Charlotte Grimshaw, Portrait by Jane Ussher

Literary editor Steve Braunias on the Ockham longlist

A complete idiot could have chosen some of the books on the 2022 Ockham New Zealand national longlist, announced this morning: there are titles so obviously good and immediately powerful that they simply had to be there, and thankfully there they are, The Mirror Book by Charlotte Grimshaw and She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall and Rangikura by Tayi Tibble and Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland by Lucy Mackintosh.

Judges are readers. A few are writers. Some have never written a sentence worth a hill of beans and there’s a particular lack of imagination among the non-fiction judging panel (Nicholas Reid, Aaron Smale, Leilani Tamu) who have declined to include beautifully crafted books such as The Commercial Hotel by John Summers and Things I Learned in Art School by Megan Dunn, as well as overlooking two great feats of biography and autobiography, respectively, by Philip Temple (on Maurice Shadbolt) and CK Stead (on CK Stead). Poor show.

I was also surprised and saddened to see that  a wonderfully crafted collection of short stories, The Piano Girls by Elizabeth Smither, hasn’t made the fiction longlist. I was surprised and…I don’t know, just like really surprised, to see Entanglement by Bryan Walpert has make the longlist. Synopsis, from the publisher: “A memory-impaired time traveller attempts to correct a tragic mistake he made in 1977 when, panicked, he abandoned his brother on a frozen lake in Baltimore.” WTF? But it’s sold really well at Time Out in Mt Eden (number one on their New Zealand fiction list) and although it’s often described as a sci-fi novel with time travel in it, one astute reader mentioned to me that they didn’t regard the protagonist as time travelling but was more like in a kind of fugue state from grief. Well, okay; and it has to be said that the book’s publisher, Mākaro Press (Auē), have a superb fix on what makes a good novel. It’s a good year for other, small independent publishers, such as Quentin Wilson with The Pink Jumpsuit by Emma Neale, Lawrence & Gibson with Aljce in Therapy Land by Alice Tawhai (a review of Alice’s Aljce by another author on the fiction longlist will appear soon at ReadingRoom), and Huia with Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (a rave review by Jackie Lee Morrison appeared in ReadingRoom yesterday).

A note on one book that’s made the illustrated non-fiction longlist. I only recently saw NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women by Qiane Matata-Sipu and it’s a total freaking knock-out. The photography is stunning. I really hope this goes all the way to the shortlist.

Anyway. To the longlist, below. Bravo to the judges; whim, stupidity and horse-trading all go towards any kind of literary judgment but so, too, does close reading and a high standard of care. Congrats to all the very good authors who have made it this far. The longlist will leave numerous other authors feeling saddened and scorned and torn asunder to the very core of their soul for not having made the cut, but I’ll get over it (I had two – two! – books that were entered, in separate categories, but neither made it).

In any case, the pain of omission will only be more acute for authors when judges bring the shortlist down to just four books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Not easy. My own FWIW predictions are asterixed, below. The shortlist will be announced on March 2. Good luck to all 40 authors.


* The Mirror Book by Charlotte Grimshaw (Vintage, Penguin Random House)

After Dark: Walking into the Nights of Aotearoa by Annette Lees (Potton & Burton)

* Helen Kelly: Her Life by Rebecca Macfie (Awa Press)

Come Back to Mona Vale: Life and Death in a Christchurch Mansion by Alexander McKinnon (Otago University Press)

Enough Horizon: The Life and Work of Blanche Baughan by Carol Markwell (The Cuba Press)

* From the Centre: A Writer’s Life by Patricia Grace (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

He Kupu Taurangi: Treaty Settlements and the Future of Aotearoa New Zealand by Christopher Finlayson and James Christmas (Huia Publishers)

* Bloody Woman by Lana Lopesi (Bridget Williams Books)

The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change by Dave Lowe (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

* Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books)


* She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

*Everything Changes by Stephanie Johnson (Vintage, Penguin Random House)

Aljce in Therapy Land by Alice Tawhai (Lawrence & Gibson)

A Good Winter by Gigi Fenster (Text Publishing)

* Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

* Unsheltered by Clare Moleta (Scribner Australia, Simon & Schuster)

Entanglement by Bryan Walpert (Mākaro Press)

* Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers)

The Pink Jumpsuit: Short Fictions, Tall Truths by Emma Neale (Quentin Wilson Publishing)

Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly (Te Herenga Waka University Press)


* Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland by Lucy Mackintosh (Bridget Williams Books)

Te Puna Waiora: The Distinguished Weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi by Ngāhuia Te Awekōtuku, Donna Campbell, Awhina Tamarapa and Nathan Pōhio (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

* Conversātiō: In the Company of Bees by Anne Noble with Zara Stanhope and Anna Brown (Massey University Press)

Dressed: Fashionable Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910 by Claire Regnault (Te Papa Press)

* Hei Taonga mā ngā Uri Whakatipu | Treasures for the Rising Generation: The Dominion Museum Ethnological Expeditions 1919–1923 edited by Wayne Ngata, Anne Salmond, Natalie Robertson, Amiria Salmond, Monty Soutar, Billie Lythberg, James Schuster and Conal McCarthy et al (Te Papa Press)

Joanna Margaret Paul: Imagined in the Context of a Room by Lauren Gutsell, Lucy Hammonds and Greg Donson (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

* NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women by Qiane Matata-Sipu (QIANE+co)

He Ringatoi o ngā Tūpuna: Isaac Coates and his Māori Portraits by Hilary and John Mitchell (Potton & Burton)

Bill Hammond: Across the Evening Sky by Peter Vangioni with Tony de Lautour, Rachael King, Nic Low, Paul Scofield and Ariana Tikao (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

* The Architect and the Artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble by Bridget Hackshaw (Massey University Press)


* Rangikura by Tayi Tibble (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Bird Collector by Alison Glenny (Compound Press)

* Sleeping with Stones by Serie Barford (Anahera Press)

Ghosts by Siobhan Harvey (Otago University Press)

* The Sea Walks into a Wall by Anne Kennedy (Auckland University Press)

* Party Legend by Sam Duckor-Jones (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Tumble by Joanna Preston (Otago University Press)

Sea-light by Dinah Hawken (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Whai by Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (We Are Babies Press)

* Tōku Pāpā by Ruby Solly (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

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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