Home  /  Stories  / 

Lowdown: Legends Show They've Still Got It

06 Jun 2024

Some of the best writers from the 80s are back among the award nominees in 2024, plus a host of award winners across arts and music to celebrate.

Some of the most iconic names in Aotearoa literature have shown they can still hang with the top rising talent in the country - decades after making a name for themselves.

The finalists for the 2024 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (YA) were announced on Thursday (6 June), with 175 submissions whittled down a shortlist of 28 titles across seven categories.

Among those who've made the cut is a writer who has been a household name to generations of Kiwi kids and families - Joy Cowley.

She's in the running for the Picture Book Award for her recent release At the Bach (illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper) and if successful, the Southern-based great-grandmother will need to find room on the mantlepiece - or perhaps a bigger mantlepiece.

Cowley stands as one of Aotearoa's most decorated writers, winning national children's book awards from the 1980s all the way through into the 2000s. The only reason she's not a Dame is because she knocked back the title, she's part of the exclusive Arts Foundation Icon club, has been recognised with the Prime Minister's Award for literary achievement and even has an prize named after her - the Joy Cowley Award, administered by Storylines NZ. 

Cowley is up against Sacha Cotter's Dazzlehands, (illustrated by Josh Morgan), Hatch and Match by Ruth Paul, Melinda Szymanik's Lucy and the Dark (illustrated by Vasanti Unka) and Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai by Michaela Keeble (illustrated by Tokerau Brown).

Another literary legend in Tessa Duder is also back in the Awards mix. Another who's racked up awards since back in the 80s and received honour list and PM Literary Achievement accolades, Duder's left a huge impression on readers for decades with the Alex book series.

Tessa Duder.jpg
Tessa Duder. Photo: Supplied.

Duder explained to The Lowdown what being in Young Adult Fiction Award contention with The Sparrow means to her.

"Enormous pleasure, and to be honest, yes, an element of relief - I’ve never taken a shortlisting for granted. There’s always an element of luck. But huge satisfaction too, that those three years of solitary writing, all that wise input and encouragement from two superb editors at Penguin Random House, have resulted in something that your peers consider pretty good.      

"Over the decades there have been considerable rewards. But actually, this one feels very special, coming 20 years after my last inclusion in the awards, and 20 years of publishing only non-fiction, no novels at all.  

"So, returning to long fiction - it felt that for The Sparrow, the stakes were higher, and the buzz of being shortlisted that much greater."    

Duder's proud to show she can still foot it with the best up-and-comers in Aotearoa.

"Since my first YA novel Alex in 1987, the quality and quantity of New Zealand’s YA publishing has improved out of sight. So while I’m thrilled to be on the shortlist, hopefully showing that age is no barrier.

"I take a lot of pleasure from seeing how strong the genre has become and exciting new writers being discovered."  

Among those coming up against Duder's The Sparrow are two first-book writers. 

Ned Wenlock, who's nominated for his graphic novel Tsunami, told The Lowdown what it's like to be shortlisted alongside someone of Duder's influence and standing.

"In a word - Surreal."

Fellow finalist A M Dixon (with her book New Dawning) elaborated " I’m quite daunted to be nominated alongside writers like Duder and Cowley, who are both heroes of mine in the New Zealand children’s literature scene. I am definitely standing amongst giants on this year’s shortlist!" 

Eileen Merriman's Catch a Falling Star and Tonight, I Burn by Katharine J Adams round out the YA fiction finalists.

Gavin Bishop.jpg
Gavin Bishop. Photo: Supplied.

Another decorated writer/illustrator continues his habit of recognition with these awards. 

Gavin Bishop, who has published over 70 books that have been translated into twelve languages and won numerous awards, is up for both the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction and Russell Clark Award for Illustration gongs with Patu: The New Zealand Wars.

Bishop is reported to have been shortlisted for NZ book awards more times than any other author of any kind.

