Waikato writer in residence wins at national awards

17 August 2015

Mandy Hager - 2015 for web
Writer in residence Mandy Hager is "writing out of her skin".

Waikato University's writer in residence Mandy Hager was a double winner at the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Ms Hager's book Singing Home the Whale collected both the 2015 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Best Young Adult Fiction.

The book, set in the Marlborough Sounds, is about the relationship between an orphaned orca, Min, and teenager Will who's going through a tough time. In a non-preachy but dramatic way it addresses issues such as whaling, conservation and resource management, loneliness, the power of social media and the challenge of relationships.

The idea for the book came to the writer late one night, with three paragraphs 'downloading' in an other-worldly mythic voice. Ms Hager then spent several weeks tracking down how best to turn it into fiction, and developed it while attending a masterclass in YA writing with Carnegie Medal winner (the late) Mal Peet.

Book Awards judging panel convenor Bob Docherty said the book was relevant, timeless and extraordinarily powerful. "We think this novel would have won in any year it was entered, and the decision was unanimous for the panel.

"Mandy Hager is writing out of her skin at present and her understanding of the human condition and human attitudes towards each other and other inhabitants of planet Earth are beautifully presented.

"This novel should be compulsory reading in any country that still hunts whales. The alternating narrative by Will and Min is captivating and believable, as well as easy to read."

Ms Hager wrote Singing Home the Whale before taking up the Waikato residency.  During her time at Waikato she's been working on a new novel about the doomed 12th century love affair between the French nun and scholar Heloise d'Argeneuil and her teacher Peter Abélard, "one of history's most passionate and romantic true love stories".  She's written more than 70,000 words and is pleased with her progress.

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