Award-winning Bay of Plenty science fiction and fantasy writer Lee Murray has just added another two feathers to her cap.
Welcome Bay resident Murray is the 2021 winner of the Bram Stoker Awards for best anthology and best fiction collection.
The Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement have been described as the horror writer's version of the Oscars.
Hopeful authors undergo a year-long selection process in which their works are judged by publishers and peers in the Horror Writer's Association across 12 categories.
"This is huge for me," Murray said about winning the award.
She is no stranger to accolades. Murray can claim 12 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, two Australian Shadows Awards and two previous Bram Stoker nominations.
Still, Murray said, this win is her most significant writing achievement to date.
Only two other New Zealanders have ever been nominated: Taika Waititi and Marty Young.
Stephen King has won 10 Bram Stoker Awards. The celebrated Neil Gaiman has won four.
This year, one of Murray's fellow award winners is Bird Box author Josh Malerman who took home the trophy for Best Short Fiction.
Murray is still waiting for her statuette to arrive in the mail, having been unable to attend the overseas ceremony due to Covid-19 travel constraints.
But what matters more to Murray is the journey she's on and what she writes about.
"I've always wanted to be a writer," Murray said.
"I started in chick lit [chick literature] and children's stories. Then I wanted to write about meatier issues, things that had more conflict."
Murray is particularly interested in feminism and has recently been exploring her Asian heritage.
In the anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Murray and nine other writers explore the depths of these interests.
"I'm a third-generation Chinese New Zealander. It has taken me a long time to write about my heritage.
"We need stories to help us understand where we come from."
Murray hopes Black Cranes, and her winning fiction collection Grotesque Monster Stories will address these needs.
The collection is full of Murray's original stories, all of which are set in New Zealand.
"I'm a New Zealand writer first, then I'm a horror writer," Murray said.
"New Zealanders need New Zealand stories. We need to be able to see ourselves. It's about knowing where we come from."
Murray said New Zealand fiction has a unique flavour that her publishers were interested in.
"It's the isolation and the vast landscapes. We have earthquakes and volcanoes. I mean, imagine driving down a country road in the dark. That's the start of a good story."
Despite her books' critical success overseas, Murray's books are not widely available in New Zealand bookstores, although they can be purchased online.
Murray saw this as being part of a common problem around funding for genres of fiction, which can be seen as "non-literary".
"People think that what we call pulp fiction is cheaper, and just not as good," Murray said.
"But it's still literature, and it can be fantastic."
Murray said horror, in particular, has scope for exploring a wide and important range of issues because it allows for "genres within the genre".
"Youth want to talk about climate change. They want to talk about advances in technology. These are all things we can explore from the safety of the page."
Murray co-founded Young NZ Writers 10 years ago to encourage the authors of the future, and also to help to grow an audience of open-minded readers.
"We have to create opportunities."
Murray and her two colleagues in Young NZ Writers spend thousands of hours each year giving feedback, producing two annual anthologies. They also run one workshop a year and make it accessible to emerging writers.