Satire set in Auckland's fashion industry wins top fiction prize

Booksellers say business is being boosted by the popularity of writers' festivals and the annual book awards.

Local book publishers and sellers say business has improved in the past year, thanks to awards and special events.

Retailers campaigned for and won a tax on books in print or as e-books that are bought from overseas online websites such as Amazon. They said this would ensure GST was applied to all books.

Booksellers NZ chief executive Lincoln Gould says while shop turnover has risen 2-3% in the past year, all sales have risen 13% with the inclusion in Nielsen Book Data of Amazon-owned Book Depository. 

He says the retailers who handle sales at book events, such as this weekend’s Auckland Writers Festival, do particularly well. Audiences at these festivals are increasing each year.

However, the impact on sales of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, presented in Auckland last night, is less apparent.

For example, the top-selling New Zealand fiction titles today, such as Vincent O’Sullivan’s All This Chance, Charlotte Grimshaw’s Mazarine, Lloyd Jones' The Cage and CK Stead’s The Necessary Angel, were either too recent to qualify or not shortlisted.

This year’s $52,000 Acorn Foundation fiction prizewinner, Wellington writer Pip Adam’s The New Animals (Victoria University Press), has had only modest sales and a low profile.

Previous winners, such as Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip and last year’s The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey, were already bestsellers.

The non-fiction category is a better reflection of quality books that New Zealanders are also buying.

This year’s winner, Diana Wichtel’s memoir of her Holocaust-surviving father, Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father (Awa Press), is still on Unity Books’ weekly top-seller list after its publication late last year.

The judges said of Ms Adam’s novel that it “will bring readers back from the dead.”

It parodies the Auckland fashion scene and was praised as a confrontational, revelatory novel that holds a mirror up to contemporary culture.

“The New Animals handles a large ensemble of unrooted characters with skill. It’s stylistically raw and reveals a good deal in a modest way. [It] is so vivid in imagery and imagination that the judges haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

“In this category in 2018 it’s the book with the most blood on the page. It will give you an electric shock.”

The judges said of Ms Wichtel:

“[Her] curiosity, alternately upsetting and uplifting, turns invisibly into a kind of mission. At its heart this is a family story but one which cannot but shine a light on the vestiges of anti-Semitism that linger in Europe today. It is not just a beautifully written book, but an important book, too.”

Ms Wichtel, a journalist at the NZ Listener, was also one of four award-winners for the best first book.

Elizabeth Smither is a third-time winner of the poetry category with her collection Night Horse (Auckland University Press).

Academics Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins won the illustrated non-fiction category for Tuai: A traveller in two worlds (Bridget Williams Books).

Each of the three above categories had a prize of $10,000.

The three other first-book award winners were:

• Fiction: Baby by Annaleese Jochems (Victoria University Press)

• Poetry: Fully Clothed and So Forgetful by Hannah Mettner (Victoria University Press)

• Illustrated non-fiction: Caves: Exploring New Zealand’s Subterranean Wilderness by Marcus Thomas and Neil Silverwood (Whio Publishing)

Meanwhile, Ockham Residential chief executive Helen O'Sullivan said after sponsoring the award for the past three years, the company would be extending this for another five years.

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