Judges of the 2019 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award have whittled down over 90 entries to a shortlist of 15.

The newest literary residency in New Zealand offers accommodation to think and dream and write at the Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland. The Surrey is done up in mock-Tudor and makes for an ideal, private, pleasurable writers’ retreat. First prize is seven nights, plus breakfast, wifi, and a Sunday roast; second and third prize is five and four nights respectively, breakfast and wifi but sorry no roast.

Many thanks to all who entered and commiserations to those who haven’t made the shortlist. It was a very, very strong field, full of original ideas and an admirable commitment to getting something down; but all prizes of this nature are a lottery, and the award, and the hotel, simply couldn’t accommodate everyone.

The winners will be announced live this Friday on the Jesse Mulligan show on Radio New Zealand.

Ten shortlisted writers were chosen on Monday. Another five were selected after the entry deadline closed at 5pm on Monday. The five new writers are:

Jillian Sullivan. “The Surrey Hotel award is a chance to bring a writer from a village of 32 people in the coldest valley in the country to the biggest city in the North. What if a River Wants to Sing is a collection of creative non-fiction essays that intimately chart the land of the Ida Valley, Central Otago – that is, the river, streams, hills and mountains of this place – and the community I live amongst.”

Danny Bultitude. “My first novel Tapwater attempts to invert the bildungsroman by placing the protagonist, Demi, into a composite suburb called Ruapara which encapsulates the strange, stagnating atmosphere of lower-middle-class New Zealand. Having spent my first 22 years living in Porirua, I feel as if my specific, distinctly kiwi experience has never been represented before.”

Colleen Maria Lenihan. Huia Publishers are considering a collection of her short stories. “Tokyo provides a thrumming backdrop to an array of outsiders: a young Māori woman arrives in Japan to work as an exotic dancer…the manager of a love hotel has a sleazy plan…Meanwhile, an expat returns home to New Zealand on the saddest journey of her life, and a close brush with a serial killer shocks peep show workers in the 90s.”

Steve McCleary.Smother is a horror novel set in New Zealand. Its goal is to give us our own slasher icon. We delve into the psyche of a killer as they raise their child to be like them and the repercussions that occur through the rest of that child’s life…Horror is an enduring genre and this novel will appeal to those who want theirs to hit a little closer to home.”

Craig Arthur. “My longterm goal since my teens has been to produce a distinctly New Zealand take on the spy novel. I was previously a consultant overseeing UK spy novelist Charles Cumming’s New Zealand settings in his 2011 novel The Trinity Six. I selected the locations for the short segment set here..The novel was a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic (Universal snapped up the movie rights soon after publication) and the Washington Post reviewer commented on how parts of it even take in New Zealand. So there is untapped potential for spy fiction set here.”

And here are the 10 writers who made it through earlier this week.

Amy McDaid. Penguin Random House will publish her novel Fake Baby in 2020: “The lives of a socially awkward pharmacist, a grieving mother, and a homeless man collide in a darkly funny novel about mental distress, loss, and love.”

Rebecca Styles. “My novel Inherited Body is based on my ancestor who had a psychotic delusional episode and killed his best friend at the Railways Hotel in Dunedin (1920). Ennis spent the rest of his life in Seacliff Asylum.”

Elizabeth Morton. She’s working on a collection of short stories called Dirt: “It will be a celebration of the absurdity of human nature – selling sex toys at the end of the world, strange encounters at the seafood buffet, shark attacks in Porangahau, Tinder dates that go pear-shape, and explosive tensions at the car grooming garage.”

Nikki Crutchley. The well-known crime writer is working on her fourth novel:  “The story will look into drug dealing and drug use in small town NZ, plus the somewhat hidden/unknown issue of migrant worker abuse.”

Julie Thompson. “The project I would like to work on is an account of the setting up of Halfway House, New Zealand’s first feminist refuge for women wanting to leave violent domestic situations, a project I initiated in 1974.”

Jane Arthur. “I’ve  spent the best part of a year reading every children’s book published in in New Zealand (as a judge for the NZ Book Awards) and it has inspired me to take more seriously my dabbling in writing for this age group…I felt there was a hole where the kinds of books I used to (still) love should be – the quiet female protagonists, contemporary, realist settings, dry humour, plots based around character rather than capers and shenanigans. So I’m doing that thing of writing what I want to read.”

Nick Ascroft. The only male writer on the shortlist wants to continue working on “a long, painful autobiographical poem  that I am obsessed with”. Sample:

How did I change? One moment I wear blouses,

vinyl shoes, I’m pulverised on acid,

the next I’m at the bank discussing houses

or circling with a whiteboard marker ‘hazard

class’, a tucked-in shirt with belted trousers.

Sandra Russell. She’s writing a book called The Feeling of Cancer: “No-one talks nor writes about what having cancer really feels like in any authentic way. Part essay but mainly memoir, I consider my understanding of the importance of feelings and story, drawn from my career as a psychotherapist, and bring these to bear on my very personal experience over the last six years living with an incurable blood cancer.”

Katie Henderson. She’s working on a novel, The Star and the Atom: “Using extensive research into the Chernobyl meltdown, gymnastics, fur farming, shamanism, the science of time, and a lake as big as a sea, The Star and the Atom is set in Siberia and New Zealand.”

Kathryn van Beek. She’s writing a collection of short stories, Pet: “We meet characters such as Pam who compulsively hoards cats, former rugby player Jason who now sells milking machines, aspiring social media influencer Joel who breaks into a zoo, and a woman with anxiety who tackles a ferret on a plane.”

Congratulations to the chosen 15. Jesse Mulligan’s sweet, gentle baritone will announce the winners of first, second, and third place on his show on the wireless this Friday afternoon.

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

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