Four of the country's most prominent novelists will go head to head at this year's Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Finalists were announced this morning with Lloyd Jones, Dame Fiona Kidman, Vincent O'Sullivan and Kate Duignan shortlisted for the $53,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize.

Award-winning New York-based novelist Joseph O'Neill will help the three New Zealand judges select this year's winner who will be announced at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, May 14 – the first event of the 2019 Auckland Writers Festival.

Winners will also be named for all six NZ book awards categories, including the four MitoQ Best First Book Awards and a Māori Language Award, presented at the judges' discretion.

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Author Fiona Kidman has two chances to win in NZ book awards this year. Photo/Robert Cross
Author Fiona Kidman has two chances to win in NZ book awards this year. Photo/Robert Cross

Meanwhile, Kidman's This Mortal Boy is also shortlisted for a new New Zealand book award. She's one of six shortlisted in the Best Adult Fiction category of the recently launched inaugural NZ Booklovers Awards.

Online review and interview site NZ Booklovers has started the competition, says director, author and book publicist Karen McMillan, to recognise books that the whole family can enjoy. Sixty-one entries were received and the shortlist, with winners to be announced this month, includes authors such as Nicky Pellegrino, Jo Seagar, Wendyl Nissen, David Hill and Fleur Beale.

"I've received really positive feedback about the awards with people telling me they love seeing the range of books," says McMillan. "If you look at an author like Nicky Pellegrino, whose books are so popular, there's no award category for her to enter which seems crazy. The more awards, the better because it draws attention to the fact there's such an array of talent in this country and it's about supporting the local industry."

As well as a Best Adult Fiction award, it includes Best Lifestyle and Best Children's Book categories with each featuring six books.

Author Catherine Chidgey, with her 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction prize award-winning book The Wish Child, has founded a new competition for short story writers.
Author Catherine Chidgey, with her 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction prize award-winning book The Wish Child, has founded a new competition for short story writers.

The country also has a new short story competition, founded by 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize winner Catherine Chidgey and the University of Waikato where Chidgey works as a lecturer in creative writing.

With a first prize of $5000 for the winner of the Open Section, the Sargeson Prize becomes New Zealand's richest short story competition. Chidgey has wanted to instigate such an award since the demise of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards in 2015 because, she says, short story writing has a long and beloved history in this country.

When she approached the university about helping with such an award, vice-chancellor Neil Quigley was immediately supportive. Asked why short stories are so popular in New Zealand, Chidgey says it's a tough question.

"Maybe because we had the two trailblazers in the form of the 'mother' and 'father' of short story writing, Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson," she says. "Maybe it's because New Zealanders like short stories because they fitted in around very busy lives – like working seven days on the farm!"

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The Sargeson Prize also includes a division for secondary school students aged 16 – 18.

New Zealand Society of Authors President and Herald reviewer Siobhan Harvey says the NZ Booklovers awards open up space for further recognition and success for our authors.

"… and it's particularly heartening to see a number of books from independent and smaller New Zealand publishers making the shortlist for these awards."

Harvey says the Sargeson Prize will also offer a new literary opportunity and such outlets for success, career-related and financial, are always welcome.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists are:
Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize: The Cage by Lloyd Jones, This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman, All This By Chance by Vincent O'Sullivan, and The New Ships by Kate Duignan.

Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry: Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath, There's No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy, The Facts by Therese Lloyd, and Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction: Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love by Joanna Drayton, Memory Pieces by Maurice Gee, We Can Make A Life by debut author Chessie Henry and With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in the First World War by Anna Rogers.

Illustrated Non-Fiction: Fight for the Forests: The Pivotal Campaigns that Saved New Zealand's Native Forests by Paul Bensemann, Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor edited by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing by Sean Mallon with Sébastien Galliot, and Birdstories: A History of the Birds of New Zealand by Geoff Norman.

The General Non-Fiction, Poetry and Illustrated Non-Fiction category winners each receive a $10,000 prize.