Wordsmiths to judge prison writing competition

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The star-studded judging panel for the Otago Daily Times’ prison creative-writing competition can now be revealed.

The trio of literary heavyweights have been published worldwide and all are based in Dunedin.

"New Chapters" is open to all prisoners at the Otago Corrections Facility and this year there will be prizes for both short stories and poetry, as well as a people’s choice award.

Becky Manawatu cleaned up at last year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards with her debut novel Aue, which also won the best crime novel category at the Ngaio Marsh Awards.

The West Coast author is in Dunedin after being awarded the Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago.

The tertiary institute also provides a link to the other two judges.

Co-director of the university’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies Liam McIlvanney said he was delighted to be involved in the project.

“Hopefully, such initiatives show prisoners that they have not been forgotten by the wider society, that they are still a part of society and have important contributions to make,” he said.

Like Ms Manawatu, he also won a Ngaio Marsh Award, in 2014 for his second novel Where the Dead Men Go.

His most recent book The Quaker was a bestseller in the UK and was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award.

Also part of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies; poet, playwright and fiction writer Emer Lyons completes the judging trio.

In 2017, she was the recipient of the inaugural University of Otago City of Literature PhD scholarship, and has been widely published.

Ms Lyons said judging "New Chapters" sounded like an interesting challenge and she will oversee a writing workshop at the prison next month.

Publisher HarperCollins will sponsor this year’s awards, providing books to those behind the winning entries.

Marketing and communications manager Sandra Noakes said there was no hesitation in backing the project.

“Reading and writing are true gifts for the human mind in terms of self-expression and freedom, and can help open doors to new futures, even behind bars,” she said.

Prisoners have until the end of May to enter "New Chapters" before winners are announced at a ceremony at the Otago Corrections Facility.

Emer Lyons
Emer Lyons

EMER LYONS

Who are you?

I’m a writer, will be Irish Studies post-doc fellow come June in the University of Otago’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies.

What is the key to great writing?

Key writing comes from using your own voice, leaning into vulnerability.

What are you working on now?

I’m working between a lot of things right now, mostly academic while also teaching, researching and acting. 

Becky Manawatu
Becky Manawatu

BECKY MANAWATU

Who are you?

I am a writer of Ngai Tahu and Pakeha descent, raised in Waimangaroa. I have been a waitress, bartender, fish-factory worker, kindergarten teacher aide, a cook on a boat and a journalist. I am now working on a second novel. I am married with two children.

What is the key to great writing?

For fiction, feeling real aroha for at least one character.

What are you working on now?

A new novel (working title Papahaua), a loose sequel to Aue. My intention is to follow Aunty Kat on a mana-asserting journey.

Liam McIlvanney
Liam McIlvanney

LIAM MCILVANNEY 

Who are you?

I’m the Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago. I co-direct the university’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies. I also write crime novels and teach creative writing.

What is the key to great writing?

I’m not sure that there is a single key to great writing, but perseverance is crucial. Also, try to write the kind of story that you yourself would like to read.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on three different crime novels at the moment. At some point soon I’ll need to decide which one to focus on.

rob.kidd@odt.co.nz

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