05 Nov 2013
It was the literary equivalent of New Zealand’s Got Talent: four of New Zealand’s finest writers gathered in Wellington last week for the 2013 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.
With dozens of books between them, they’ve explored everything from a scandal amongst Dunedin’s upper classes, to the life of Colin McCahon, to the joys of walking - and beyond.
Owen Marshall gained the Award for Fiction, Martin Edmond for non-Fiction and Michele Leggott for Poetry. Fiona Farrell was also honoured as the 2013 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writer’s Fellow.
Post awards, the quartet discussed their work at a packed Creative New Zealand public literary event. For non-writers, this was a glimpse into the rewards and challenges of a writing life. Or, as Owen Marshall put it: there are peaks of triumph in a long career but there are also dark valleys of despondency. These then, were the sort of folk who just put their heads down and kept clambering over the rocks.
Real rocks, perhaps, in the case of Fiona Farrell who is writing twin books inspired by the Christchurch earthquakes. Real landscapes in the case of Owen Marshall who is returning to his much loved Central Otago with his new novel. And real physical challenges in the case of Michele Leggott, who moved the room to tears with her poem on childhood and library books, Keep This Book Clean. As she recited, guide dog Olive waiting patiently in the stalls.
Why do they do it? The desire to communicate; to connect with a reader. To understand something they didn’t understand before. Whether that is the ongoing impact of a quake, the life of a convict artist or a South Island landscape.
For Leggott, the poet is a maker of things that resonate. “I like to look at the world and think, I can make a poem out of that.’’