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Meet the MitoQ Best First Book Winners 2020

For the second year, MitoQ has been incredibly proud to sponsor the MitoQ Best First Book Awards at the annual Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. This year’s event was somewhat different, in that it was held virtually due to the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Despite not being able to celebrate in person, we were able to catch up with our four talented winners to ask them some quick-fire questions about their award-winning books, what winning the prize means to them and how they hope to inspire their readers.

“I believe that the first time writers we are celebrating here are helping to shape our collective New Zealand and global culture,” says Mahara Inglis, CEO of MitoQ. “I want to recognize that contribution and all the hard work that you’ve put into writing these books. At MitoQ we’re looking to give people the energy and the resilience to go and do what they love, and I’m sure that writing your first book requires a lot of both! So with that, I want to congratulate all the first time authors.”

Aue

Becky Manawatu, novelist and reporter

MitoQ Best First Book Award winner – Fiction for Auē (Mākaro Press)

What drew you to create this particular book?

“I wrote this book with an audience in mind. Just one person, my tāne*, Tim Manawatu. A very kind woman wrote to me recently to say that a book is one person in pain telling a story to another person in pain. That really resonated with me, and I think when I sat down to start writing the novel, this truth I've only just learned fueled me. That's what drew me to write this book.”

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you (e.g. career recognition, amplified attention for the book, some money to pay the rent, a couple of good nights out, new undies)?!

“It means so much to me because it is far more than I expected. It is such a special thing to acknowledge a debut book, because of the challenges that come with being a new writer. This award will mean a new washing machine (ours is making some very grunty noises) and possibly a couple of new bikes, a dinner out maybe, and yeah, I'll get some new undies and socks I reckon. But more than that, no one can ever take this award and what it means to my family from us. Nor can I take it away from myself.

“I am so pleased for Makaro Press. This is the second year running they have had a debut novelist win this award. That speaks volumes for the importance of small presses like theirs.”

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

“I do hope so. I mean it was my intention. But that's not within my control anymore.”

* “tāne” is Maori for man/husband

Dead-People-I-Have-Known

Shayne Carter, musician and former frontman of Straightjacket Fits and Dimmer

MitoQ Best First Book Award winner – General Non-Fiction for Dead People I Have Known (Victoria University Press)

What drew you to create this particular book?

“I’d always fancied writing a book and I thought I had a pretty good story. I wanted to shed a light on some ways of life in New Zealand that I haven't read so much about.”

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you (e.g. career recognition, amplified attention for the book, some money to pay the rent, a couple of good nights out, new undies)?!

“Probably all those things apart from the good nights out. But I’m chuffed with the recognition.”

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

“I don’t know if I want to claim that the book empowers anyone but I think it’s good when there's reminders that we’re all a bit broken. Good art and literature does that and it's actually realistic. That's empowering I think.”

We-Are-Here

Tim Denee, designer and illustrator and Chris McDowall, geographer

MitoQ Best First Book Award winner – Illustrated Non-Fiction for We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa (Massey University Press)

What drew you to create this particular book?

Tim: “New Zealand atlases like We Are Here don't come out very often, so for me it was the chance to work on something quite unique. It was also a chance to tackle all sorts of different design challenges, and to learn from a very talented co-creator.”

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you?

Tim: “We worked quietly on this book for about five years, and always wondered how it would be received. We always knew there was a core demographic who would be interested in maps and graphs, but we wanted something that resonated more widely - and so the recognition that this award represents is very gratifying for that reason.”

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

Chris: “One of the neat things since the book's release has been receiving messages from parents about reading the book with their children. It is amazing to hear stories about families discussing Aotearoa New Zealand, using the book as a jumping-off point.”

Tim: “I think it's empowering and enriching to have an understanding of the place that you live, and so I do hope that our book can help give some deeper understanding.”

Craven

Jane Arthur, poet, editor and bookseller

MitoQ Best First Book Award winner – Poetry for Craven (Victoria University Press)

What drew you to create this particular book?

“I was at home with a young baby who only wanted to nap when he was on me, so there was a lot of time sitting, trapped, with not much else to do. Most of the poems came out of that physical state, where I was feeling both frozen and bursting at the seams. I was evaluating my life, feminism, sleep deprivation, things I found annoying, memories, living up a big Wellington hill - and this is how it came out.”

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you?

“It means A LOT. I made the mistake of looking over the past winners and felt immediately overwhelmed and unworthy. So many of my favourite local writers are on that list! It’s very hard for me to reconcile my sense of self with this honour. I’m fighting my very strong urge to be self-deprecating about it. Also, having a young family is expensive, so this prize will literally allow me to keep writing.”

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

“Whoa! Hard to think my rantings can have any power like that! But I guess I hope readers can feel a sense of solidarity in the weirdness of living and some acceptance of their messy parts.”

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