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Dame Fiona Kidman wins big (again) at the Ockham NZ Book Awards

Fiction winner Dame Fiona Kidman. Photo/Robert Cross/Supplied
Veteran author Dame Fiona Kidman has won this year’s top prize for fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for This Mortal Boy. The novel was based on the 1955 murder case of “jukebox killer”, Albert “Paddy” Black, who was the second-to-last man to be hanged in New Zealand.

Seventy-nine-year-old Kidman was awarded the $53,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in a ceremony during the Auckland Writers Festival tonight. Judges picked her book from a shortlist which included Lloyd Jones (The Cage), Kate Duignan (The New Ships) and Vincent O’Sullivan (All This By Chance).

This Mortal Boy is Kidman’s eleventh novel, her first having been published in 1979. She previously won the top fiction prize for her 1987 work The Book of Secrets.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

The Ockham judges praised This Mortal Boy as “an intensely human and empathetic story” in its fictionalisation of the life and death of Black, who was convicted for murdering 19-year-old Alan Jacques in an Auckland milk bar and hanged in Mt Eden Prison.

Said the judges: “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.”

Historical works also dominated awards in the non-fiction categories.

General Non-Fiction winner Joanne Drayton. Photo/Tony Nyberg/Listener

Joanne Drayton’s biography of 1970s television chefs and gay couple Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love won the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction. The category’s judges described it as a “generous, multi-layered, and touching account of companionship and enduring love.”

Drayton’s previous book was bestseller The Search for Anne Perry, about the life of Juliet Hulme, one of the two teenagers in the 1954 Christchurch Parker-Hulme case, who, after her five-year sentence moved to Britain and eventually became a crime writer under her new name. 

The Illustrated Non-Fiction Category went to Te Papa curator Sean Mallon and French ethnologist Sébastien Galliot for their work Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing, a book which traces 3000 years of the artform. Judges described the volume as “a milestone in contemporary publishing.”

Illustrated Non-Fiction winners Sean Mallon and Sébastien Galliot. Photos/Supplied

Te Mūrau o te Tuhi, a discretionary Māori language award, was presented this year to pioneering te reo and tikanga academics Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy for their work He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao. Professor Milroy died last week.

“This book’s value is undeniable. Its language, accessible. This is a doorway to their world,” said the awards’ te reo Māori judge Dr Ruakere Hond.

The top poetry prize went to Helen Heath whose second collection Are Friends Electric? won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry. Heath’s previous Graft won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry Award in 2013. This year, that debut prize went to Tayi Tibble for Poūkahangatus.

Among the other first book categories, Kirsten Warner won the Hubert Church Prize for best first book of fiction for her The Sound of Breaking Glass; Chessie Henry won the E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of general non-fiction for her We Can Make a Life; John Reid won the Judith Binney Prize for best first work of illustrated non-fiction for Whatever It Takes: Pacific Films and John O’Shea 1948-2000.

Full winners list


This Mortal Boy by Dame Fiona Kidman (Penguin Random House).

General non-fiction

Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love by Joanne Drayton (Otago University Press).

Illustrated non-fiction

Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing by Sean Mallon and Sébastien Galliot (Te Papa Press).

Maori language

He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy (Auckland University Press).

Poetry winner Helen Heath. Photo/Victoria Birkinshaw/Supplied


Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath (Victoria University Press).

First book of fiction

The Sound of Breaking Glass by Kirsten Warner (Mākaro Press).

First book general non-fiction

We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry (Victoria University Press).

First book illustrated non-fiction

Whatever It Takes: Pacific Films and John O’Shea 1948-2000 by John Reid (Victoria University Press).

First book of poetry

Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press).

The general non-fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction category and Māori language award-winners were awarded $10,000. Each first book award-winner received $2500.