And that’s a wrap: A reader’s experience of the 2023 NZCYA awards ceremony

Introducing Oscar Sweetman: He runs a Youtube channel called HeHatesNovels, which he considers an ironic username because reading is his passion. Leading up to the NZCYA Book Awards, he reviewed the finalists in the YA category on his channel. After reading the books and enjoying them, Oscar came up with his own theories on who would win, and which books were his favorites. Here, he reports back on his experience at the awards ceremony at Pipitea Marae in Wellington.

When I walked into Pipitea Marae, I went straight to the table with all the books by the shortlisted authors, and talked to local publisher Mary McCallum. She introduced me to authors Jennifer Lane, Philippa Werry and Kate De Goldi. I got them to sign my books, and told them how much I liked their writing. I took a photo with Jennifer Lane, and I was really excited to meet her, because Miracle was my tied-favorite, with Iris And Me.

Authors are nothing without their readers

Kate De Goldi

I also loved  that when I saw Kate De Goldi, and she signed my copy of Eddy, Eddy. She smiled and said that authors are nothing without their readers, which was a memorable moment.

One Heart One Beat from Taita College performing to open the ceremony

Shortly afterwards the entertainment began, starting with Taita College singing a few waiata. A wee while after that, after a karakia and welcome, the picture book category started the evening’s awards. They invited the authors onto the stage, had them return to their seats after giving each a plug, and then  announced the winner: Duck Goes Meow, written by Juliette Maciver and illustrated by Carla Martell. When Juliette spoke, she sounded really thrilled and excited.

When the junior fiction award began, the authors walked to the stage while a live jazz band played. The author of the shortlisted novel Masher, Fifi Colston, couldn’t attend the festival, so her husband was there, putting a cutout picture of her face to his head, which was funny. The winner was Below, by David Hill, a famous New Zealand author (who I also met later in the evening, and he was really nice).

Awards judge Feana Tuʻakoi (left), with the junior fiction finalists/their representatives, including Fifi Colston’s husband with a cutout of Fifi’s face

After that, I was on the edge of my seat because it was time for the young adult category. I spent my holiday reading these books. Now they were announcing the winner, and I was so excited to see who it would be, yet I was kind of nervous, even though I wasn’t one of the writers!

The authors went up to the stage: Philippa Werry, Kate De Goldi, Jennifer Lane, but the other two – Brian Falkner and Eileen Merriman – I hadn’t met before that moment, so it felt like a surprise. The winner was Iris and Me, by Philippa Werry.  I predicted that was going to be the choice. Iris and Me was Mary McCallum’s finalist, since The Cuba Press published it, so I felt extremely happy for both Philippa Werry and Mary. When Philippa said her speech, she could barely speak. It must have been such an amazing moment for her, and she couldn’t believe it.

The award for non-fiction happened, the winning title being Te Wehenga, by Mat Tait. (I also met him later that night!)

Mat Tait, winner of the Non-Fiction Award and Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with Te Wehenga

The illustration award was really interesting, a book about Leonardo da Vinci by Donovan Bixley. Donovan said in his speech that even though Leonardo da Vinci was totally not a New Zealand artist, he said that he couldn’t see his book being published anywhere else in the world.

Then it was the te reo Māori books, followed by the award for best first book, in which one of the authors was actually a fifteen-year-old, which was interesting (and I will be reading Arlo Kelly’s book quite soon).

Rose Northey and Susan Wardell heading to the stage when The Lighthouse Princess was announced the winner of best first book

After that, I was surprised, because an award was announced that was not in the brochure. It was the Margaret Mahy Book Of The Year Award, and that was the most suspenseful moment of the night. Te Wehenga won, and Mat Tait said that he was super overwhelmed because he didn’t know this award was going to be a thing.

After the awards finished, plates of Hell Pizza were in the kitchen, along with other foods, and that’s when I met Eileen Merriman, author of Indigo Moon, one of the YA finalists. She signed my book and told me she knew that I liked Stephen King, and she said she also liked him, and that she was a Dark Tower fanatic. Then Eileen, Mary and I took a photo together.

Oscar Sweetman with Eileen Merriman, Jennifer Lane, Mary McCallum, Philippa Werry, and Brian Falkner

I then met Brian Falkner, also one of the YA finalists, who wrote Andromeda Bond In Trouble Deep, a sci-fi techno thriller. He looked surprised when he saw me, and said “I know you!” and I laughed. He was so nice, complimenting me heaps, giving me writing advice, asking about what I write. He also recommended me some good sci-fi, since it’s a genre I don’t read yet and I am interested in, considering I do read some speculative fiction and fantasy – two genres quite similar to sci-fi. He also recommended Eileen Merriman, which was really cool.

The YA finalists

It was a friendly, non-competitive environment, and all the authors got along which was awesome. They felt almost like a team.

It was such an amazing experience meeting [the authors], since they were such lovely, awesome people. I left the marae feeling so happy

I got to meet all the five YA authors, and got my books signed. It was such an amazing experience meeting them, since they were such lovely, awesome people. I left the marae feeling so happy.

Other highlights for me included meeting David Hill, who signed my copy of his book – which I am also really keen to read. And I got to congratulate Mat Tait on his wins. David Hill was awesome to speak to; talking about reviewing as well as writing – and I guess that’s what I’m doing too.

It was such a brilliant night and I was thinking about it for days on end, particularly meeting all the authors who were such nice people.

Te Kura Pounamu Award winning team left to right: Mihi Te Rina Henare, Brianne Te Paa, Story Hemi-Morehouse, Eboni Waitere, Chloe Wright

The full list of winners for the 2023 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award $7500

Te Wehenga: The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin)

Picture Book Award $7500

Duck Goes Meow, Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Carla Martell (Scholastic New Zealand)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction $7500

Below, David Hill (Penguin Random House NZ)

Young Adult Fiction Award $7500

Iris and Me, Philippa Werry (The Cuba Press)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction $7500

Te Wehenga: The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration $7500

A Portrait of Leonardo, Donovan Bixley(Upstart Press)

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori $7500

Kua Whetūrangitia a Koro, Brianne Te Paa, illustrated byStory Hemi-Morehouse (Huia Publishers)

NZSA Best First Book Award $2500

The Lighthouse Princess, Susan Wardell, illustrated by Rose Northey (Penguin Random House NZ)

Oscar Sweetman
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Oscar Sweetman is a reader, writer, and reviewer. He lives at home in Wellington with his mum and dad and their dog, Bowie. He loves horror movies, hip-hop music and books. Loads of books. He reviews and comments on books on his YouTube channel, HeHatesNovels. (He actually loves novels, so it’s ironic!)