger Horrocks (Victoria University Press)

The Conch Trumpet, by David Eggleton (Otago University Press)

General Non-Fiction

Maurice Gee: Life and Work, by Rachel Barrowman (Victoria University Press)

The Villa at the Edge of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City, by Fiona Farrell (Penguin Random House)

Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood, by Witi Ihimaera (Penguin Random House)

Lost and Gone Away, by Lynn Jenner (Auckland University Press)

Illustrated Non-Fiction

Te Ara Puoro: A Journey into the World of Māori Music, by Richard Nunns (Potton and Burton)

New Zealand Photography Collected, by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press)

Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris (Bridget Williams Books)

Real Modern: Everyday New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s, by Bronwyn Labrum (Te Papa Press)

The Fiction category is judged by distinguished writer 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.

The Poetry Prize is judged by former Auckland University Press publisher Elizabeth Caffin MNZM, Dr Paul Millar, of the University of Canterbury, and poet and University of Auckland academic Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh.

The General Non-Fiction Prize is judged by Metro Editor-At-Large Simon Wilson, Professor Lydia Wevers, literary historian, critic and director of the Stout Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington, and Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a former Book Awards winner for Patched: A History of Gangs in New Zealand, of the University of Canterbury.

The Illustrated Non-Fiction Prize is judged by former publisher Jane Connor, publisher of the magisterial The Trees of New Zealand, which won the Book of the Year award in 2012, Associate Professor Linda Tyler, Director of the Centre for Art Studies at The University of Auckland, and Leonie Hayden, the editor of Mana magazine.

The winners (including of the four Best First Book Awards) will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday May 10 2016, held as the opening night event of the Auckland Writers Festival. The awards ceremony is open to the public for the first time. Tickets to the event can be purchased via Ticketmaster once festival bookings open on Friday 18 March.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by the Ockham Foundation, the Acorn Foundation, Creative New Zealand and Book Tokens Ltd.

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