A Northland author will find out today if he has won New Zealand's top book award.

Alaskan-born David Vann, who until recently lived at Taupo Bay in the Far North, is one of four finalists in the fiction award of the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for his novel Halibut on the Moon.

That puts Vann up against such Kiwi literary luminaries as Owen Marshall (Pearly Gates) and Carl Shuker (A Mistake) as well as first-time novelist Becky Manawatu (Auē).

The winner will receive $55,000.

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Vann's inclusion in the final four surprised many in the New Zealand writing scene, few of whom realised he was a New Zealander. Fewer still knew he lived in the beachside settlement of Taupo Bay, just north of Whangaroa Harbour.

The 53-year-old is currently in California building a trimaran which he will sail back to New Zealand.

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David Vann's Halibut on the Moon is up against works by Becky Manawatu, Owen Marshall and Carl Shuker. Photo / Supplied
David Vann's Halibut on the Moon is up against works by Becky Manawatu, Owen Marshall and Carl Shuker. Photo / Supplied

Vann ended up in Aotearoa after a previous boat, which was also his home and his business, sank in the Caribbean in 2001.

Forced to make a fresh start, Vann and his wife applied for New Zealand residency, which was granted in 2003.

When his books sold well in 2010-2011 he was able to buy a piece of land and build a house overlooking Taupo Bay, but was forced to sell it last year when his income dropped and he could no longer pay the mortgage.

Halibut on the Moon, Vann's 10th book, is about his father's suicide. The Guardian newspaper describes him as ''one of the most darkly talented and unsettling writers working today''.

His books have been translated into 23 languages and he has held professorships in creative writing at the University of Warwick, in the UK, and the University of Franche-Comté, France.

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The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are the country's premier literary honours with prizes for fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction. The annual competition has previously been known as the Wattie Book Awards, the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

The winner will be announced today as part of the 2020 Auckland Writers Festival, which is being run online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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