Looking Through the Mirror: Reflections on Storylines Margaret Mahy Awards Day

It was an exciting day at the Storylines Margaret Mahy Awards last weekend. Sapling editor Hannah Marshall was not only the winner for the Unpublished Writer Award in the young adult manuscript category, but captured her reflections of the day—both the highlights and disappointments.

Shortlisted entrants for the Tessa Duder Award. From left to right: Philippa Werry, Hannah Marshall, Kate Twomey, Kiri Lightfoot (winner), Tessa Duder, and Jenny Hellen from Allen & Unwin

When I found out I’d been shortlisted for the 2024 Storylines Tessa Duder Award for an original YA manuscript, I had honestly forgotten I’d entered it. I was sitting at the park on my lunch break at work when I received an email with the news. It’s interesting how you imagine things will happen versus how they actually happen. I always daydreamed of finding out this kind of news—the dream of all aspiring writers, to hear that your work has been shortlisted or awarded or accepted for publication—at a convenient time, with friends and family around, the ability to celebrate immediately. 

But life has a knack of blindsiding you with the moments that turn out to be the most significant. Like receiving the best news of the year while you’re on your lunch break at work. I sat in that park in a giddy state of excitement and disbelief, wandering back to my office in a daze. That same day I booked my flights to Auckland to attend the Margaret Mahy Awards Day ceremony on April 7. 

The warmth, generosity, and passion for children’s and young adult literature shone throughout the proceedings.

This year’s Awards Day was on a mild Sunday afternoon at the National Library in Parnell. My partner and I had flown up from Wellington, as did my parents. Most of us in attendance had travelled from afar to be there—here, in a tidy library space with photographs of early Auckland donning the walls, to celebrate this small but strong community of writers, publishers, and champions of children’s and young adult literature.

The event kicked off with a lecture by Elizabeth Jones, the 2024 recipient of the Margaret Mahy Medal, awarded for lifetime achievement to children’s and young adult literature. Previous recipients of the Margaret Mahy Medal include literati such as Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee, and David Hill—making Elizabeth, a librarian by trade and the current Director of Literacy and Learning at National Library of New Zealand, a standout from an alumni dominated by authors. 

Clockwise from bottom left: Rob Southam and Claire Aramakutu, Tessa Duder with Kiri Lightfoot, winner of the Tessa Duder Award, and Elizabeth Jones, winner of the Margaret Mahy Medal, giving her lecture

Not to say that Elizabeth’s contribution to children’s literature has been anything less than immense. Her career has been dedicated to connecting children with the magic of reading, with a CV that includes being a founding member of the New Zealand Children’s Book Foundation (a precursor to Storylines), a member of the organising committee for the 2016 World Congress of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People), and as a crucial player in establishing the role of Te Awhi Rito—Reading Ambassador. 

Elizabeth’s lecture highlighted just how crucial it is to nurture young readers and connect them with books, and the historical and current challenges that put this mission at threat. She made particular note of the current environment we operate in, one where access to information is abundant but access to facts is harder than ever; where the integrity of books and knowledge is increasingly threatened by disinformation, toxic ideologies, and a digital-dominant era where the value of books and libraries is continually under question. She also noted how far we have yet to come to achieve a diverse and equitable publishing industry here in Aotearoa.

Clockwise from bottom left: Shortlisted entrants for the Joy Cowley Award, Christine Young from Storylines MCing the event, Tessa Duder and James Russell, and Rob Southam from Scholastic launching Koro’s Star by Claire Aramakutu, the 2023 Tom Fitzgibbon Award winner

That lack of equity in Aotearoa’s literary space was jarringly reinforced when it was announced that the Storylines Te Kahurangi Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira Award, for an unpublished manuscript written originally in te reo Māori, would have no shortlist or winner. This absence of kaituhi Māori voices speaks volumes about the reality of a literary landscape shaped by colonisation, privilege, and erasure. 

Also jarring was the moment after the shortlist announcement for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for junior fiction when it was declared there would be no winner—that none of the shortlisted manuscripts were up to a standard deemed publishable. Writing has always been a hard industry to break into, but awards like these are crucial to get the foot of budding writers into the door. It feels ironic to decline a winner in a competition where the prize is publication, and where the innate purpose of such initiatives is to assist writers over that line they may not reach on their own. This seemed to serve as a cruel reminder of the fraught times we live in—where economic hardship, a divisive society, and pervasive scepticism leaves publishers unable, though also perhaps unwilling, to develop emerging talent.

This absence of kaituhi Māori voices speaks volumes about the reality of a literary landscape shaped by colonisation, privilege, and erasure. 

We live in difficult times, and even in moments of celebration the cracks are still visible— highlighted, even. But Margaret Mahy Awards Day was nothing less than a delight. The warmth, generosity, and passion for children’s and young adult literature shone throughout the proceedings. A particular highlight was the Unpublished Writer Award, given to a manuscript by an unpublished writer in each category. This Award is a fantastic way to foster, nurture, and uplift new and emerging talent, and I am grateful to have won the Unpublished Writer Award in my own category. Being an emerging writer can be tough, especially for someone like me, who is, at twenty-one years old, still emerging as a person, let alone as a writer. To receive an honour like this helps to light my way ahead. 

This [Unpublished Writer] Award is a fantastic way to foster, nurture, and uplift new and emerging talent

I think of that moment in the park where I first found out about being shortlisted as the beginning of this particular journey, but Awards Day doesn’t feel like the end. The ceremony is like holding up a mirror to our literary landscape. It is to recognise and reward our mahi, to see ourselves for what we are and what we have done, but also to see what is missing—to see where we need to go from here. 

Photos by Hannah Marshall and Callum Knight.

The Storylines Margaret Mahy Award Day Winners and Shortlisted Entrants 2024

Margaret Mahy Medal and Lecture Award for lifetime achievement

Winner: Elizabeth Jones

Joy Cowley Award, for an original picture book text

Shortlisted: Anne Slight, Annelies Judson, and Joanne Ferrar

Winner: Annelies Judson

Unpublished Writer Award: Anne Slight

Tom Fitzgibbon Award, for an original junior novel text

Shortlisted: Heather McQuillan, Kara Laurenson, and Louise Shaw

Unpublished Writer Award: Kara Laurenson

Tessa Duder Award, for a young adult novel manuscript

Shortlisted: Philippa Werry, Hannah Marshall, Kiri Lightfoot, and Kate Twomey

Winner: Kiri Lightfoot

Unpublished Writer Award: Hannah Marshall

Gavin Bishop Award, for an unpublished picture book illustrator

Shortlisted: Karen Phelps, Kaye Julian, and Ronnie Baker

Winner: Kaye Julian

Janice Marriott Mentoring Award

Winner: Jonathan Poff

Gaelyn Gordon Award, for a previously unawarded but well-loved book

Winner: The Dragon Hunters, written by James Russell and illustrated by Link Choi (Dragon Brothers Books, 2013).

You can also read more about the Awards on the Storylines Facebook page and website.

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Hannah Marshall is a reader, writer, and advocate for New Zealand books from Pōneke. She has a Bachelor of Arts in media studies and creative writing from Victoria University, and she’s also been an NZSA Youth Mentorship Award recipient, the winner of the Maurice Gee Prize in Children’s Writing, and most recently been an NZSA CompleteMS Manuscript Assessment recipient. You can also find her work in various places, including bad apple, Starling, and takahē.