Meet the judges of the book awards

Read the official media release (including biographies).

Speedy promotion for Chris Bourke as Competitor becomes Judge

In a swift volte-face, Chris Bourke moves from being New Zealand Post Book Awards Book of the Year winner for his AUP published Blue Smoke: the Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964 in 2011, to chair of the Awards judging panel for 2012. 

Asked about coping with his book reading and judging load, Chris’ reply is decisive.

“How to judge 160 books in a few months? Teamwork. All judges will consider every book, but each of us has specialty areas that we can concentrate on first and give the others some leads. But we can also act as ‘general readers’ in the genres outside of our usual spheres.

“For about 20 years now my work has involved making decisions about the latest New Zealand books, just like a bookstore’s buyer, a book page editor or a library’s acquisitions assessor. We will ask ourselves, is a book as good as it could be? Is it engaging, plausible, accurate, thorough, adventurous – and does its design help achieve its purpose?”

Other judges are equally undaunted by the mega-read they’ve embarked on.

Paula Green, poet, reviewer and children’s writer was also an author with a book in the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards. 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry, co-authored with Harry Ricketts, was a finalist in the General Non-Fiction category.

Paula says the way she is treating her reading load is a bit magpie and a bit methodical. “I’ve got all the books in boxes in their categories and I’m reading every day. I walk into my study and I’ve no idea what I’m going to pick... today I thought a novel but ended up with an ultra serious nonfiction book.

“But while I read at random, I write up a journal each time I read a book, and that is organised. I mostly review novels and poetry, so it is an utter pleasure to have a glorious array of non-fiction!”

Mary Egan is thrilled to be a New Zealand Post Book Awards judge and says there is more than enough room for her reading copies in her house and office. Mary’s long association with publishing began when she was likely the first person in this country to set up a commercial computer typesetting operation. In the last 20 years she has designed and typeset books by hundreds of authors, including Michael King, Maurice Gee and Patricia Grace. She has owned and managed two successful book production companies.

You don’t achieve this without a methodical approach, and that is the way Mary is tackling her judging duties. “You get a lot of guidance with criteria for the various categories to measure the books you are reading,” she says. So all her reading is recorded on a spreadsheet with her own personal observations noted.

Reina Whaitiri says the quantity of books arriving was initially pretty terrifying. And that is from a university teacher of literature who is also co-editor of three volumes of work by Maori and Pacific Island writers.

Reina was also the judge of the short story in English category at the 2011 Huia Publishers Writing Awards. Currently she is working on a new anthology of Maori poetry with Robert Sullivan.

Reina now has a system and she’s read 30 or 40 books already, although in a cursory way.

“I’m absolutely loving it – I’ve got all the reasons I need to just sit and read.

“The quality of the books is just amazing and we are so lucky to have such excellent publishers and writers,” Reina believes.

David Eggleton is also no stranger to collecting awards. The current Landfall editor was six times Reviewer of the Year, most recently in 2009. He replied to The Read’s email request for his approach to judging with this gem:

“Extract from their delivery cartons, circle the stacks, ponder and check the judges' handbook; classify by genre, group books accordingly, compare and contrast as per presentation, then individuate, scan, assess, read the work; weigh intent against accomplishment, make preliminary evaluation, form first response.

“Move to next book in category, repeat process, comparing and contrasting within genres, then within categories. Reread those that have survived the first cull, and from this diminished list begin process of elimination down to a short list — or more probably in some instances a long short list — on which I have accrued notes, observations, thoughts and second thoughts which will allow me to advocate and/or defend my choices in discussion, argument and written verdict vis a vis other judges or panel of questioners.“

Chris Bourke sums up the job the panel of judges have undertaken as: “Ahead lie six months of demanding but exhilarating reading, about New Zealand in all its diversity.”

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards:  a tight timeframe for reading
Gillian Candler, Annemarie Florian and Bob Kerr are the judging trio tasked with selecting New Zealand’s best children’s and young adult books as finalists and eventually winners of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2012.

They have over 120 books to read, evaluate, discuss and possibly re-read over two months, with the shortlist of award contenders announced next February.

The panel’s convenor, Gillian Candler, has a measured approach to judging, “At the moment I am reading the entries mixed up and noting down things I like about each book. I love reading and often read books I like more than once, so I plan to read these books more than once as well. Then I plan to read through one category at a time to put together my shortlist.

“I’ll be on the lookout for books that capture my imagination; books that entice and teach; books with characters that draw me in and leave me wanting more,” Gillian says.

Annemarie Florian, the well-known owner of specialist Whangarei children’s bookshop Storytime, has had a long association with New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, with over 10 years on the awards advisory committee. She recently stepped down from that role and is delighted to be selected as a judge for the 2012 awards.

As a bookseller, she is reading new releases of New Zealand children’s books and teen fiction on a regular basis, so thinks she will have a head start over the other judges covering the 120 or so titles entered. “But it will still challenge me and there is no quick way around - you have to be thorough.”

Bob Kerr brings a multitude of talents to being a judge – and has not only won, but also judged the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in the past.

He has already got down to dealing with this year’s entries – the sofa has been pushed aside and the books cover much of the living room floor.

“Then I do what any kid does... pick up what looks interesting and read it to see if they grab me. There have been a couple I’ve been hooked by already, but of course I’m not telling!”

Bob lept at the change to be on the panel. As a brand-new grandfather of 12-week-old Owen, he reckons the judging array will establish a great library of books for his grandson, “Once he gets past board books.”

Written by Jillian Ewart, writer for The Read