‘Judging the inaugural NZSA/Pindar Prize for an unpublished manuscript was a fascinating and challenging exercise,’reports novelist and short story writer Graeme Lay, one of the three judges of the award. The other two judges were Mia Yardley, Editorial Manager of Pindar New Zealand and Linda Herrick, Arts and Books editor of the New Zealand Herald.
There were 508 entries for the competition, which was open to a manuscript in any genre. ‘As a result of this inclusive entry criterion,’ Graeme Lay says, ‘every genre was represented, including adult fiction, children’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction. The diversity was amazing.’
Entrants were required to submit a synopsis and a sample of their writing, not the entire manuscript. For example, the sample could have been the first two chapters of a novel, two short stories or 15 poems. The judges were not aware of the identity of any of the entrants.
When they met to draw up a long list of finalists, the judges were struck by the quality of the writing. It was extremely difficult to decide on the final five, as several of the long-listed manuscripts were of a publishable standard.
After the five finalists were selected, the judges read the entire manuscript for each of them.
The final five manuscripts were all adult fiction. Why was this so?
Graeme Lay comments: ‘Quality fiction has an emotional force which is seldom found in non-fiction. Although there were strong non-fiction manuscripts – accounts of illness and family histories, for example – the five adult fiction manuscripts carried the day because their plots were gripping, their characters engrossing and their settings vividly evoked. The element of dramatic conflict which is essential to worthwhile fiction was constantly present in the narratives.’
The five finalists were: Surrender by Donna Malane, Even the Trees Are Bent, by Paul Maunder, What You Wish For, by Catherine Robertson, Tomorrow’s Rain, by Eric Smart and Chasing the Moon, by Anne Stubbings.
And what did these five narratives contain? ‘There were two crime novels,’ Graeme Lay states, ‘one set in Wellington and the other on the South Island ’s west coast. There was a novel about a romance novelist determined to break free from the genre, an episodic novel based on a series of encounters in Egypt and one set during the genocidal war between the Hutus and the Tutsis in 1990s Rwanda .’
The samples of the five finalists were also posted online and voting was invited via the internet, as the basis for a Readers’ Choice Award.
Meanwhile, the judges read and re-read the final five until the winner was decided upon: Donna Malane’s Surrender, a murder mystery set in contemporary Wellington .
Graeme Lay observes:
‘We were all impressed by the forcefulness of Donna’s plot, the vividness of her writing and the resilience of her central character. She was also able to interweave elements of humour into the narrative’s brutality and mystery.’
The plot of Surrender involves a woman’s quest to find the identity of her much-loved young sister’s killer. In doing so she becomes embroiled in Wellington ’s underworld and its lethal intrigues. A parallel narrative involves the identity ofa headless male body, found by a tramper in a cave in Wellington ’s hinterland.
The judges all agreed that Surrender was a crime novel of high quality, one which could hold its own in international company. Co-judge Linda Herrick comments: ‘’The narrative included a convincing sense of place; you felt that the writer knew Wellington and its environs very well, and this added to the novel’s feeling of authenticity.
The characters were well drawn, particularly the female lead, but peripheral characters also rang true. The writing was crisp and compelling, driving the narrative along at a great pace towards the climax. And co-judge Mia Yardley concludes,
‘Surrender is a worthy addition to the growing catalogue of New Zealand crime fiction.’
The manuscript will go into production immediately and will be published in August. The sponsors for the award will all contribute to the publication of Surrender.
The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.) will provide editorial services; Pindar NZ will manage the production, including design and typesetting; and the book will be printed by Astra Print. The New Zealand Herald will promote Surrender and will offer half-price vouchers to its readers to purchase the book; while Whitcoulls will provide promotion and distribution throughout New Zealand .
The president of the Society of Authors, Tony Simpson, remarks, ’the level of sponsorship for this award has been amazing, and we are proud to have been one of the instigators of this prize, along with Pindar NZ. Without the support of our sponsors this prize would never have happened.’
In the online voting for the NZSA/Pindar Publishing Prize, the Readers’ Choice Award was won by Chasing the Moon, by Anne Stubbings, who wins $300 worth of book tokens, donated by Whitcoulls.