University of Waikato academic and award-winning author Catherine Chidgey launched her seventh novel, The Axeman’s Carnival, at an event on the Hamilton campus last night, along with her second children’s book, Jiffy’s Greatest Hits.
“We are enormously proud of the Creative Writing programme, and proud of how it has grown,” says Catherine. “It started as some summer school papers taught by Tracey and other writers including the late, great Peter Wells… and grew from there to undergraduate papers first, then to the full Master of Professional Writing that we now offer.”
The Axeman’s Carnival is told through the eyes of Tama, a magpie who is rescued as a chick by farmer’s wife Marnie. Tama learns to speak and becomes an internet sensation, all the while bearing witness to developing tensions between Marnie and her husband Rob. Newsroom calls it ‘remarkable, brilliant, a classic in the making’.
Catherine’s children’s offering, Jiffy’s Greatest Hits, is illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich and features a cartoon cat who loves to sing into the wee hours of the night (much to the exasperation of his family). Kim Hill calls it ‘hilarious’.
“All of my books have been quite wildly different in many respects,” says Catherine. “But there are themes I often return to, like the power dynamics within relationships, or the absent or missing child – that figure haunts the margins of my work.”
Catherine established the country’s richest short story competition, the Sargeson Prize, at University of Waikato in 2019, following the closure of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award.
“The Sargeson Prize is filling that gap, if you look at the number of entries. We had 1125 stories across the Open and Secondary School categories this year.” The Sargeson Prize further cements the University’s reputation as a place where creative writing thrives and is nurtured.