After a miserable week where anything and everything that could go wrong did, I took myself off to the New Zealand Post children’s Book Awards in Auckland to have a free drink or three and celebrate my peer’s rise to the stage with their hard won books in hand.
At this point I have to say that my going there was in doubt; not because I didn’t get an invite- past judges get a lifetime ticket, but because this year has been fiscally tricky and I was in lockdown mode on the visa card. Scarcity does terrible things to your head and heart, but my good and talented friend Tania Roxborogh, shortlisted for YA Fiction with the fantastic exploration into Macbeths world, Banquos Son, called me and said ‘$49 fares- I’ll lend you the money if you haven’t got it and you can stay in my hotel room.’
There is nothing like the generosity of others to pull you up short and so I graciously accepted the bed and refused the loan- $100 isn’t so hard to find when you need to, and Creative New Zealand had furnished me with a book voucher for the same because I spent a bit of on-line time to help with their customer web survey (thanks CNZ!) I'm sure one equals the other.
So off I went and drank with my colleagues at the Town Hall which was beautifully mid winter themed with giant ice crystals. On each table were a fine array of nibbles, wine and gorgeous little gingerbread Christmas trees individually boxed for each guest- oh and a clever biro that had a pull out scroll with magical storyline starters. Somehow I have ended up with three…
Miriama Kamo was the MC for the night and I have to say, she is even more elegant and lovely in real life than on the telly- plus she has great warmth and sense of humour which came into play when her husband was pulled up on stage by her as an unexpected (by him) aid to the tricky steps that Margaret Mahy and at least 3 others nearly tumbled down. Note to organisers: never clad steps in white foam with rounded edges- looks like snow, acts like ice.
And so to the awards themselves after the necessary speeches (oh …we did miss John Allen but then he’s a tough act to follow in any quarter). By now you will have seen the full list and if not here it is.
I won’t go into each one except to say that I was personally thrilled Old Hu-hu won the Picture Book Category and indeed Book of the Year. I’m delighted because it is a great story which explains death and questions of afterlife in a unique way with Kyle Mewburn’s excellent wordplay and timing. But even more so (sorry Kyle, but I’m an illustrator at heart) because of Rachel Driscoll’s astounding illustrations and her partner Michael Greenfield’s design work. Scholastic put some budget into the book production -hard cover, satin finish, to die for end papers… and the combination of all of these things made for a totally exquisite package, which is what excellence in this genre is all about. The best of writing, illustration, design and production. I haven’t got there myself at all- nowhere near it, and one might think in the face of such talents, the mediocre would give up (o.k I’m not rubbish, but I’m aware that some of my stuff lacks effort…)
So it both surprised and delighted me that sitting in the airport lounge with a hangover, and using the NZPost pen, I wrote my first picture book (I either illustrate other author’s efforts or write novels). It’s just the bare bones and I have made a commitment to myself that if I ever wander into the picture book arena again, I will only produce excellence in all the above mentioned areas. I think it has potential and part of me sighs, because I know it will take months of work to get it to a standard that satisfies me let alone anyone else. But I’m inspired and excited; my cash might be scarce, but my passion is not. And that’s what the awards are for- encouragement to aim higher than you think you can and surprise yourself…