Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 30, 2020

2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards longlist

With thanks to Twitter and the Otago Daily Times, here is the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Longlist.  As usual, I’ve only read any of the fiction prize, and alas, only two of those.  But what’s David Vann doing on the list?  He’s an American author, born in Alaska, and according to Wikipedia, he’s currently working at a university in Warwick in England.

I looked up the Ockham rules:

Principal authors, illustrators and translators must be New Zealand citizens (by birth, naturalisation, or immigration) or be permanently residing in New Zealand. The Awards Administrator may request evidence to confirm that all principal contributors meet this requirement. The work of New Zealand citizens living overseas is eligible if the book meets other criteria (below) and has been published during the period stipulated for eligibility.

I dug around some more and found an article from 2017 that quoted him as saying ‘Where do I write best? I usually began the books in my home in New Zealand, which is so quiet and calm, with beautiful views to the ocean and islands.’

I noticed this week that one of the WA awards is going to be restricted in future to WA authors, and I predict that this kind of parochialism, whether well-intended or not, is going to cause similar kinds of headaches.

Anyway, here are the longlists:


The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press), see the review at Alys on the Blog

Lonely Asian Woman by Sharon Lam (Lawrence & Gibson)

Necessary Secrets by Greg McGee (Upstart Press)

Aue by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press), see the review at Alys on the blog. I read this review and put this one on my wishlist for Indigenous Lit Week because the author is Maori.

Moonlight Sonata by Eileen Merriman (Black Swan, Penguin Random House), see the review at Alys on the blog

Pearly Gates by Owen Marshall (Vintage, Penguin Random House), see my review

Attraction by Ruby Porter (Text Publishing)

A Mistake by Carl Shuker (Victoria University Press), see my review

Loving Sylvie by Elizabeth Smither (Allen & Unwin)

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (Text Publishing)


Craven by Jane Arthur (Victoria University Press)

Listening In by Lynley Edmeades (Otago University Press)

Back Before You Know by Murray Edmond (Compound Press)

Under Glass by Gregory Kan (Auckland University Press)

Moth Hour by Anne Kennedy (Auckland University Press)

Ransack by Essa-May Ranapiri (Victoria University Press)

How to Live by Helen Rickerby (Auckland University Press)

Lay Studies by Steven Toussaint (Victoria University Press)

Because a Woman’s Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean by Sugar Magnolia Wilson (Auckland University Press)

How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press)


Crafting Aotearoa: A Cultural History of Making in New Zealand and the Wider Moana Oceania edited by Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Mahina-Tuai, Damian Skinner (Te Papa Press)

Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance edited by Stephanie Gordon, Matariki Williams, Puawai Cairns (Te Papa Press)

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys edited by Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler (Auckland University Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki)

Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy by Paul Horan and Philip Matthews (Auckland University Press)

The New Photography: New Zealand’s First-generation Contemporary Photographers edited by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press)

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee (Massey University Press)

Louise Henderson: From Life edited by Felicity Milburn, Lara Strongman, Julia Waite (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu)

McCahon Country by Justin Paton (Penguin Random House)

Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction, Vol. 1 1919-1959 by Peter Simpson (Auckland University Press)

The Meaning of Trees: The History and Use of New Zealand’s Native Plants by Robert Vennell (HarperCollins)


Women Mean Business: Colonial Businesswomen in New Zealand by Catherine Bishop (Otago University Press)

Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (Victoria University Press)

Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920 by Jared Davidson (Otago University Press)

Shirley Smith: An Examined Life by Sarah Gaitanos (Victoria University Press)

Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry by Paula Green (Massey University Press)

Finding Frances Hodgkins by Mary Kisler (Massey University Press)

Towards the Mountain: A Story of Grief and Hope Forty Years on from Erebus by Sarah Myles (Allen & Unwin)

The New Zealand Wars by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books)

Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica by Rebecca Priestley (Victoria University Press)

Whale Oil: One Man’s Fight to Save His Reputation, then His Life by Margie Thomson (Potton & Burton)


  1. Thanks so much for posting this longlist, Lisa. Its interesting.


  2. I shall have to have a closer look: I’m sure that there are some books there that belong on my ‘must read list’. Thank you… again :-)


    • Death to the plans to get the TBR under control!


  3. Some of these sound good. I looked up The Absolute Book, but it isn’t on kindle or in my library and is expensive to purchase, so it’s unlikely I’ll get to read it.

    It definitely sounds like the rules have been bent a bit in who is allowed to enter.


    • All NZ books are alas, expensive to purchase if you’re not in NZ and have to add postage, and some of the publishers are not great at making copies available as eBooks. (I mean, I hate reading on the Kindle, and I hate buying anything from Amazon, but if it’s the difference between being able to read or not, well, I’ll do it.)
      I’m not sure about the rules. If Vann has dual residency and owns a property in NZ where he lives on and off, he may well have been resident in NZ during the eligibility period.
      It may turn out to be a plus for the other authors: readers who might not normally pay any attention to NZ books might come across the longlist and be interested in some of the other titles.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t see any point in Premier’s Awards being for out-of-staters. There are already national awards for Australian writers.


    • But the thing is, everybody moves around so much in Australia, it makes no sense to me in a culture where people are so mobile. And excluding writers from other states can be very hard on writers who live in states that are impecunious i.e. Tasmania or stingy with prize money i.e. Qld. I mean, all those years when there wasn’t any Qld award apart from a symbolic gong, would have meant there was nothing at all for Qld authors already struggling to survive and thrive in a philistine culture.
      No, I’m opposed to it. I don’t even like the Melbourne Prize even though I think it’s a wonderful initiative, I don’t think it should be limited to Victorians only.


  5. […] reminded me of Carl Shuker’s novel A Mistake which has just been longlisted for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Books Awards.  As I said in my review, it’s a confronting novel, one that makes the reader think deeply […]


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