Chidgey axes the competition at The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards…again

18 May 2023

Catherine Chidgey has been named winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction for the second time with her novel The Axeman’s Carnival at The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Catherine Chidgey with The Axeman's Carnival at the 2023 Ockham Awards

The #Ockhams is the chief event on New Zealand’s literary calendar, particularly for fiction writers. Chidgey is the only author to have won two Acorns. In addition, The Axeman’s Carnival has also been named favourite New Zealand book of 2022 by ReadingRoom readers.

Chidgey’s seventh novel, The Axeman’s Carnival, is a contemporary story written from the perspective of Tama, a magpie who lives on a high country farm in Central Otago. Tama, who becomes a sensation on social media, also witnesses the domestic violence and conflict between the couple who take him under their wing.

Akin to receiving an Oscar, the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction is the crowning achievement for New Zealand writers. Chidgey is thrilled to be awarded the Acorn for the second time (her fourth novel, The Wish Child, won the Acorn at the #Ockhams in 2017). The esteemed novelist also takes home a $64,000 cash prize thanks to the generosity of the award’s namesake, the late Jann Medlicott, who passed away last year.

"Winning the first Acorn was the highlight of my career, so it’s really lovely now to have the other bookend, a pair of Acorns, on the mantlepiece,” says Chidgey.

“The prize is a life-changing amount of money for a writer, and it is fantastic that New Zealand fiction has received more recognition in recent years, all thanks to Jann’s generosity.”

Comments from the judges for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction relayed how Chidgey’s stellar novel paints a vivid, contemporary picture of rural New Zealand through the eyes of a wild but insightful bird.

"The Axeman’s Carnival is a novel that has been clasped to New Zealanders' hearts... Chidgey’s masterful writing explores the diversifying of rural life, the predicament of childlessness, the ageing champ, and domestic violence. She provides a perspicacious take on the invidious nature of social media and a refreshing, complex demonstration of feminist principles. The Axeman’s Carnival is poetic, unique, profound, and a powerfully compelling read from start to finish."

When asked for comment, Tama, who argues he is the novel’s real author, remarked that this was the first time a non-human had been nominated for our national book awards.

“Frankly, it’s about time. I hope this award will inspire more non-humans to tell their stories.”

Tama can be found on Twitter under the handle @tamamagpie.

Chidgey is set to release her eighth novel, Pet, on Thursday, 8th June 2023, with a special event at the University of Waikato, where she is a senior lecturer in English. She is also the organiser of the Sargeson Prize short story competition, New Zealand's richest short story prize, sponsored by the University of Waikato. Entries for this are open until 30th June; details here.

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