Tuesday, June 10, 2008

MONTANA NZ BOOK AWARDS JUDGE EXPLAINS WHY ONLY FOUR FICTION TITLES SHORTLISTED

Lynn Freeman, arts broadcaster and chair of this year's Montana NZ Book Awards judging panel, has explained in a statement that appears on the NZ Herald website.

To read the full comment link here but here is the telling piece re the fiction shortened shortlist:

Meanwhile, there were only four fiction finalists chosen this year, there were normally five.
Ms Freeman said the four were "outstanding books and, while there were other great books, we did not want to dilute the Montana (finalist) sticker by promoting a fifth.
"Those four books were just so good that they really merited the finalist sticker."
She said there had been a lot of discussion about choosing just four and said the quality of all 35 fiction entries was good.

Well The Bookman is astonished and I believe this decision will create the greatest controversy surrounding these Awards seen in many years. Your comments please.

54 comments:

Moorhouse Molly said...

Why didn't she just say they couldn't agree on the fifth? What a pack of whimps. Please ensure that these three judges are never used again.

Anonymous said...

I like Lynn Freeman (she is so supportive of emerging talent with her programme on the Arts) – but heavens above – this is bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Aren't people overreacting a bit? Surely if the judges feel that those four stand out, it is their right to select them?

Paula said...

Actually, last year was a really good one for NZ fiction. Lots of really good novels and story collections, many of which got excellent reviews.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the judges' comments are patronising. Something made it too hard for them and they're not being honest - well, that's what it looks like. To my mind, only one book of the 4 short-listed fiction is genuinely outstanding - the Grimshaw.

Duncan Priestley said...

I think this is an appalling situation and I hope you are able to get the full list of nominated fiction titles. I find it unbelievable that they couldn't find a worthy fifth title. As Paula says last year was in fact a strong one for NZ fiction and to not be able to name five is frankly pathetic.

Anonymous said...

I am an independent bookseller in a provincial city and from a purely self-interest perspective I have to say that this decision to only name four shortlisted titles will cost booksellers, publishers and an unamed author most dearly. All the marketing and sales opportunities for that extra title have gone and the chance for that missing title to have sold perhaps 1000-2000 copies will now not happen. What should be remembered too is that these books were all published last year and the big sales chances for them have largely gone except for the Montanas giving them a push along with all the renewed attention and publicity they bring.
I'm disgusted.

Helen said...

This is surely pure arrogance on the part of the judges? Don't try and tell me there were only four fiction titles published here last year that are worthy of bering shortlisted.
What an affront to NZ authors.

Colin Craven said...

When can we expect to hear from the NZ Society of Authors on the subject? Surely they will be upset at this slight on their members?

Anonymous said...

I am a NZ book publisher and so will not give my name here but I wanted to say,(and I did not have any fiction titles in this years Montana NZ Book Awards),that the judges have passed an enormous vote of no confidence in NZ publishing. They now need to emerge from their offices and conduct an open and robust debate on their decision. This is what would happen in the UK and I should like to see the same openess here.
As it now stands they have offended book publishers, authors and the reading public.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the missing fifth position has been left as the empty place at the table for the Angel...
Apparently Booksellers NZ changed the rules this year specifically to exclude Janet Frame's posthumous novel from being entered.

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in the process by which Tim Corballis, a minor Wgt novelist of really no great distinction, got to be a judge. How did Booksellers agree to such a disastrous choice? Really the nominations across the board are so eccentric that it calls into question the veracity of the award process.
I guess the words 'smart-ass' and 'determinedly off-kilter' covers it pretty much. Just what can you expect from a novelist whose last novel was - hold it everyone for a dynamite title - The Fossil Pit.

Anonymous said...

You make an interesting point about Corballis and he in fact may be the key to there only being four fiction titles shortlisted. I heard him once on the subject of narrative, basically he hates narrative, that is fiction that has a strong narrative doesn't rate with him.
The organiusers of these awards are clearly going to have to be much more careful in future when selecting judges.

Kevin said...

In a community as small as the literary one here in NZ it is always difficult finding judges who are both expereinced/qualified and available. The judging becomes a full-time job for 3 months or so and not too many can fit that load into their lives.
Freeman and Elworthy seeme to have the necessaries but Corballis was certainly a very odd choice indeed.
I know the Society of Authors likes to see an author included on the panel but I doubt whether they would have supported his nomination.

Roger B. said...

Let's face it Bookman, this is a total cock-up by the judges, and by the organisers for not insisting they select a fifth title, after all that is what they were paid to do.
Someone earlier said there should now be robust debate and I recfkon they were spot on. Or have the judges got themselves into an indefensible situation? I think so.

Anonymous said...

The decision to name only 4 as the fiction short-list pales into insignificance compared to a poetry short-list that includes Janet Charman and Johanna Aitchison while omitting Stead, O'Sullivan, Smither and Andrew Johnstone. They might be right about fiction; but as far as poetry goes this must be the most talent-resistant panel ever -- and that's saying a great deal because Montana judges are not famous for making good choices.

Anonymous said...

Two things. First, the judges get lambasted every year by some group or other who disagree with the results. Disagreement is OK, but must it always end up with ad hominem attacks? Did mighty monsieur Corballis really overpower the poor Elworthy and Freeman? Second, name the novels that missed out. I loved Fiona Farrell's MR ALLBONE'S FERRETS but it's also a flawed novel I think. Beyond that, there just were not that many major adult novels published in NZ in 07. If I missed them, tell me which.

Bookman Beattie said...

You are not right when you say that every year the judges get lambasted by some group or another. The short lists are usually named without controversy. This arguement is over not naming five books, not over the books that have been named.
I am attempting to get from the organisers the names of the 35 fiction titles submitted so that we can all see for ourselves whether or not there was not one other title worthy of being in that fifth slot.Watch this space.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile Martin Edmond muses on his book being shortlisted in the biography section http://lucaantara.blogspot.com/2008/06/genre-confusion.html

Anonymous said...

Seems like preparing a meal for five people and only inviting four to eat it. What a waste! Surely the organising committee could have insisted that five books were picked.

Anonymous said...

Slightly unrelatedly, does anyone know why there are no 'best first book' finalists this year?

Bookman Beattie said...

Here is the response from this year's Montana New Zealand Book Awards judging panel as to why there were no best first book finalists this year: "This year an insufficient number of submissions met the judging critieria for a shortlist, so the judges decided to award winners only."

Hamish Keith said...

I suppose it would be bad taste to mention that only a month or so ago the Montana judges were a controversial subject or would that come to close to saying something positive about Gordon McLauchlan?

Anonymous said...

Re there not being a suitable candidate for best first book (the arrogance of the judges is really completely astonishing) isn't one of the shortlisted fiction finalist's book their first work? Doh! Shouldn't it really be in the honorific category to which it belongs? Something else for these doozie judges to explain.

keri hulme said...

Time for an overhaul of the Montanas I think, if they are to retain credibility...two matters:

a)this kind of controversey detracts from the ultimate winner of the fiction section (or for those who thought they had a chance in the best first book section - yes, I am aware, it isnt of longstanding but-);

b)what do the sponsors think of this cockup? Sometimes, any publicity isnt good publicity...

Anonymous said...

first novels that immediately spring to mind, apart from The Blue

Susan Pearce's Acts of Love
Sara Knox's The Orphan Gunner

please continue, people ...

Anonymous said...

Keri, the sponsors probably think, quite rightly, that of the demographic they seek to impress through their sponsorship, about 0.3% will give a second's thought to how the Montanas are organised and decided.

Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree with an earlier comment that the fifth space is where Janet Frame's Towards Another Summer should be. If Booksellers NZ really did disqualify it -- perhaps they can confirm? -- then it seems petty of them. But equally it would be petulant of the judges to do this as a form of protest. There are plenty of deserving books from last year -- Louise Wareham Leonard's Miss Me a Lot Of, Peter Wells's Lucky Bastard, Owen Marshall's Drybread, the Damien Wilkins stories, Susan Pearce's Acts of Love, Carl Nixon's Rocking Horse Rd ... All could have used the boost of a Montana placing.

