The Mitch Marks Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Awards

by Mitch Marks - all photographs from the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards © Marcel Tromp 
This year’s New Zealand Book Awards, the second under the Ockham banner, are the first literary awards I’ve been to. I imagined it was going to be a cross between the only other awards I’ve attended: music awards and school prizegivings. That’s not too far off, except a music industry event would never close the foyer bar as soon as everyone files into the theatre.
There were scandals suited to the music awards and awkward moments straight out of high school, but sadly, and despite an email flurry of speculation immediately after Steve Braunias filed his Spinoff article, I still don’t know who the “girl vomiting into a handbag” was.
In the spirit of 2014 and 2015 awards attendee and Read recapper, Elizabeth Heritage, I’ve given my own Awards Awards. 
The Bill Manhire Award for Earliest Accidental Reveal of Winners
Awarded to the PowerPoint presentation operator who flashes Hera Lindsay Bird’s book cover up on the screen as they’re still doing the preamble for the best first book, poetry, prize… which goes to Hera Lindsay Bird (Hera Lindsay Bird, VUP).
'I love a good ruined surprise', says Hera, following up with, 'it’s cool to win an award.
The English 105 Award for Most Confusion Over Words at a Literary Event
Goes to everybody’s former and favourite English professor (well, mine and Michéle A’Court’s at least) Harry Ricketts, who dropped the bombshell that there were “two winners” for the poetry category… then announced just one winner, Andrew Johnston (Fits & Starts, VUP).
Andrew paraphrases William Carlos Williams, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there”, and humbly acknowledges that it’s probably the Sarah Maxey-designed cover that won this award for him. 

The IIML Award for Best Use of Words and People You Know at a Literary Event
Awarded to Tusiata Avia (Fale Aitu | Spirit House, VUP) who woke up on the floor from a seizure that morning so brought with her onstage her cousin Selina Tusitala Marsh 'in case of interpretive dance'. A mic drop moment, followed by the best reading of the night.
The Lest We Forget Chris Tse’s 2016 Swan Epaulettes Best Dressed Award
Aptly, this is a tie, going to Owen Marshall (Love as a Stranger, Penguin) and C.K. Stead (The Name on the Door is Not Mine, Allen & Unwin - pictured below) who both rocked blue velvet blazers. Mixing it up a little with accessories (‘a scarf’) both elder statesmen of New Zealand fiction looked dapper and velvet-smooth, if a little hungry.
The Gwyneth Paltrow Award for Best Thanks of the Evening
This was a hard and close award to call, especially amongst the creative writing winners who have spent a long(list) time thinking about the bon mots they can drop. Fiction category winner Catherine Chidgey (The Wish Child, VUP) crammed in some zingers, giving thanks to her 'other writing companions – Google, eBay and Breaking Bad' before thanking VUP for the 'ill-advised casino accommodation', grabbing her $50,000 purse and legging it.

Fergus Barrowman, Catherine Chidgey and Nicky Wilkins
Special mentions go to Illustrated Non-Fiction category winner Barbara Brookes (A History of New Zealand Women, Bridget Williams Books) who was accepting an award on her birthday and thanked venerable editor Jane Parkin (deserving of an award in her own right); and to General Non-Fiction winner Ashleigh Young (Can You Tolerate This, VUP), who thanked her cat Jerry, of course.
The Why Can’t This Be Like Music Awards Award for Most Awkward Use of NZ Music 
Proudly presented to the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards themselves! Memorable highlights include two Supergroove songs in a row to kick off the first book awards, Jenny Morris’s 'Break in the Weather' playing while Ashleigh Young and Fergus Barrowman fidgeted onstage waiting for their photo to be taken and Crowded House’s 'Something so Strong' closing off the ceremony as the Fiction category winner was announced. 

Congratulations to all the winners, nominees and PowerPoint preso operators for an excellent night.
Article by Mitch Marks