14 May 2019

'Urgently relevant': Dame Fiona wins fiction prize at book awards

10:04 pm on 14 May 2019

Dame Fiona Kidman has taken out the country's most prestigious literary prize.

Fiona Kidman.

Fiona Kidman. Photo: Supplied / Robert Cross

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, which are in their 51st year, were celebrated tonight at the Aotea Centre in Auckland.

Dame Fiona received the $53,000 prize after taking out the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize for her novel This Mortal Boy.

Her novel recreates the events leading to the hanging of Paddy Black - or the jukebox killer - at Mount Eden prison in 1955.

The judges described Dame Fiona's work as moving, memorable, authentic and "urgently relevant to our times."

"With seeming effortlessness, she pulls the reader into mid-century New Zealand - the restlessness of a new urban youth culture, the moral panic that led to the Mazengarb report, the damning assumptions of the legal profession and the unchallenged omissions that eased the pathway to a young man's death."

Past recipients include Witi Ihimaera, Keri Hulme and Maurice Gee.

Other winners include Joanne Drayton for non-fiction, Helen Heath for poetry, Sean Mallon and Sébastien Galliot for Illustrated Non-Fiction and Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy for Māori Language.

Those winners received a $10,000 prize.

The general non-fiction category judges said Joanne Drayton's Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love was a "touching account of companionship and enduring love".

"Set against the backdrop of the double act many of us will remember, Hudson & Halls reveals the humour and drama of this couple's onscreen chemistry, and is a deeply moving and often surprising account of their private life."

The Māori Language Award was presented this year to Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy for their work He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao.

The awards' judge, Dr Ruakere Hond, said the book opened doors to access "two most influential exponents of [te] reo Māori".

"Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy invite the reader into their conversations, their yarns and musings from decades of cultural experience. This book's value is undeniable, its language, accessible."


  • The Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize: This Mortal Boy by Dame Fiona Kidman
  • The Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction: Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love by Joanna Drayton
  • The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry: Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath
  • The Illustrated Non-Fiction Award: Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing by Sean Mallon and Sébastien Galliot
  • Te Mūrau o te Tuhi for Māori Language: He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy
  • The Hubert Church Prize for a best first book of Fiction: The Sound of Breaking Glass by Kirsten Warner
  • The E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of General Non-Fiction: We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry
  • The Jessie Mackay Prize for a best first book of Poetry: Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble
  • The Judith Binney Prize for a best first work of Illustrated Non-Fiction: Whatever It Takes: Pacific Films and John O'Shea 1948-2000 by John Reid

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs