Hager named Waikato University’s 2015 writer in residence

Author to receive $48,500 to enable a complete focus on writing.

Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager’s younger sister has been announced as Waikato University’s writer in residence for 2015.

Mandy Hager is expected to take up the position, which lasts 12 months, in February next year.

There aren’t any teaching or lecturing duties associated with the award, the purpose of which is to allow the recipient the freedom to focus solely on writing.

However, in exchange for the emolument of $48,500 – jointly funded by the Waikato University and Creative New Zealand – the writer in residence is expected to “participate in the cultural life” of the tertiary institution and required to reside in Hamilton for the tenure of the award.

(Readers may wish to opine in the comments section whether these conditions mean the sum is too high or too low.)

The position is open to poets, novelists, short story writers, dramatists, and writers of serious nonfiction.

Unlike her sibling, who specialises in non-fiction political potboilers (though there are those who would take issue with that genre description), Ms Hager is best known for her young adult fiction, although her oeuvre also includes adult novels, short stories and scripts, as well as education resources for young people on such topics as drug education, climate change, violence against women and globalisation.

Ms Hager has previously won several awards, including an Honour Award in the 1996 Aim Children's Book Awards for her first book, Tom's Story (a picture book about a boy dealing with the grief of his father dying), the 2013 LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award for The Nature of Ash (described as “a fast-paced, futuristic political thriller” in which New Zealand is caught between two warring super powers) and the 2014 LIANZA Young Adult Award for Dear Vincent (about “painting, suicide and Van Gogh”).

Her recent trilogy of young adult novels, The Blood of the Lamb, is set in a dystopian future in which the survivors of a global catastrophe are manipulated by an evil elite. It was given the tick by no less an authority than Margaret Mahy, who described the first instalment as being “like 1984 for teenagers – direct, passionate and powerful”.

This year Ms Hager was the recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship, which provides the winner with funding for transport to and accommodation in Menton, France and is administered by Creative New Zealand.

There she started an adult novel about the life of Heloise d'Argeneuil and her doomed love-affair with Pierre Abelard, when she wasn't posting to her Twitter account and blog, which reveal she has similar political views to brother Nicky, although she’s inclined to express them in rather less temperate terms than her sibling.

Mr Hager has also been a beneficiary of Creative New Zealand funding this year.

A week-and-a-half before Dirty Politics was released, CNZ announced Mr Hager would receive funding for travel to and accommodation at the 2015 Venice Biennale as a special advisor to sculptor and installation artist Simon Denny, who is representing NZ at the event with a project provisionally titled Secret Power, which is inspired by Mr Hager’s 1996 of the same name.   

The announcement briefly raised the tantalising prospect that, rather than an exposé of “how attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment”, Dirty Politics might actually have been an especially outré nationwide arts installation.

It also prompted prominent arts patron and ACT donor Dame Jenny Gibbs to pull her "significant” contribution from the general pool of Biennale funding and have it allocated instead to the new position of assistant curator to Venice for 2015.

“It is true I don't approve of Nicky Hager going, but that's because I don't approve of people living off stolen emails,” she said.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with politics. I would have the same feeling if they were taking Cameron Slater, or, for that matter, if it was the year Nicky did the ‘Corngate’ book. I just don't support people living off stolen emails and I don't care who that is.”

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