Announcing the 2021 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writers residency

Calling all writers wanting the rare chance to sit down in privacy and comfort to work on their latest masterpiece. Applications open today, as of now, this very second, for the prestigious 2021 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writers residency – with an added bonus of cold, hard, very good cash.

Thanks to the remarkable generosity of spirit and of wallet of painter and author Dick Frizzell, and author and living monument Sir Bob Harvey, the annual writers residency comes with $5000. Five large! Five grand! What the hell. Amazing, as if the award itself isn’t amazing enough.

The first-place winner will receive a week’s free accommodation at the singular Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland, with cooked breakfast thrown in plus the Surrey’s famous Sunday roast. Vegetarians can elect for extra parsnips I suppose. They will also receive $4000.

There are two runners-up. Second place will receive five nights accommodation a the Surrey, and $500; third place will receive four nights accommodation, and $500.

The Surrey Hotel is widely considered the grooviest writers 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 to work on whatever literary project is dear to their heart.

As for the loot, the idea was all Dick Frizzell’s. Last year Massey University Press published his ingenious book Me, According to the History of Art – insanely overlooked at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand book awards for best book of illustrated non-fiction – and it did very well. He was showered with royalties. “I’m making the offer,” he said, “because I feel lucky enough with my success as a painter and wanted to spread the love a little with my writing returns. Spreading it with emerging writers preferably. And the Surrey Hotel residency ticked all the boxes.”

He said he was good for $4000. Upon hearing this, Sir Bob Harvey decided to chip in $1000 to round the figure to a nice $5000, purely on account of the fact he is a true gentleman and life-long supporter of anything and everything creative in these islands.

Nominations for the 2021 Surrey Hotel Writer’s Residency Award in association with Newsroom close on Friday, July 10.

Email me at with the subject line in screaming caps 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 so long as they have had something published somewhere. This is for authors only; no screenplay writers, playwrights, or whatever online thing. It’s all about a book.

A shortlist for the 2021 prize will be published on around about Wednesday July 15, and the winners will be announced a few days later, live on Radio New Zealand by good old Jesse Mulligan, a long-time supporter of the Surrey residency.

Previous winners have included Ashleigh Young, John Summers, Colleen Maria Lenihan, Kelly Dennett, and Shilo Kino. Last year’s first-prize winner was Mia Gaudin, pictured above. I asked her to write a few words about the experience.

Mia Gaudin: As a teenager I spent my weekends driving roads that ringed the central city: Karangahape, Great North, Richmond, Symonds. In my memory, I was always travelling clockwise, the Surrey Hotel appearing at the South West point in my loop, a blur of mock Tudor Globe theatre out my window. I’d never stopped.

That remained the case these many years hence, until the illustrious Surrey Hotel Newsroom Writers’ Residency presented its 2020 post-lockdown self. I’d returned from New York earlier in the year, sadly and narrowly missing mandatory isolation. Sitting alone in a room for two weeks is a writer’s dream. This was my chance, I thought to myself. MIQ, but make it Shakespeare.

I entered. I said something in my application like: “The last time I tried to write I was upstate in the hottest weekend of July, stuck in a house where the air conditioning closed down and all I had to eat were cans of lentils and tomatoes from the garden that were deflated from the heat … I’m hoping some days at the Surrey will give me the space I need to flesh new life into Sarah [the protagonist] et al and get this novel ready for publishing. It’s going to be a fresh voice for our longform contemporary fiction scene, think Sally Rooney, but darker, a bit more Moshfeghy.” Quite arrogant, really. I won.

And on a Friday in October, armed with a novel manuscript (printed, punched and pulled apart), two cans of tuna, ramen noodles and a family-sized Kit-Kat block (food is an important theme), I settled into my room. From the desk I looked onto a street where every house was placarded with signs for builders and swimming pool contractors, and a woman arrived wearing a high-vis vest each afternoon at four to feed stray cats from ice-cream containers on the footpath. Bliss.

Most importantly there was sufficient space to lay my novel out, beautiful-mind-esque on the floor, and literally cut and paste bits back together. I had storylines to remove, darlings to kill and better, deeper text to add. Writing a novel is really hard, and this one is a lot about my mother, dying. I’m also a terrible extrovert, so invited 30 of my and my mother’s friends for the Surrey Sunday Roast, which serendipitously fell on what would have been her 62nd birthday. We gathered in the Tudor conference room, I read excerpts and people cried and laughed and tried to make sense of a half written novel, into their (delicious!) Yorkshire puds.

On the final day, flustered by the gone-too-sooness of my time, I packed my mangled manuscript into my car and promptly backed into someone’s rental Prius in the parking lot. I thought about driving off into the loop road of my life without looking back, but then saw the signs: security cameras operating 24 hours. The residency had cost me $500 in insurance excess, though I couldn’t help but wonder, wasn’t it worth so much more?

Apply apply, for goodnessakes apply.

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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