Time is not quite running out to apply for the Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award.

About 30 applications have flown in for the 2020 Surrey Hotel writer’s residency award in association with Newsroom – and the deadline is looming, and looming fast. Writers and authors have until next Friday, June 26, to apply for the grooviest residency in New Zealand arts and letters.

There are three prizes. The grand first prize merits the winner seven nights free accommodation at the Surrey Hotel, in Grey Lynn, Auckland, a remarkable ye-olde Tudor pile with an excellent Sunday roast, a peculiar indoor swimming pool (pictured), and, best of all for writers who crave an opportunity to work on their masterpiece, peace and quiet. Second prize is four nights and third prize is three nights. There’s free breakfasts, free wifi, and a free roast if they stay on a Sunday. All winners receive that precious commodity: privacy, to write. There is no prize money – as yet. A knight of the realm is working on it. No, really, he is.

Last year’s winner was short story writer Colleen Maria Lenihan. Her story Love Hotel, published in ReadingRoom in February, remains far and away the most-read story I’ve published since the weekly series began last May. Previous winners and finalists have included the celebrated poet Ashleigh Young, Naomi Arnold (author of a beautifully illustrated book on  astronomy in New Zealand, Southern Nights), and Kelly Dennett, who used her time at the Surrey to work on her true-crime book The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong. It won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh crime writing award for non-fiction.

A mix of established, award-winning authors and complete nobodies have applied for this year’s residency award. They write poetry, essays, films, sci-fi, crime, memoir, short stories, novels, plays, gardening guides, books about engineering  – only one person wants to write YA fiction. Last year’s Surrey residency attracted a glut of would-be YA writers. Where have they all gone? What happened to them? Did they grow up?

There was a well-regarded film director who described his next intended opus thus: “It’s an unholy brew of science-fiction, science-fact, educational film and conspiracy freakout obscurity about a worldwide infestation of alien gut microbes that come to control human behaviour.” There was a reporter wanting to write about her life: “I am yet to find a modern memoir from an indigenous Māori wahine.” There was a writer interested in other worlds: “A woman is heartbroken at the end of an affair, and she’s given an opportunity to travel through the multiverse to find the love she lost.”

I liked the avidity of this entry: “If given this opportunity, I would suck every moment dry, so that there is no creative juice left in the Surrey Hotel (thus rendering all later residencies a complete waste of time).” I learned about people’s exciting lives: “My idea of a good Saturday night is writing by the fire.” I read a list of short story ideas that were all either dark and depressing; the author acknowledged, “The descriptions I have given above of the short stories sound dark and depressing.”

Everyone is in contention. No one has been shortlisted, no one has been discarded. There’s time, too, for new entries. Not much time. Well actually a bit more than a week. The deadline is midnight on Friday, June 26. Email me at stephen11@xtra.co.nz 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.

All awards are a lottery. The least you can do is get a ticket. Apply now; the Surrey’s Sunday roast, and its quiet, comfortable rooms which await a literary genius, could be yours to savour and enjoy.

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.

Leave a comment