A still from the 2014 film Jake, written and directed by Doug Dillaman, a finalist in the Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer's residency award.

With three days remaining until entries close, 10 writers have made the first shortlist of the 2020 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award.  

Judges of the 2020 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award have whittled down over 60 entries to a shortlist of 10 – but there’s still time to enter, and smash the shortlist. Entries close on Friday, June 26, at midnight.

The residency 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. A knight of the realm has been tasked with shaking some prizemoney out of a generous patron. He freely admits he hasn’t gotten around to that yet but claims he will have success in the coming days.

It’s a miserable business having to reject applications from writers. There were so many good ideas and clear signs of talent, desire and commitment among all the entries for the 2020 residency award. Many thanks to everyone who entered. Every prize is a lottery; judges operate on whim, bias, caprice; the day will come when they all rot in Hell.

Bravo and huzzah to the chosen 10 who have made it to the shortlist. But none of them might make it even further if other writers of even more remarkable quality and potential enter between now and midnight.

The winners of the 2020 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award will be announced live next Tuesday on the Afternoons With Jesse Mulligan programme on Radio New Zealand.

The 10 shortlisted writers are:

Himali Mcinnes. She works as a family doctor in a Three Kings clinic, and also in an Auckland Prison. After ReadingRoom published two of her essays about working on the frontline during the lockdown, HarperCollins  commissioned her to write a book of medical essays. But her application is to work on a collection of short stories: “One story is set in Sri Lanka during the 1983 riots that occurred after the death of 13 Sinhala policemen at the hands of the nascent Tamil Tiger separatist group…Another story is set in the high school I went to as a teenager in Papua New Guinea before migrating to New Zealand…Another is about a sociopath brother and his racist violent tendencies.”

Shilo Kino. A reporter with current affairs show Marae who wants to work on a young adult novel. “10-year-old Shao Ming’s world is turned upside down when she finds out her family is moving from China to Gisborne. I speak fluent Mandarin and spent time in China as a missionary. I want my book to bring both Māori and Chinese culture together as well as write about two minority cultures in an industry very much whitewashed.”

Caroline Barron. The author of a powerful new memoir Ripiro Beach: A Memoir of Life After Near Death is working on her first novel. “What greater salve for this writer could there be than a few days immersed in the faded glamour, I mean chic surroundings, of ye olde Surrey Hotel.”

Doug  Dillaman. A film-maker whose first film Jake (2014) was nominated for three NZ Film awards. “I’m working on my second film, Gut Instinct. 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.”

“I speak fluent Mandarin and spent time in China as a missionary. I want my book to bring both Māori and Chinese culture together” – Shilo Kino

Emma Marr. She has written 30,000 words of a detective novel, and would use her time at the Surrey to work towards the finish. “Karen, a detective,  goes away with a friend for a wine-soaked weekend to a country town . A storm crosses the country, the only road in and out of town is flooded, and Karen finds herself having to solve the murder of an elderly music teacher.”

Henrietta Bollinger. “I’m applying to the Surrey Hotel Writer’s residency to spend focused time working on an essay collection, Token Cripple, a series of digestible, humorous reflections on life as a disabled person.”

Nat Baker. She spent 10 years working in human rights research and refugee resettlement, and has ambitions to finish a collection of short stories called Animal Life. Her short story ‘Stray’ appeared recently at ReadingRoom. God it was good.

Sarah Young. I liked the energy of this: “As a brief bio, I completed a Masters in Creative Writing (Prose) at the University of East Anglia in the UK in 2013/14, where I was the UEA Booker scholarship recipient. I have been shortlisted for the Sozopol Fiction Seminar Fellowship in Bulgaria, and long-listed for Bath Short Story award and the BBC National Short Story award in the UK. I formerly worked as a journalist in Dubai, Indonesia and New Zealand (predominantly at the Nelson Mail). The first newspaper article I published before that was actually a feature on your brother [painter Mark Braunias] and his exhibition in the newly-opened Tauranga Art Gallery, many years ago – he was very kind, and patient.” I also liked her idea for a long essay: “It’s about how to write about the trauma of others you love – specifically, how I tried (and failed) to write a novel about my mother’s experience of domestic abuse and how that affected our family, and how our relationship changed as a result.”

Elaine Webster. “I’m writing a story about a twin and the trouble this gets her into, and as a twin I know all about it. I wrote 100k words in the fiction class at IIML last year…I include an excerpt from the book that has been accepted as a chapter in a New York publication with New Lit Salon Press.” I read it. It was really good.

Emer Lyons and Jasmine O M Taylor. A most interesting collaboration. “Have you ever wondered who the normal people were in Rooney’s Normal People? We want to explore the idea of what it means to be a ‘normal’ person, when we know that many people, perhaps a majority of people, in Aotearoa New Zealand smoke weed. So, are stoners the normal people of Aotearoa? If so, what do these normal people do? Well, for one, they write poetry under the influence, and make zines out of weed paraphernalia. Though, for that second thing, they need a week residency in a hotel, preferably with access to a printer/copier. There are two of us, and we will share the bed, the breakfast, and the Wi-Fi password as if we were one….With knowledge of the impending New Zealand referendum on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, the current political moment in Aotearoa presents us with the perfect opportunity to discuss NORMAL PEOPLE ON WEED.”

Oh but a last-minute, outstanding entry today means the shortlist is extended to include Rochelle Savage. She wants to work on a novel called My double Life: mystery shopper 582. Part synopsis: “Is omission as bad as a lie? On the very first day of her new job Joy doesn’t share that she has children, twins in fact and that her husband died days before she had them. She wants a day without that look, the look of sympathy and sadness and fear; the fear that tragedy and grief might be contagious and she might spread it to others. So she doesn’t and everyone presumes she is single and childless. And she doesn’t correct them when she heads back to her life in her small country town…”

Good luck to the shortlisted 10 11. They’re all deserving; they’re all awesome. Late entries are welcome to email stephen11@xtra.co.nz with a covering letter and maybe a page or two of their intended project. Last year’s winner, Colleen Maria Lenihan, entered only at the last minute, and went on to claim the prize and the glory, and the Sunday roast.

Special mention to an entrant who is the first person to apply for the Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award from outside New Zealand. Ashley Jones writes, “I am based in the US. My writing has been exhibited & distributed at the Venice Biennale (2019) as a part of a collaborative project orchestrated by artists Michael Corris & Jasper Joseph Lester. Sonic Meditations, a group of text-based scores from Pauline Oliveros, was published in 1971, with the stated goals of ‘expanded consciousness’, & ‘humanitarian purpose’. I think of writing about the practice of Oliveros’ later developed ‘deep listening’, merged with the principles & objectives of Vipassana meditation.” What?

Steve Braunias will join Jesse Mulligan to announce the winners of the award on Radio New Zealand, Tuesday June 30, at 1:35pm.

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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