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How to be Award Winning Before Publishing

Gigi Fenster. Photo: Supplied.
Rebecca Macfie. Photo: Supplied.
To win a literary award of any kind is a special achievement. To win one that enhances a piece of work: that has a significance all of its own.


Recognition, time, money.

All writers know the importance any of these three commodities can have on their work. So what about the opportunity to land all three at once? 

Christchurch based author and journalist Rebecca Macfie can tell first hand, after winning last year’s Copyright Licensing New Zealand/NZ Society of Authors Writers’ Award. With Applications due to close this Friday 29 May for the CLNZ/NZSA $25,000 award, Macfie’s excited that another New Zealander writer will get to experience the difference it can make on their project.

All About Timing

Macfie is writing the biography of Helen Kelly – the first woman to be President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. For her, receiving the award could not have come at a better time.

“I’d received very generous funding prior, but the project was taking me much, much longer than I’d anticipated and by the time the award came through that had been used. I was looking at a period of about 18 months with no funding. So, it really is a big help.

“Because I’m trying to build a context-rich story it feels like I’m wrestling 84 octopus at once so to have the financial assistance to help has been wonderful. I’m both grateful and fortunate.“

Fresh Eyes

Rebecca Macfie. Photo: Supplied.

An unexpected positive by-product of the awards was the application process itself.

Macfie, whose book, Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and Why 29 Men Died received critical acclaim, says that taking the time to apply gave her the chance to look at her work from a more external viewpoint.

“You have to stop and describe what you are doing. Bare yourself to a new community. Describe and, in a way justify it, which can be a bit confronting. But when I think back, it’s quite a good process as it gives you a chance to stand on the sidelines from your own work and say; ‘This is what my project is about. This is it in a nutshell.”

“It’s a good test to see if you are on top of the material,” says Macfie.

Buying Time

As well as the Writers’ Award, CLNZ and NZSA are also calling for applications for four $5000 research grants, available to both fiction and non-fiction writers (the closing date for applications is a further week away on Friday 5 June.)

Ōtaki-based author, Gigi Fenster, won a $5000 research grant in 2019 and agrees with Macfie that the financial help allows for more in-depth research and for this to be conducted in a timely manner.  It supported her work, ‘Be Reasonable’, which looks at legal cases where the principle of “The Reasonable Person” has been applied. 

The attempted banning of Ulysses, by James Joyce being one of the more notable examples of this. 

Fenster says the grant was really important as it enabled her to delve more deeply into researching her topic.

“I think I’ve done more research than I would have done otherwise. It’s allowed me to do more depth of research. I think without it I would have produced a more superficial work.”

“As a result, one series of cases has ended up capturing the whole book, which potentially leaves other cases for future books.” 

Affirmation Appreciation

Gigi Fenster. Photo: Supplied.

Both writers agree that equally important was the positive affirmation that came with their awards and grants.

“When you are about to start 18 months to two years’ worth of research you don’t want to do something that people might not be interested in. It was really encouraging to me that others thought this project has merit,” says Fenster.

“The feedback that I was pursuing something others thought was worthwhile was really encouraging.”

But a heads up for the eventual 2020 winner - as Macfie found out, when you win the Writers’ Award, there is some explaining to do.

“I was getting emails from people asking where they can buy the book. You have to tell them it’s still some way off. It is an award in the sense that the judges are saying; ‘we think you can pull this off.”


By Bevan Sanson.


Applications for the 2020 CLNZ/NZSA Awards close 4pm on Friday 29 May 2020 - click here to apply.

To apply for one of the four research Grants, which close 4pm on 5 June click here.

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26 May 2020

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