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How To Win $25K Award - By Those That Already Have

25 Jun 2022
It's an opportunity too good to pass up - The Big Idea speaks to three former winners of the CLNZ/NZSA Writers' Award for tips on what got their projects across the line.

If you’re a non-fiction writer and you would have no use for an extra $25,000 to work on your project - this article isn’t for you.


But if you’re the other 99% - opportunities to receive this level of support is not one to be sniffed at.


With the application window for the prestigious Copyright New Zealand/New Zealand Society of Authors Writers’ Award closing at 4pm on Wednesday 29 June, it’s important to put your best foot forward.


Open to Aotearoa authors across the full range of non-fiction subgenres, the Award’s sole intent is to provide financial support for writers to be able to devote themselves to researching and writing a book.


Like we said - not something to turn your nose up at.


So who better to give insights on how to give yourself the best chance of being awarded the $25K than those who have done it before?


The Big Idea spoke to three of the recent recipients of the CLNZ/NZSA Writers’ Award to get their advice on what you need to do to press your claim.


A writer's greatest resource


Nic Low, Jade Kake and Nick Bollinger all agree - receiving the Writers’ Award gave them access to the resources not normally afforded to writers of their genre.


The most invaluable of which being time.


“For the previous year I had been freelance writing and producing radio programmes, and conducting interviews and research towards the book in whatever spare time I had left over, which wasn’t much,” explains Bollinger, who used the Award to complete Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa / New Zealand, which is due to be published in August.


“The Award enabled me to take time out from those other jobs and focus exclusively on my project for a number of months.


“It’s so much easier to work on a big project like a book when you can get up in the morning and go straight to it. It’s a luxury writers seldom have and I appreciated it very much.”


Last year’s Award recipient Jade Kake - who is working with co-author Jeremy Hansen on a project about the legacy of pioneering Māori architect Professor Rewi Thompson - states plainly the book wouldn’t be possible without it.


“Passion projects like this one aren't profitable, and usually it's busy people - like Jeremy and I -  who madly self-initiate these kinds of projects.


“The money makes it possible to pay the other creatives and contributors involved, and to carve out some time and space for ourselves. It's a real privilege to have the time and resources to work on this important project.”



Low (above) feels the same way, stating blocking out time is “one of the things writers struggle to find in the modern world”, but the author of the acclaimed Uprising: Walking the Southern Alps of New Zealand found it produced another intangible benefit.


“It’s really awesome for your self-confidence,” Low reveals.


“You may spend years working on your project and you’re not sure if it’s any good. When I submitted some draft material of the book to the Award committee, it was the first time that anyone - outside of a close circle of people involved in the project - had ever read anything from it.


“That was hugely validating for me. For that expert panel, those people with such experience in the world of books and publishing to say that they thought the project had merit was a real shot of confidence at a time that I really needed it.”


Writing from the heart


While they’re on the same page with its impact, this talented trio forged very different paths with their projects.


Low’s path was quite the literal one - armed with Ngāi Tahu’s traditional oral maps and modern satellite atlas, he spoke to tribal leaders and then crossed the Southern Alps to understand how his tīpuna saw the land. It’s been described as part adventure, part mediation on history.


“It’s a book about Ngāi Tahu, about our history in the mountains,” Low explains. “I could have written a history book or a more academic book - I think my first draft of the book was some horrific monster that was double the length and would have appealed to about 100 people.


“Part of it was reshaping the book for a general readership, really trying to find a way to take those things I was really passionate about and putting it together in a way that would actually get people to read it.


“It’s one thing to write a history book, it’s another thing to try and find a narrative, a story that conveys those ideas so people can come on a journey.


“They can go for a walk in the mountains, they can have a good adventure but along the way, they can learn some stuff.”



Bollinger’s dive into his specialist subject was borne from a fascination of “the stories of some people who seemed to be living in ways that conflicted with mainstream New Zealand society and forced them to the fringes.”



Much like his 2016 work Goneville, Bollinger (above) says this project was driven by a desire “to know more about what had formed their rebellion, and about the wider community to which they belonged.


“I also came to realise that while such people - who I broadly define as the counterculture - challenged and dissented from mainstream society, they ultimately had quite an impact on it.


“New Zealand changed in certain ways because of those people.”


Kake - herself a architectural designer and housing advocate - was drawn to the idea when it was suggested by her co-author. They felt “that Rewi is someone with an immense legacy, who perhaps didn't quite get his dues during his lifetime.


“As a practitioner, educator, whānau member and friend he has had both a profound impact on the way we practice architecture in Aotearoa New Zealand, and internationally, as well as an impact on the lives of those who knew him personally.”


So they set about getting permission from Thompson’s daughter Lucy - before launching into their funding and Award support journey.


Timing is everything


While the concept has been kicking around for several years - timing is everything.


Kake (below) feels that Thompson’s story is one that will resonate in the current climate.



“I think it's certainly an idea whose time has come. It definitely feels like we're entering something of a second renaissance, with the widespread recognition of Māori culture and language, including in our built environment professions.


“I think Rewi was clearly ahead of his time, and in working on this project, I often think of Rewi and how different - and perhaps difficult - it must have been for him and others to practice at that time.


“Rewi wasn't the first Māori architect, but he was certainly working at a time when these ideas about how to work with Māori communities and cultural concepts weren't at all mainstream or well accepted.”


Bollinger adds “In a country this size - and with a topic like this (counterculture) - it’s pretty important that the book you’re working on is not a book that someone else is already writing.


“I was just lucky and grateful that no one else had written a book that tied all the strands of counterculture in New Zealand together yet or - as far as I knew - was working towards a similar idea.”


Low too feels that he “got kinda lucky” on the timing front - describing his cultural approach as “a conversation that had been going on forever in the Māori world but has been getting more mainstream traction these days.”


He elaborates ”I think it's super important for people to find the thing that makes them tick, what gets them out of bed in the morning, that they’re passionate about.


“It might not be something you think has a market, not something you think people want to read but If you’re fired up about it and excited about it, you’ve got a pretty good chance of bringing people with you.”

Award-winning advice 

With that energy in mind, Low doesn’t hesitate with his tip to those putting together their application.


“It’s easy to think that you have to write it corporate and professional but it’s a piece of writing, you’re a writer - you’re pitching it to writers. I spent a huge amount of time on the voice and the tone, just getting it right.


“I would encourage people to really let their personality and their enthusiasm for the project shine through with their application."


Bollinger preaches from a similar pulpit.


“I guess the aim is to get the panel as excited about your book as you are about it yourself. You’ve somehow got to persuade them that it is a book they are really really going to want to read!”


Kake’s recommendations are forthright - and helpful as the last person to receive backing from the Award panel.


“If you have a clear vision on what you are trying to achieve, stick to your guns with your concept, and try not to be swayed by funder or publisher priorities,” while adding “still be open to suggestions on how to improve and develop your concept!


“I think our project was selected by CLNZ/NZSA last year because of the strength of our concept, the timeliness of this project, and above everything else, the rich and largely untold legacy of Rewi himself.


“Be clear on your vision and articulate it well, and the resources and support should follow.”

Written in partnership with the New Zealand Society of Authors and Copyright Licensing New Zealand. Applications for the Writers’ Award close 4pm Wednesday 29 June - click here for details.