Once again the literary set managed to keep a civil tongue in their heads, at least in public, at last night’s Montana New Zealand Book Awards, but overhearing the question “who is Sidney Nolan?” in the foyer on the way in did make me think they need to brush up their general knowledge.
No-one had to ask the extremely glamorous and competent M.C., Jennifer Ward-Lealand, who she was wearing because it was helpfully noted at the bottom of the menu and programme of events (Liz Mitchell in case you’re wondering).
The Prime Minister was greeted several times in absentia before she managed to be in presentia, rushing from one event to another but looking very smart in black and as gracious as ever in her support of the arts. Nicky Wagner, National’s Associate Spokeswoman for Arts, Culture and Heritage, started her day at the Central Library in Christchurch and ended it at the Montanas – obviously a true book lover.
Charlotte Grimshaw was of course the big winner on the night with Opportunity, despite predictions that she wouldn’t be winning because she wasn’t present. Via satellite she pronounced herself a proud Labour voter, announced she had already written a sequel to Opportunity and begun a novel featuring the same characters and was generally a polished and professional performer.
Mary McCallum, whose book The Blue was the winner of the New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Best First Book Award for fiction was a bit more enthusiastic. She’d discovered the pleasures of checking out library web-sites to see if her books were all out and was very excited to find there was a waiting list for it in Picton. In what must surely be a first there was also a veiled criticism of the judges from a winner, when the controversy over choosing four novels not five was referred to in an acceptance speech.
And now for my own awards:
Best opening remark of an acceptance speech – “I never thought I’d be on stage with Jennifer Ward-Lealand”.
Best literary witticism – ”I’ve been doing this since C.K. Stead was in short sentences”.
Best editor – Rachel Scott, publisher at Canterbury University Press, who edited both the winner and the runner-up in the fiction category.
Most unnerving moment – being surrounded by black-suited Myrmidons disguised as wait-staff awaiting a signal from their ear-piece wearing leader. I had a nasty moment wondering just what they had planned but all they wanted to do was whisk away our plates in one synchronised movement.
Worst choice of favourites – me – none of mine won.