Contest for top book should be a thriller

By Dionne Christian

The four finalists for best fiction. Photo / Supplied
The four finalists for best fiction. Photo / Supplied

One New Zealand fiction writer will wake up $50,000 better off on Wednesday thanks to a new literary prize.

The winner of the Ockham NZ Book Award will be revealed on Tuesday night at the launch of the Auckland Writers Festival.

Sponsorship issues meant the country's premier book awards took a year-long break, but return this year with a new structure.

The annual fiction prize is provided by the Acorn Foundation, a Western Bay of Plenty community foundation that encourages donations and bequests.

There are four categories, but the overall winner will be the book that takes out the best fiction category.

The four finalists for best fiction are distinguished novelist Patricia Grace (Chappy), Emeritus Professor Patrick Evans (The Back of His Head), Australian-based Stephen Daisley (Coming Rain) and Wellington writer David Coventry (The Invisible Mile).

So who will win? The experts say competition is fierce because the contenders are excellent.

Jenna Todd, of Time Out Books in Mt Eden, and former book publisher turned blogger Graham Beattie, are picking Patricia Grace's Chappy to win with Beattie saying it's a "one horse race".

Chappy, Grace's first novel in 10 years, tells the story of a boy discovering his family history.

"We can probably call Patricia Grace New Zealand literary royalty, she is one of our most celebrated authors and this is the first novel she has published in a number of years," he says.

"It's a wonderful historic novel."

Kiran Dass, from Auckland's Unity Books, thinks David Coventry's The Invisible Mile, about a New Zealander who in 1928 rode with the first English-speaking Tour de France team, will bag the prize. "I'm probably being a bit of an anarchist here but I'm going with The Invisible Mile because it's such an accomplished and beautifully refined novel. It almost makes other writers look like they're just mucking around."

Beattie says the quality of the finalists, plus the rising number of excellent first books being published, shows the country's book industry is in a healthy state and e-readers and online shopping haven't - as predicted - sounded the death knell.

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair, Nicola Legat, says the award creates a "tremendous and lasting" literary legacy.

"The $50,000 will be awarded to the top fiction work annually, in perpetuity. This will make a difference not only to the receiving writer, but also to the literary fabric of New Zealand. It is a huge gift for us all."

Dass says it sends a message that New Zealand literature is taken seriously.

"I think it's a really positive development because a lot of writers have other jobs and commitments and have to fit their writing in around this which is a hard thing to do.

"This will provide an opportunity for someone to take some time off to work on their craft."

The finalists

Fiction: The Back of His Head by Patrick Evans; Chappy by Patricia Grace; Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley; The Invisible Mile by David Coventry.

Poetry: How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse; The Night We Ate the Baby by Tim Upperton; Song of the Ghost in the Machine by Roger Horrocks; The Conch Trumpet by David Eggleton.

General Non-Fiction: Maurice Gee: Life and Work by Rachel Barrowman; The Villa at the Edge of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City by Fiona Farrell; Maori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood by Witi Ihimaera; Lost and Gone Away by Lynn Jenner.

Illustrated Non-Fiction: Te Ara Puoro: A Journey into the World of Maori Music by Richard Nunns; New Zealand Photography Collected by Athol McCredie; Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris; Real Modern: Everyday New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s by Bronwyn Labrum.

- NZ Herald

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