16 Oct 2014

Fears book awards face shaky future

9:24 am on 16 October 2014

Authors, writers and publishers fear for the future of the New Zealand Book Awards, that are now without a major sponsor and are being shelved until 2016.

New Zealand Post has pulled out for financial reasons after sponsoring the awards for the past five years and the Book awards for Children and Young Adults for the past 18 years.

Established in 1968, the New Zealand Book Awards have a long history helping to craft careers for many new writers.

With New Zealand Post pulling out, a charitable trust has been formed made up of three key literary organisations -The Publishers Association, the Society of Authors and Booksellers New Zealand.

Vincent O'Sullivan, winner of the poetry category, with Sir Michael Cullen and Fergus Barrowman, publisher from Victoria University Press, at the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards

New Zealand Post has ended its sponsorship of the New Zealand Book Awards. Photo: Mark Tantrum / Booksellers NZ

Book Awards Trust chairperson, Nicola Legat, said the future will be challenging.

"It does mean that we have to look for grants, patrons and sponsors.

"We have some money to tide us over, but we knew the hunt for a sponsor wouldn't be easy and might take a long time, but that's what we've committed ourselves to doing for the sake of keeping these awards going," she said.

So the awards will continue but they will not be the same.

The 2015 Book Awards for Children and Young adults will still go ahead in August, despite losing the sponsorship, but the main Book Awards, will not take place until May 2016.

And they will be held as part of the Auckland Writers Festival as opposed to the usual prestigious stand alone event.

Pip Adam, who teaches creative writing at Victoria and Massey University and has had two books published, said no awards next year is a real concern.

"I was lucky enough to win the Hubert Church award in 2011 and the recognition was the most important part.

"Often we literally write in the dark and then someone says, 'yes what you're writing is okay', and I think there is probably a writer who has published their first book this year and that opportunity for recognition isn't there next year," she said.

Fergus Barrowman is a publisher for Victoria University Press, and said delaying the adult book awards for a year is a bad move.

"I wonder if because they're dead and buried next year whether it is possible to resurrect them a year later, as the gap is a bizarre thing to happen.

"The bottom line should have been to ensure that the awards went ahead next year," he said.

Tony Simpson is an award winning author, who picked up his first prize for the Sugar Bag Years in 1974 when the book awards were sponsored by Goodman Fielder Wattie.

With funds for the arts sector in short supply, he fears the new Book Awards Trust may struggle to attract strong financial backing.

"It seems ironic in the year following the year Eleanor Catton won the international Man Booker prize, that we can not find money here to sponsor our own New Zealand awards.

"It seems crazy," he said.

New Zealand Post has been under pressure financially recently and has defended its decision to withdraw from sponsoring the book awards by saying it is having to cut its cloth to suit, and is reviewing all areas of its spending.