Statement by the Convenor of Judges for the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014

Statement by the Convenor of Judges for the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014

Esteemed academic Peter Munz once said to me, “The wonderful thing about the humanities is the lack of one answer to any issue, there is always debate, there must always be discussion and there may not ever be consensus.”  

I’m reminded of this as I watch, with a mix of admiration and dismay, the debate fuelled by Eleanor Catton’s comments about the political state of our nation and her feeling that she is a victim of a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. I am interested in listening to all of it, but wish only to comment, as the convenor of the judging panel of the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014, on the continuing conversation surrounding our decision-making.

The New Zealand Post Book Awards is a multi-category, multi-genre competition. It is quite unlike the Man Booker competition, which considers only fiction. The Luminaries won the Man Booker competition, a thrilling achievement. Last year it went on to win the New Zealand Post Book Awards prize for fiction.  In doing so, it won New Zealand’s equivalent of the Man Booker.  It then went into contention for the supreme prize against three other exemplary finalists of different genres. It did not win that supreme prize; Jill Trevelyan’s book Peter McLeavey; The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer did.  

I’m as impressed as I am bemused by Eleanor Catton’s belief that The Luminaries should have won the supreme prize. I’m impressed because we don’t have a proud history of owning our achievements, of proudly proclaiming our talents. Perhaps this is a by-product of a nation that did suffer a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Comments like Eleanor’s make me believe that this is changing. But I’m bemused because, putting aside that it diminishes the achievement of the supreme prize winner, Jill Trevelyan, it betrays a belief that our judging panel should have fallen into line with an international panel of judges. This is at odds with Eleanor saying that she grew up with the erroneous view that Kiwi writers, and by extension Kiwis generally, were somehow less than British and American ones; that we did not, and perhaps do not, back our own opinions or our own talent.

There was no feeling on our judging panel that it was ‘someone else’s’ turn to win. We made a literary judgement, not a political statement. Given that our opinion did happen to align with the Man Booker judges and we did award The Luminaries our top fiction prize, it is at least churlish and, at most, mischievous to suggest that The Luminaries did not win its due in New Zealand.  

But then, that’s the beauty of the humanities. Such decisions rightly inspire debate. Like the Man Booker judges, we were a group of individuals making a collective decision. We worked hard at the task in front of us and, in my view, we made wise and well-placed decisions. I was proud to honour Eleanor’s incredible work, The Luminaries. I was proud to award prizes to all the finalists that night of the New Zealand Post Book Awards, and to crown, as supreme winner, Jill Trevelyan’s book Peter McLeavey; The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer. It deserved to win.  But in the grand tradition of debating and discussing the humanities, I urge you to read all our finalists before making up your own mind.

Miriama Kamo
Convenor of Judges
New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014

Book review: Travel Bites by the Hungry Traveller

Travel Bites cover imageTravel Bites by the Hungry Traveller, Wattle Publishing, ISBN 9781908959133, purchase direct

Two things are guaranteed to get people sharing photos on social media. One is travel. The other is food.*

Travel Bites combines both in a quick easy read. The only downside? No photos. Sad face.

Still, there are recipes which is damn awesome. Keeping the same format throughout, each chapter is a different travel story involving food or a special dish and at the end of the chapter we get the recipe for the dish.

Travel Bites takes us from Zanzibar to Vietnam to Sydney to Greece to Brighton and lots of stops in between. The writing is light and fun, with bits of info and even some travel tips – it’s a great book to take on holiday to the beach so you can plan your next overseas sojourn.

*Also cats, capybaras, anything by The Oatmeal, and teen emo quotes but six things didn’t fit my narrative, ok?