He told The Lowdown "It is enormously important to know your work is valued and thought highly of. 

"No matter how many times my work has been acknowledged I never take it for granted. If you start to rest on your laurels you might as well give up.

"It is very reassuring to know your work is still capable of holding its own with what is happening now in a digital world. My illustration work is old-fashioned. I don’t use technology to make my artwork. Everything I produce is drawn and painted onto sheets of watercolour paper which I stretch onto drawing boards. 

"I enjoy making marks with a pencil or a pen and I love washing on colour with a big fat brush. Sometimes I experiment and make images with scratch-board and wax resist. Sometimes accidents happen and a whole new world of excitement opens up when I have to decide what to keep and what to get rid of."

There are a host of acclaimed and highly respected writers and creatives in the shortlist, including Rachael King and former Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Ned Wenlock.jpg
Ned Wenlock. Photo: Supplied.

At the other end of the experience scale is the Best First Book Award - with Dixon and Wenlock up against Tokerau Brown (Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai), Tangaroa Paul (Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let My Poi Fly!) and Steve Mushin (Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan to Rewild Every City on Earth).

Wenlock remarks "To have a graphic novel, let alone my graphic novel, recognised by these awards, is a big thing.

"I’ve wanted to write a book for the longest time, ever since I was a child. Work and family life came first and it’s only now, with my kids leaving home, that I’ve allowed myself time to do it."

A M Dixon.jpg
A M Dixon. Photo: Supplied.

For Dixon, it's her first published novel-length book, but she's been writing short stories and flash fiction for adults for years.

She enthuses to The Lowdown "The community of New Zealand children’s writers has always been very welcoming and friendly, and being on this list feels like becoming part of a family. I am also passionate about supporting the work of new writers through my teaching at Hagley Writers’ Institute and the University of Canterbury. I love seeing new writers discover their voice for the first time and start to feel empowered to tell the stories they need to tell. 

"I wouldn’t have made it onto this shortlist without the support of the New Zealand writing community and I am very grateful for all the people who have encouraged me and given me feedback over the years."

It's the first instalment in her Edge of Light trilogy - the second book in currently in progress. "The trilogy is set in a post-climate-change Aotearoa – I feel we need to be telling stories about climate change and that young people in New Zealand need to see themselves and their places in these stories." 

The winners of each of the six main categories – Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori – take home $8500 and are then in the running to be named the supreme Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $8500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2500.

The awards will be announced in August. 


Show and tell

Robinson Cole - Black and White Wheku 2024.png
 Lissy and Rudi Robinson-Cole, Black Wheku Hinapouri and White Wheku Pūrangiaho. Images: Supplied.

The NZ Art Show's wrapped up for another year - and while the attendance and sales stats aren't out yet, we know that 13 artists walked away with an award-winning glow.

The top prize on offer at the Wellington long weekend event was the RT Nelson Awards for Sculpture.

From the 30 finalists, judge Sue Elliott, Chair of the Wellington Sculpture Trust, dished out the $15,000 premier prize to decorated Tāmaki Makaurau duo Lissy and Rudi Robinson-Cole with their woollen crochet artworks Black Wheku Hinapouri and White Wheku Pūrangiaho.

“The work engages and is beautifully crafted and provides a small window into Te Ao Māori,’ states Elliott. “The cosiness of the wool craft of crochet holds your hands, making the exploration both meaningful and joyous.”

Elliott couldn't split four other finalists for highly commended, with Emma Camden 's cast glass Structure,  Katherine Rutecki's scagliola and mixed media entry Untitled,   Sam Kelly's Standing Structure made of cow bone and resin and Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Tail of the Taniwha, a Tōtara and mixed media sculpture by Zena Elliott all picking up $1,000 each.

Ben Young_Verge.jpg
Ben Young, Verge. Image: Supplied.

Mount Maunganui local Ben Young made an impression on those who attended - with his concrete and glass sculpture Verge picking up the most votes to claim the $2,000 Sculpture Awards People’s Choice Award.

