A thriller about a woman trying to track down her younger sister's killer in the sleazier side of Wellington has won the first New Zealand Society of Authors/Pindar Publishing Prize.

Surrender, by Wellington television scriptwriter and producer Donna Malane, was chosen from 508 entries, which were whittled down to five finalists, judged by writer Graeme Lay, Pindar editorial manager Mia Yardley and the Herald's books editor.

Surrender will be published by Pindar in August.

All entries were submitted anonymously, and ranged from adult and children's fiction, to poetry and non-fiction. Mr Lay praised Surrender's "forcefulness of plot, the vividness of her writing ... and the interweaving of elements of humour into the narrative's brutality and mystery".

The total prize package is worth about $35,000.

Ms Malane, 55, said she spent the past year writing the novel.

"I was on to the last chapter when I read about this competition in the paper. The whole thing about going to publishers was scaring me silly."

Ms Malane runs Wellington production company Lippy Pictures with writer Paula Boock.

She co-wrote the feature-length drama Until Proven Innocent, about the David Docherty case, and has worked on the series The Insider's Guide to Happiness, its successor, The Insider's Guide to Love, Skitz, The Strip, Crimewatch and Duggan.

While she usually writes in her office at home, Malane went to bed to create the world of her tough heroine, Diane, for the novel.

"Often when it was still dark, half past six in the morning, I'd take my laptop back to bed and create this little cocoon of a world that was separate from the rest of my world.

"Three hours would pass and I'd think I'd better get up and work.

"As a TV writer you don't get to write what is going on inside a character's head so the great thing about writing a novel is that you can.

"It is such a luxury compared to writing for screen, where you write action and dialogue."

Ms Malane said she was keen to write a sequel to Surrender.

The Pindar Prize was run in association with the Herald, Astra Print Group, Whitcoulls and Creative New Zealand.