Marae reporter, bogan & Anna Rankin among Surrey winners

Breaking: Jesse Mulligan has spoken the names of the six – yes, six! – winners of the 2020 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award.

The grand winner of the 2020 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award is novelist Mia Gaudin. A graduate of the IIML in Wellington, she has been awarded seven nights accommodation at the strange and wonderful Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, Auckland, and also receives free breakfast and the hotel’s tremendously satisfying Sunday roast.

Jesse Mulligan made the announcement this afternoon on RNZ.

Second place is the multi-talented Vanessa Mei Crofskey, a staff writer at Pantograph Punch who features in a forthcoming Auckland University Press collection of six new poets. She wins four nights at the Surrey to work on a “memoir/drawing/poetry hybrid...It’s about innocence marred by upbringing, bizarre hentai sex and schoolgirl fetishes.”

It was too, too dificult to narrow third place down to just one writer. Surrey’s general manager Denise King has generously allowed four writers to share the honour, and each will stay at the hotel for three nights. Marae reporter Shilo Kino wants to work on a YA novel that weaves together Chinese and Māori cultures. West Auckland poet Michael Steven (he’s not actually a bogan but the headline looked cool) has a fantastic new series of poems riffing on a photo of Freud that used to hang in his dad’s panel beating shop.  Vanuatu-born Nicole Colmar is intent on finishing a novel in progress titled The Octagonal House. And the insanely brilliant Anna Rankin, who wrote three celebrated essays on Los Angeles during the lockdown for ReadingRoom, wants to work on a collection of essays. “Give her every award there is,” recommended author Linda Burgess, after reading the LA essays; the Surrey is a start.

Congratulations to all six winners – and thanks to all who applied. There were more than 100 entries in 2020. Two shortlists were drawn up. The first was published last week. The second was compiled from over 50 entries received in the three days before deadline, and included Laura Borrowdale and Suzanne Singleton. A final shortlist of 10 was announced this afternoon on the Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan show on Radio New Zealand; in addition to the six winners, the shortlist featured Sharon Holt (she’s working on an illustrated book teaching pronunciation of te reo Māori), Rochelle Savage (she has a novel on the go, titled My double life: mystery shopper 582), Henrietta Bollinger (she wants to publish a collection of essays titled Token Cripple), and Dr Mike Dickison (his project is The Kiwi Amateur Naturalist, “ the book I wish I'd had at age 10”.)

"It’s a novel that examines a certain New Zealand life – the classism, racism and homophobia of the champagne socialists, the sexual scandals of commercial law firms" - Mia Gaudin

It was not a pleasant exercise to decline applications from so many sincere, gifted, and committed writers. Neither was it a very happy thing to discard writers from the various shortlists. There wasn’t a single entry which was stupid or hopeless. New Zealand appears to be crammed with writers operating in a wide range of genres –  novels, short stories, essays, poetry, sci-fi, paranormal romance, film, etc etc – and all of the entries were worthy of being published or broadcast.

The judges very much hope that all six winners of the 2020 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award will eventually have their work finished, accepted, published, and then garlanded with honours and acclaim. Certainly this seems a reasonable expectation of Mia Gaudin.

Her novel is called There is No One New Around You. She writes, “It’s about Sarah, a ‘baby lawyer’ working in Wellington, who’s struggling to take control of her life and predict her future. She’s a very annoying perfectionist millennial who wants everything to come at once but isn’t sure what everything is. She falls in love with her flatmate, an art student from Rotorua who is obsessed with identity politics, and then in love with a guy at the law firm where she works. ..The story runs up and down the country, between Auckland and Wellington, as family secrets are revealed and relationships explode and kindle back together. It’s a novel that examines a certain New Zealand life – the classism, racism and homophobia of the champagne socialists, the sexual scandals of commercial law firms, and the power and futility of contemporary art. Most of all, it is about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, about growing up and facing into death, grief, and change."

Go forth, Mia – and Anna, Nicole, Michael, Shilo, and Vanessa  – to the Surrey Hotel, to bend thy head to the task, to have a room of one's own in Tudor-styled splendour, and to bring your genius unto the world. The breakfast at the Surrey is really good.

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