Fergus said...

A plug for Dreamquake too!

fiona said...

(1) If the books are chosen on merit, and the judges found four really outstanding ones, with the others some distance behind, then why shouldn't they choose a shortlist of four? What they are doing is protecting the integrity of the award.
(2) Tim Corballis is not a "minor Wgtn novelist" but a noted critic and a talented writer whose novel The Fossil Pit is taught at university level.
(3) The Montana judges are ALWAYS attacked, usually on the basis of our crippling NZ anti-intellectualism (the more academic the judge, the nastier the scorn). Let's open our minds a bit. Let's be a bit more honest.

keri hulme said...

Fiona, are you really equating intellectualism with being an academic? That is, intellectuals are found only within Academe? Dear me-

I dont find we ANZers are "cripplingly anti-intellectual"
and Montana judges are definitely *not* always attacked.

Let's have a bit more open-ness about the entire Montana judging process e.g. the role of advisors/preliminary judges (been there, done that.)
And let us all acknowledge the fact that *any* literary prize is a matter of personalities, circumstances, & luck, after a certain degree of professional expertise has been achieved by an author.

Roger said...

speaking of advisers, personalities, circumstances and luck: interesting correlation between the poetry adviser (an AUP poet) and the poetry shortlist

Anonymous said...

To follow up on Keri's comment about adviser/preliminary judges, it would be illuminating to know what the fiction adviser thought of this year's list. Did he/she also think that only 4 books were worth short listing? Why can't we know what the long-list was? I'm sure Booksellers will bring out the 'confidential' card again but in these circumstances isn't there a public right to know?
The Montanas have become a joke, and the judges have shown themselves to be naive for thinking their comments will be acceptable.

Hamish Keith said...

Well said Keri - the notion that academics are intellectuals and the hoi polloi are not is much the same as the mayor of Wellington's assertion the her citizens are culturally aware and intelligent because the goverment is there - the whole country has started to talk in Tui billboards and it should stop. There are enough clouds gathering over cultural management for a serious debate about devolving some of it to begin

Anonymous said...

I particularly loved the way the judges shuffled their unlikely suspects onto the finalists' stage for fiction then promptly kneecapped them by announcing that nonfiction was where excellence lay this year.

Fiona Kidman said...

I am not the 'Fiona' placing comment on this issue. For the moment its a case of 'no comment' from me

Fiona Kidman

Anonymous said...

Consider this: of the books on the list, and those that didn't make it, which, if any, will still be selling and read in ten years time?

fiona said...

Just for the record - I'm not the Fiona in question either
Fiona Farrell

Helen said...

I can't believe Sarah Laing's 'Coming Up Roses' didn't make the best first book list.

I'll come clean and admit I'm a friend of Sarah's, but bias aside, I thought her book was fresh, energetic and quite unlike anything else published here recent years.

Anonymous comments irritate me, by the way. Stand by your points of view, people!

Helen

Gerard Reid said...

I see that Booksellers NZ are being as closed as ever. Not content
with offending against one of the fundamentals of democracy by
telling PEN who is acceptable as their nominee, they also tell us
that nominations for the Montana Book Award are confidential.

What a load of rubbish. If it is in the conditions, it shouldn't be.

I don't want to over-state the case but can't help wondering, why
revert to closedness when openness is called for? What a sad pass the
industry has come to when its institutions, instead of stoutly
defending openness at all costs, default to being closed.

Does no one in Booksellers NZ think about such matters? Is it just
quietly slipping into irrelevance to the wider community? Is that
perhaps just what it deserves?

FredP said...

Re Best First Book - there never has been a best first book shortlist announced, to my recollection, excepting last year, which was something of an experiment. So it is not bizarre or controversial, as some seem to imply, that there is not such a list this year.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is there will be no best first book prize since not enough of the first books were 'good enough' according to our somewhat supercilious judges...apart from Mary McCallum's first book. More experienced judges would have put her in the first book competition with other first books, thus giving more books a little reader-attention. As it is, all fiction writers who published their first book this year must be feeling very flat. They've had their hands smacked for trying. Somehow it all reeks so horribly of a narrow Wellington piety, faintly evangelical in its wish to be 'creative' but actually faintly boorish and naive.

Fergus said...

Hey, what's Wellington got to do with it?!

Keri Hulme said...

Fergus me tatou katoa- I'm definitely not into the Wellington/Auckland axis/bias thing
{I'm south South SOUTH!)
but the cotinued seeming-ignorance of writers like Elizabeth, Owen, Karl & others for major ANZ lit. prizes this (lit.prize) year is
-interesting...

Anonymous said...

Wellington shot Bambi's mother!!!

Anonymous said...

The fiction advisor was Diane Brown. Last year (?) she gave her strong opinions on LeafSalon about the dominance of some kind of Wellington writers' cabal. Therefore I doubt that the final list is a Wellington plot.

Anonymous said...

Woops. The Montana committee are clearly taking a defensive position which is really unfortunate( on the radio this morning). A shame they can't acknowledge the real damage done to not publicising more writers by not merely having a fifth finalist in fiction but also scuppering the best first book award. And if the Montana bookseller people say there is a lot of support why isn't it audible here on this blog. Do Freeman, Corballis and Elworthy and their supporters lack a tongue?

Anonymous said...

The best first book award has not been 'scuppered'. Last year was the only time there has been a shortlist. This year the main prizes have first books in them, so a shortlist would be pointless.

As for the suggestion that Mary McCallum's book should have been judged only in the category of best first book, that is ridiculous. It's not one or the other. If it's good enough to be a finalist against all the novels, that should be a cause for celebration, not a gripe that she's somehow stolen someone's rightful place.

Anonymous said...

Um...re the narrow nature of choices in the awards, two of the three judges are from Wellington. This was signalled as a problem quite early on by Gordon McGlaughlin among other people. A kind of mirroring and insane political correctness goes in this small inward looking and incestuous city. The crazy shortcircuit might have been broken by a better and more real geographical spread.

Anonymous said...

The problem with so many of the responses here is that they are uninformed and biased one way or another. With only one Wellington writer in the finalists, how is that a Wellington cabal? As a former fiction advisor myself, people should understand that the advisors do not have a final say in the selection. Judges can ignore them or not. Also advisors and judges are constrained in what they can say about the process.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to hear Linda Henderson of Booksellers NZ on Radio this morning, listing the criteria for fiction to show why the four were chosen and other books weren't. But it was an unfortunate move on her part. The criteria include "strong narrative" which would imply that the short listed books have this in lst year's crop. In the 2 I've read, I don't see much understanding of narrative at all. This ties in with previous comment on this blog about one of the judges having a dislike of narrative. The points I dwant to make are:
1: judges can pick who they like but their choices are never going to please everyone
2: a different set of judges would have picked another set of books, possibly all different from this year's.
3: the reason people are outraged this year is the tone of the judges' comments and the put-down of local fiction generally.

Someone earlier suggested the list of long-listed titles be made public. Why not let us know what books were seriously discussed by the judges in the final round? They would have argued about a top handful and should say honestly that they couldn't agree, not use weasel words.

Anonymous said...

Possibly a great deal of this situation could have been solved by actually having a shortlist/ or is it a longlist, as used to always happen in recent memory. Then at least everyone half pie decent gets a hearing until the finalists are announced. But this current year (and the abbreviation of the finalists by cutting out the best first book and limiting the fiction finalists) has exacerbated the problem by reducing NZ fiction's output to a couple of books of short stories and two novels.

Jennifer Compton said...

What a fascinating blog and discussion. (Thanks to Mary Mccallum for sending me the link.) I have been away from Wellington for a very long time so I am playing catch up.
It does all seem very odd - but odd things to happen from time to time.

Adam said...

Literary Prizes (all arts prizes in fact) are fundamentally flawed: works of art are not designed to compete against each other. Either you dismiss the whole concept of such a competition (in which case you don't care who is/is not selected) or you accept such competitions with all their inherent folly. Four titles instead of five? Whatever.