Leonie Sharp winner_Sacred Peaks.jpg
Leonie Sharp, Sacred Peaks. Image: Supplied.

As for the rest of the Art Show, the annual $2,000 People’s Choice Awards was won by Leonie Sharp from Whanganui for Sacred Peaks, a creation of feathers configured into a mountain scape.

Wilkie Proudfoot_Gabriel.png
Wilkie Proudfoot, Gabriel. Image: Supplied.

Elliott was busy - combining with Wellington artist Jane Blackmore to select half a dozen student creatives to claim the event's inaugural Emerging Artist Awards. 

Wilkie Proudfoot from Scots College was awarded the Premier Award winner, with Sean Ezekiel De Ocampo (Bishop Viard College), Bladon Roe and Eser Armstrong (both Onslow College), Alice Brunt (Queen Margaret’s College) and Luca Giera (St Patrick's College - Kilbirnie) also recognised.


Network news

The Big Idea's latest creative career booster, The Learning Network, continues to pick up momentum.

The resources section is growing to help give creative professionals a place to find what they need at their fingertips - with information shared from a number of Aotearoa's leading arts organisations.

And the latest learning module dives into a topic that The Big Idea regularly hears as a cause for consternation for many a creative - how to network properly and make lasting professional connections.

These insights could be the nudge you need to feel confident in making your next career step.

Sharing the spotlight

Hori Shaw keeping it casual at the AMAs. Photo: Stijl / Emma Cooper.

The Aotearoa Music Awards garnered plenty of mainstream interest with all the usual players dominating the headlines.

And there's no begrudging the likes of The Beths (Best Group and Album of the Year), Six60 (Highest Selling Artist), L.A.B. (Radio Airplay Record of the Year) and Stan Walker (the inaugural Te Manu Mātārae award) their deserved success and spotlight.

But it's always uplifting to see some of the lesser-recognised creative minds get their moment in the sun on a national stage too.

Newcomer Hori Shaw's win as the public voted People's Choice was fun to watch - and a sign of respect for the Ōpōtiki-based roots reggae artist's big streaming numbers and fan connection.

You could sense the pride as TAWAZ scooped both the Best Māori Artist and Mana Reo (recognising albums or singles with at least 50% te reo Māori content) awards, and while Marlon Williams was back accepting awards as Best Solo Artist, it was great to see Tom Healy & Alexandra Corbett acknowledged for their work on his album for My Boy

The same can be said for Haz Beats, who collected Best Producer for his work on Home Brew's Run It Back album, which also led to the Tom Scott-driven project collecting Best Hip Hop Artist.

Ōtautahi folk veteran Adam McGrath had a night to remember, winning Best Folk with his first-ever Tūī nomination, with other oft-under-recognised creatives Myele Manzanza (Best Jazz Artist) and the New Zealand String Quartet (Best Classical Artist) getting to take the stage.

The all-round talents of Lily Paris West were recognised with her double nomination for the Best Album Artwork award -ultimately winning for her band Mermaiden’s eponymous LP.

Princess Chelsea performing at the AMAs. Photo: Stijl / Emma Cooper.

The rise and rise of Princess Chelsea (real name Chelsea Nikkel) continues with the 2023 Taite Music Prize winner collecting Best Alternative Artist, off the back of her celebrated return, Everything Is Going To Be Alright.

Nichols told The Lowdown “I'm very happy to win an AMA - most of all I enjoyed performing (at the awards) that felt like winning to me.  

"I ain’t a snob about being cool or underground or whatever - I think it’s great we got to play live to our peers and the more people hear the music the better. What I enjoyed most was meeting all the other musicians who attended - people who I hadn’t met before and might not have met otherwise. We all have something to teach each other”.

The Big Idea's Liz Skinner attended this year's AMAs, and looked deeper into what New Zealand Music Month actually means for those it aims to promote - you can read those insights here.