Author Paula Morris was teaching an MA class at the University of Auckland, when her mobile phone rang and as it was a Wellington number she didn't recognise, she stepped outside to take the call.
Minutes later, she had to return to the creative writing class and resist the temptation to tell her students – and the rest of the world – that she would next year travel to Menton, in the South of France, as the 2018 Katherine Mansfield Fellow.
Weeks of secrecy end today, with the Arts Foundation officially naming Morris as the recipient of the prestigious residency, which allows a New Zealand writer to live for up to six months in Menton. While there, writers have access to the writing room in Villa Isola Bella where acclaimed NZ author Katherine Mansfield once lived.
The residency is open to creative writers across all genres - fiction, children's fiction, poetry, literary non-fiction and playwriting – and while Morris is best known as a novelist, she intends to write her first play in France.
It pivots around a chapter in the life of award-winning writer Jean Rhys, who was born and largely raised on the Caribbean island of Dominica before being sent to England as a teenager. In her early twenties, Rhys had an affair with writer Ford Maddox Ford who, when the relationship soured, dispatched her to Juan-les-Pins on the Cote D'Azue along the coast from Menton, ostensibly to help an eccentric American friend write an interior design book.
"But it was about interior design informed by who you were in a past life… The daughter was married to the film star Rudolph Valentino but they were about to divorce so Jean Rhys arrived at a rather fraught time for the family and, I suspect, didn't really help matters.
"The potential for drama and comedy appeals to me. I did a huge amount of research in 2012, when I was at the University of Tulsa where Jean Rhys' papers are kept, but I haven't had time to do anything with it. Menton seems like the perfect place to write it."
Morris joins a who's who of New Zealand writers who have spent time at Menton, including C.K. Stead, Janet Frame, Allen Curnow, Maurice Gee, Fiona Kidman, Catherine Chidgey and Jenny Pattrick.
Morris is not the only recipient sharing news of an Arts Foundation award. Wellington-based musician Lucien Johnson and dancer Lucy Marinkovich will next year head to New York on the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency for as long as $100,000 lasts them.
Johnson, a saxophonist and composer who has worked with some of the world's leading jazz musicians, says the chance to spend time in a city like New York, and be part of its rich music scene, is almost unbelievable.
Dancer/choreographer Marinkovich, who now works as a dance educator with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, says she's still coming to terms with the "almost overwhelming" news.
"It's hard to even express how much I think this will influence me and the ways in which my eyes might be opened to other possibilities," she says. "As a performer, I am very much influenced by mediums like film and visual arts so there's the chance to see so much but there are also incredible world-class dance companies based in New York which means I now have the opportunity to do classes and keep investing in my art. It's the most incredible opportunity."
She and Johnson, partners in life as well as work, founded Borderline Arts Ensemble and say they have another project likely to be fuelled by their New York sojourn.
The two recipients of the 2019 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship have also been announced.
Chloe Honum, a poet from Auckland currently living and working in Texas, will use her fellowship to write a collection of poems, based around forced adoption in New Zealand from the 1950s to the 1980s while Chye-Ling Huang, a Chinese-Pakeha director, writer, actress and co-founder of Proudly Asian Theatre Company, will work on two plays.
"There are a number of Asian playwrights making incredible work, but there's so few of us you can never be fully satisfied with the narratives you see. I'm hungry to see the kind of work that represents myself and people like me. The next logical step, if you're not seeing the work that you believe is valuable in the world, is to just make it yourself," says Chye-Ling.
The pair will share an annual stipend of $20,000 and a four-month tenure each at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland.