Kia ora Keri – 30 years ago Keri Hulme won the Booker Prize for Fiction

Cover of The Bone People‘You’re not pulling my leg, are you? … Bloody hell – it’s totally unbelievable!’

That’s what Keri Hulme said when she won the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize) on 31 October 1985 – nearly 30 years ago. She scooped up New Zealand’s first Booker Prize with her debut novel the bone people.

It’s a book that New Zealanders have engaged with in a unique way. At last year’s Auckland Writers Festival, it was acclaimed the inaugural Great Kiwi Classic. I think I was at uni when I read it. It was unlike anything read before, or since.

There’s a great piece in Booknotes unbound where some booky people talk about the bone people. Peter Simpson reproduces part of his 1984 review:

…The Bone People might be seen not only as a cultural document of immense significance to New Zealanders of all races and as a major novel in its own right, but also as an important advance in the development of New Zealand fiction, effecting a new synthesis of the previously separate Maori and Pakeha fictional traditions.

Librarian Jacqui (purplerulz) said of Keri Hulme: “She’s a polarising author, but the bone people was wondrous for me, her use of words, description of the landscape and the people who lived in it were so evocative to me and when I travelled to the southern West Coast after that, it made all the more sense”:

The wind has dropped. It is growing very dark. The shag line has gone back to Maukiekie, bird after bird beating forward in the wavering skein. The waves suck at the rocks and leave them reluctantly. We will come back ssssoooo… they hiss from the dark.

For a full account of Keri’s Booker win, read Keri Hulme’s Bone people wins Booker Prize.

I am a fan of Keri’s writing in Te Karaka. Here’s a recent piece on the NZ flag debate.

I am a vexillologist manqué, you see. I love flags and learning about them and flying them whenever I can, whenever it is appropriate …The one flag I never flew was the official New Zealand ensign. It is dreary and derivative, and has never spoken to my mind or heart.

Kia ora Keri, always someone who speaks to the mind, and to the heart.

Man Booker Prize 2013

cover of The luminariesThe literary pages here are abuzz with the news that “one of our own” appears in the Man Booker Prize longlist. Youth, talent, partly raised in Christchurch and graduate of the novel factory (aka Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters) – Eleanor Catton is ticking a lot of boxes.

Also rather freakishly her novel The luminaries is set on the West Coast, where our last big international literary splash Keri Hulme set her Booker Prize winner The bone people. Apart from that the two writers and their work could not be more different, and that’s how it should be if we have a developing a varied body of writing in our culture. In fact I was just remembering that The bone people was originally published by a women’s collective here in New Zealand. Contrast with The luminaries – hardbound editions for the UK, the USA and here. You can read more about Keri Hulme’s win on NZhistory. (including the classic quote from Joanna Lumley who was one of the judges that year  ‘The so-called bitchy world of acting was a brownie’s tea party compared with the piranha-infested waters of publishing’.

It must be pretty exciting to see your work up there listed with such luminaries as Colm Toibin, Ruth Ozeki and Jim Crace.

The Man Booker judges this year are Robert MacFarlane, Martha Kearney, Stuart Kelly, Natalie Haynes and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst . All are writers, reviewers and academics. They had to read 151 books before they produced the longlist.

The shortlist will be announced on 10 September 2013  and the winner on 15 October 2013.

As usual the bookies are circling and offering odds. William Hill is offering 5 to 1 on Jim Crace and 6 to 1 on Eleanor Catton and Colm Toibin.

The Guardian describes the list as “daring and experimental”  and you can read plenty of other comment there too.

Already our copies of The luminaries are accruing a bit of a waiting list. Maybe you should pop out and buy – support New Zealand writers. And by the by – who designed that striking cover…?

Words for Christchurch: Keri Hulme


The green tunnels of my dreams
are still invaded by the sea-
the wreck waves hurtle over the cribs
and cetaceans I have never seen
rollick & clamour & band together to fossick where homes have been

-the home at Leaver Terrace
where I grew up
may still stand

was headed home there when we were warned of a tsunami & sent off early from Aranui High

we sped to New Brighton beach
to watch for it,
off the old pier-

Tautahi knew vibrant swamps,
rich with lively food
-change is not new here

our islands have dived like dolphins below the sea time & time before: our hills are sea-carved our mountains jagged from upthrust -no steadfast footing anywhere nearby- just a sure blue light of certainty that I, as a dreamer, trust- we will continue living in these unsteady lands hoping & dying & helping & building -because we are human, because we must-