You're a writer - that almost certainly means you don't earn very much.

Now imagine you've been short-listed for one of the country's most generous literary prizes. Just what would you do with the money?

With the winner of the country's biggest prize for fiction to be announced on Tuesday evening at the Ockham New Zealand Book awards, four authors are in the running for the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction prize: Catherine Chidgey (The Wish Child), Owen Marshall (Love as a Stranger), C.K. Stead (The Name of the Door is Not Mine) and Emma Neale (Billy Bird).

However, seven others will each receive generous cash awards. The winners of the Poetry, Illustrated Non-fiction and General Non-fiction categories each take home $10,000 while four first-time book writers will receive $2500 each for best first book in the Ockham's four categories.

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The awards, which are open to the public, launch the six-day Auckland Writers Festival.

Of the 16 finalists, 15 shared their thoughts on how they'd spend the winnings:

Fiction finalists:

C.K Stead:

Questions like this are always something in the nature of a trap. I remember A.S. Byatt was asked what she would do with the Booker Prize money if she won. She said she would have a swimming pool put in at her holiday home in France and received brickbats in response (but she put in the pool.) Since I don't expect to win this very generous prize I've given no thought to what I might do with the money. All I can say about such things is that if you win they ease the strain on the writer's life which is financially unpredictable and often close to the edge.

Catherine Chidgey: At home I do most of my writing in my office and our living room, the combined square footage of which is worth about $50,000... so I'll be buying those two rooms from the bank if I'm lucky enough to win. Either that or a gigantic art deco diamond ring.

Emma Neale:

I would use the money to fix everything in our house that is currently held together by duct tape, PVC glue, staples, drawing pins and turning a blind eye. I'd use what remained to help clothe, feed and educate our children - who are growing so fast that no sooner do you hide their ankles than they need another pair of trousers - our 15-year-old is already over 6 feet tall. I'd like to take the children on a trip somewhere farther north than Christchurch, if the youngest could bear it. Anything left over from that, I would use to section off a big chunk of writing time, and anything left over from that will be given to a green-minded charity in my will.

Owen Marshall: My boring decision would be to invest it.

Poetry finalists:

Hera Lindsay Bird:

I would use it to take time off work and travel overseas to write for a while.

Andrew Johnston: If I had enough room in my house for it, I would go to Avid Gallery in Wellington and buy Echo, a ceramic sculpture by Bronwynne Cornish - because it's beautiful but also because Bronwynne made it after reading my book. But I don't have enough room! So, I would use the money to buy me some time to write more poems, starting with a month later this year.

Gregory Kan: The money would buy me more time to write, as well as all the blood transfusions, diamond drill tips and ouija boards needed to do it.

Tusiata Avia: Well, I'm trying to be all Buddhist-non-attachment about the filthy lucre aspect of the awards. I guess if I won, I'd spend the money on crazy things like my daughter's overdue Brownie's fees before they make good on their threats to sic Baycorp on me. Or maybe I'd buy a $10,000 piece of jewellery that I could fling into the sea and prove my Buddhist-non-attachment to myself. .

Illustrated Non-fiction:

Barbara Brookes:

I would use it as seeding money for the next book project on a travelling American woman doctor, Anna Longshore Potts (1829-1912), provisionally called Performing Medicine on an international stage.

Peter Simpson: Either a drawing by Colin McCahon or paint the house, depending on marital negotiations.

Zara Stanhope: If the publication Ann Shelton: Dark Matter was a winner, the prize money would be put to a publication project at the Auckland Art Gallery which is reliant on raising future funds, a book on the Gallery's collection. The money would go toward writers' fees for this significant book

Warren Moran (New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People) was unable to respond.

General Non-fiction:

Anthony Byrt:

We've just bought some land so trees, probably

Ashleigh Young: I'd take the Victoria University Press team out for a humungous breakfast the morning after the awards. And I'd get my mum, dad and brothers some thank-you presents for letting me put them all in a book. Um, actually I should do that even if I don't win. (Earlier this year, Young became the first New Zealander to win Yale University's Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000.

Adam Dudding: I would start by asking Ashleigh Young what she's doing with the $239,370 she just got won for her Windham-Campbell prize, and then buy a 29th as much of whatever it is she's getting, because she's canny. If that proves impractical, there's a really huge bookshelf I've been wanting to get built on an empty wall at home but could never quite afford, so maybe I'll get that done at last. I hear bookshelves are tax-deductible for writers.

Ben Schrader: I would use the money to scope and undertake initial research for my next book, which has the working title Towards a Metropolis - this would take the story of New Zealand cities from 1920 to 2000 and explain why Auckland became our primary city. So, it continues the history begun in The Big Smoke.

• This year's four category award winners will appear at a ticketed event at AWF: The State We're In on Friday, May 19 at 5.30pm in the Heartland Festival Room, Aotea Square.