The heavily atmospheric Surrey Hotel in Auckland. Photo by 2018 residency award winner Naomi Arnold

Steve Braunias reveals the shortlist for ReadingRoom’s annual writers residency award

Ten – actually 14 – of New Zealand’s best writers have been shortlisted for the prestigious Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writers residency award.

A record 150 entries were received for the sixth annual award, which offers winners free accommodation at a heavily atmospheric hotel in Auckland – and a significant amount of cash, made available from the goodness of the hearts of artist Dick Frizzell and living legend Sir Bob Harvey.

Many thanks to all who entered. The oldest was 71, the youngest 18; the most far-flung were entries from Phuket, Dubai, Toronto, and Brighton in England; there were writers wanting to work on sci-fi, on poems about sexual trauma, on Polar exploration, on hard-boiled detective fiction, and on and on. The quality was high. An assessment panel, after much weeping and gnashing, initially chose 20 entries; they were adamant they couldn’t narrow it down to 10, as directed, and have furnished a shortlist of 13.

The grand winner and runners-up will be announced live by Jesse Mulligan on his Radio New Zealand programme tomorrow, Wednesday, at about 1:35pm.

Judges argued for a more equal distribution of wealth than the original promise of $4000 for first prize, and $500 each to second and third. First prize will now pocket $3000. The remaining $2000 will be somehow divvied up among second and third place, and possibly a fourth. As well as the cash, winners will benefit from free accommodation at the Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland, to work in privacy and comfort on their masterpiece.

Congratulations to the elite squad of 14 writers shortlisted for the 2021 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writers residency award.

They are:

Hera Lindsay Bird, for a novel in progress with the working title Love Slut. She writes, “This is a novel to make dumb bitches of us all. It’s like if Sally Rooney got a debilitating brain injury and started writing Roger Hall pantomimes.”

“Angus McLean”, or as he writes in his covering letter, “It’s my pen name because my job is a police detective in south Auckland, and I like to try and keep my work and private lives separate…My new novel, Behind Enemy Lines, is a World War Two thriller in the vein of Alistair Maclean and Jack Higgins.”

Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall, for a collection of short stories titled Tauhou. She won the 2020 Adam Award at the IIML. That’s the award previously won by Eleanor Catton, Ashleigh Young, Tayi Tibble and other writers of international acclaim.

Lawrence Arabia, for a collection of linked essays about volcanoes. Lawrence Arabia! Awesome.

Grace Tong, for a collection of short stories with the working title Where it gets rocky. I have begged her to let ReadingRoom publish “Chest Pass”, a story she sent in as part of her application.

Talia Marshall, for a book of essays due to be published by Victoria University Press. She’s kind of basically like a genius.

Emma Hislop, for a book of short stories titled Mangrove Heights. Mangroves! Awesome.

Rebecca Hawkes, for a collection of poems titled Meat Lovers. “It’s a book for queer cowgirls and rustlers of hearts. To render it down, it follows an actively bisexual lass growing up down on the farm – a practical waif and bitchy damsel with a sentimental intellect.”

Kiran Dass, for “a collection of essays about music, culture, race and what it was like as an outsider growing up in the small town Ngaruawahia. I will also scrutinise my complex Indian family dynamics, early experiences of racism, my early discovery of music and how that empowered me.”

Ethan Te Ora, for a collection titled Tuakiri: “The stories, which are also essays, are about inherited trauma and the effects of colonisation across four generations of my whānau.”

Jared Savage, for a sequel to his best-selling book of true-crime, Gangland. It might be called Ganglands.

Samantha Murphy, for “a collection of short stories that I term, if you’d allow me, ‘literary science fiction’. That is, they are stories about social and political concerns, about gender, queer liberation, poverty, mental illness, and they are also about technology, from the smartphone in your hand through to rockets that propel mankind to somewhere new.”

Amy McDaid, for her second novel, Black Kite. Her first book Fake Baby was one of the best novels of 2020.

Tom Doig, for a book on preppers in New Zealand. He has already conducted numerous interviews: “I drank Jim Beam and Colas in a man-cave in Manurewa with an Army-Surplus-obsessed car spraypainter single dad, who really just wants to be hunting possums with a crossbow in the Coromandel Ranges, but has to keep working to support his kids. I visited Lucy Aitken-Read’s yurt out the back of Waihi, where she home-schools (‘unschools’) her children, and plans for a ruined future where her family welcomes climate refugees onto their little organic farm.”

And there you have it – until tomorrow, July 13, when Jesse Mulligan, a long-time supporter of the residency award, will read out the names of the winners that I’ll pass to him on a piece of paper in his dimly-lit little Radio New Zealand studio. Good luck to the shortlisted 13; and, again, sincere thanks to all who entered. There wasn’t a dud or dumb entry among them. All of them provided the one thing literature is about: good reading.


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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