Thar she glows: the Surrey Hotel, in Grey Lynn, Auckland. Photo by 2018 residency winner Naomi Arnold.

Steve Braunias announces the 2020 Surrey Hotel writer’s residency in association with Newsroom. Yowsa!

O brave new world of Level One! O let the good times roll, again. And in the spirit of liberation and freedom and good times rolling, the annual prestigious Surrey Hotel writer’s residency award in association with Newsroom is back in business – and open right now.

The Surrey Hotel, in Grey Lynn, Auckland, is widely considered the grooviest residency in New Zealand arts and letters. It’s got ye olde Tudor stylings and the swimming pool has to be seen to be believed. The residency allows winners the comfort, glamour and honour of staying at the distinctly odd and certainly very striking Surrey Hotel to work on whatever literary project is dear to their heart.

New Zealand authors – of any experience, working in any genre, but truly committed and serious about their work  – are invited to apply now.

There are three prizes. The grand first prize merits the winner seven nights free accommodation at the Surrey, with breakfast, wifi, and the hotel’s famous Sunday roast thrown in. Second prize is four nights and third prize is three nights, each with breakfast and wifi and possibly a roast if they stay on a Sunday. All winners receive that precious commodity: privacy, to write. There is no prize money – as yet. Something might be arranged, you never know.

Last year’s winner was the amazing Colleen Maria Lenihan. The 46-year-old Auckland writer and photographer (Te Rarawa/ Ngāpuhi) made headlines this weekend for her powerful story of the racism she has directly experienced in New Zealand. She spent last year’s Surrey residency working on a collection of short stories to be published by Huia. She won seven nights at the Surrey, in a room with a private courtyard and big old bath.

The runners-up were Wellington poet Nick Ascroft, who later went on to publish his collection Moral Sloth (Victoria University Press); Porirua writer  Danny Bultitude, who Reading Room is about to publish in its short story series; and Julie Thompson, a sociologist who divides her time between New York and New Zealand. She has worked for the United Nations, and created the Halfway House for abused women in 1974. She wants to write a history of that life-saving initiative.

In previous years, winners and finalists have included Ashleigh Young (she worked on her poetry collection How I Get Ready, shortlisted for this year’s Ockham New Zealand book awards), Nelson writer Naomi Arnold (she worked on her fabulous book of astronomy, published by HarperCollins, Southern Nights, which really ought to have won this year’s Ockham for best book of illustrated non-fiction),  Stuff journalist Kelly Dennett (her crime book The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong won the 2020 Ngaio Marsh crime writing award for non-fiction), and one of New Zealand’s finest essayists, John Summers, who apparently has a book out next year from Victoria University Press.

I can think of one other productive role model: myself. I put myself up at the Surrey in 2014 to work on a long section of my book The Scene of the Crime. I needed somewhere I could just sit and write, day and night, no one around, no interruptions, in an intense regime of writing and thinking and dreaming. I stayed three nights and wrote close on 30,000 words. HarperCollins published the book that Christmas and it was a best-seller – I took a family holiday in Rarotonga on the proceeds – and probably the best thing in it is the long section I wrote like a demon at the Surrey.

I loved writing there. Later, I hit on the idea that other writers would thrive at the Surrey, too, and decided to approach the  hotel’s general manager, Denise King. She saw the merit in it and it’s to her great credit and sense of generosity that she continues to support the residency.

Winners will need to negotiate the dates of their residency with Denise. She’s lovely and the staff treat all guests like royalty.

Nominations for the 2020 Surrey Hotel Writer’s Residency Award in association with Newsroom are open now, and close soon. As in really soon: the deadline is Friday, June 26.

Email me at with the subject line THE SURREY HOTEL RESIDENCY IN ASSOCIATION WITH NEWSROOM. Send in a brief covering letter outlining the project you have in mind, and it wouldn’t hurt to maybe attach a few pages of the work in progress. Established authors and complete nobodies will be assessed on the merit of their application. In short: all are welcome, including dreamers and time wasters.

All awards and residencies are a lottery. Last year over 90 applicants tried their luck. A shortlist for the 2020 prize will be published on Wednesday, June 30, and the winners will be announced a few days later, possibly live on Radio New Zealand by good old Jesse Mulligan, a long-time supporter of the Surrey residency.

Special thanks to the Surrey Hotel for continuing with their support of the residency award. All hotels took a hit in Covid. Their doors were shut, no one could go in. Those days are over. Let the good times roll: apply now.

A photo by Naomi Arnold of GM, the famous Surrey Hotel cat, who turned up her paws earlier this year at the ripe old age of 22. RIP mate.

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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