Former residents honoured for lifetime contribution to New Zealand literature

Feminist and working-class stories, poetry as song, and a deeper understanding of New Zealand art – these are just some of the frontiers explored by this year’s winners of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.

They are beloved Māori dramatist and fiction writer Renée, revered critic, curator and poet Wystan Curnow and admired poet, publisher and librettist Michael Harlow.

Wystan Curnow, Michael Harlow, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and Renée, Monday 15 October, 2018

Wystan Curnow, Michael Harlow, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and Renée,
Monday 15 October, 2018

Each has been awarded $60,000 in recognition of their outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature. Renée will be honoured for fiction, Wystan Curnow for non-fiction, and Michael Harlow for poetry.

“Our warmest congratulations to Renée, Wystan and Michael,” says Arts Council Chair Michael Moynahan.

“Each of these extraordinary storytellers has a unique perspective on New Zealand identity, and has significantly contributed to our country’s literary landscape, creating a strong legacy for New Zealand writers.”

The awards were presented at a ceremony at Premier House in Wellington on Monday 15 October.

The Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement were established in 2003. Every year New Zealanders are invited to nominate their choice of a writer who has made a significant contribution to New Zealand literature in the genres of non-fiction, poetry and fiction. New Zealand writers are also able to nominate themselves for these awards.

Nominations are assessed by an external expert panel and recommendations forwarded to the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand for approval. This year’s selection panel was Jill Rawnsley, John Huria and Murray Edmond, chaired by Lauren Hughes.

full list of previous recipients can be found on the Creative New Zealand website.

(Image: Creative New Zealand)



Applications for 2019 CNZ RCWT Writers Fellowship now open

Applications are now open for the 2019 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writers Fellowship. The deadline for applications is Friday, 2 November 2018.

More information about the residency can be found here.

The successful applicant will be announced in December.

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Applications for 2019 Writers Fellowship open

Applications for 2019 CNZ RCWT Writers Fellowship now open

Applications are now open for the 2019 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writers Fellowship. The deadline for applications is Friday, 2 November 2018.

More information about the residency can be found here.

Applications for the 2018 fellowship will be accepted from 1 September 2018 to 3 November 2018.

The successful applicant will be announced in December.

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At home in the Randell Cottage, James Norcliffe

Photo of James Norcliffe

Photo supplied by VUP

By James Norcliffe, 2018 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writing Fellow

New Zealand writers are not really spoilt for choice when it comes to fellowships and residencies. There are a number of well-established and well-endowed residences, usually associated with universities and a couple of prestigious overseas possibilities – the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in the South of France and the Berlin Writer’s Residency.

One of the most singular and attractive residencies, however, must be that run by the Randell Cottage Writers Trust in Thorndon, Wellington. The fellow is offered six months in a charming cottage in St Mary Street off Tinakori Road to work on a given project. There is a stipend and the cottage is rent-free.

The Trust itself was formed in 2001 and the cottage opened its doors to writers in 2002, the inaugural writer being Peter Wells. Before me, there have been 33 writers to date and I am utterly delighted to be the 34th.

Many things make this a distinctive residency. Perhaps the most obvious is the French connection. For one half of the year the W.I.R. is a French writer, and a New Zealand writer has the other half. The funding reflects this: a partnership supported by CNZ, the New Zealand France Friendship Fund and the Embassy of France and added support coming from the Wellington City Council and the Friends of the Randell Cottage.

Then there is the cottage itself. It is a rare experience to spend your days and nights in a beautifully restored work of history. The house dates from 1867 and there is a plaque on the outside wall to verify this. It was originally built and owned by the Randell family who raised ten children here. The current house has larger dimensions than the original built by William and Sarah Randell, as in 1875 an extra two rooms were added to the south side to accommodate the growing family. Apart from a lean-to beside the kitchen the dimensions have remained the same ever since, although the disposition of a couple of the rooms has changed with the front bedroom (three girls) becoming a living room (and a most comfortable writing room) and smaller side bedroom (boys) becoming the bathroom. Originally, the bathroom, lavatory and washhouse were in an outhouse separate from the cottage.

According to great-granddaughter Beverley Randell’s history of the cottage and the family, A Crowded Thorndon Cottage, the Randell’s had seven children when they moved in, including baby Richard, and three daughters afterwards. I find the cottage remarkably spacious, but then I would. In the 1870’s twelve people lived here!

In the early 1990’s, Beverley Randell, her husband the publisher Hugh Price of Price Milburn and their daughter Susan Price, repurchased the cottage and had it lovingly restored to as close to the original as modern convenience allowed. They gifted the cottage to the Trust to allow for the residency.

Trust member Sian Robyns told me how the Price family went to great pains to decorate and furnish the cottage appropriately. She said they scoured the lower North Island to find pieces of furniture, fittings, even hunting down appropriate wood for repairs to moulding and flooring.

The results of these efforts are lovely. When you can stand in the large kitchen and look to your left, you are transported back a hundred and fifty years. A Victorian glass panelled door with a round polished wood door handle opens into the lean-to. Beside it stands a sideboard bearing willow-pattern china – milk jugs, sauce jugs, cups, saucers, plates and bowls, and beside the sideboard a neatly blackened Shacklock Orion coal range with an iron frying pan, a couple of flat irons, an iron saucepan and an iron kettle. The walls are covered in replica Victorian wallpaper: very floral, very busy and very pretty.

If you turn to your right, though, you will see a refrigerator, a stainless steel bench top and sink, an automatic dishwasher and an electric range.

This is the pattern of the cottage. Loving Victorian detail: polished kauri and rimu woodwork, cane furniture, wing chairs, fumed oak dining chairs, Turkish style rugs on wooden floors, and prints of colonial Wellington on the wallpapered walls. All of this in the midst of heat pump and broadband, microwave and HP Office Jet Pro.

My bedroom is a case in point: a magnificent iron bedstead with brass knobs (I always longed for brass knobs) with, not one, but two Victorian-style quilted counterpanes (there is another on the single bed in the spare bedroom), but also an electric blanket of toasty efficiency.

All of this makes for very comfortable living. As it happens I am writing a novel with a dual narrative – one storyline set in the nineteenth century, the second contemporary. It has just occurred to me how wonderfully appropriate it is to be living in the Randell Cottage while beavering away at this. Such serendipity.

The final advantage of the cottage is its locale. The narrow valley down which Tinakori Road runs is not recommended for its sun and, although the cottage is sunnier than I expected, St Mary Street is steep and on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for sun. Despite this, the immediate neighbourhood makes for very pleasant living. Directly opposite are the Wellington Botanic Gardens with their walks and natural delights. Up behind, the rather more strenuous walks of the Te Ahumairangi Hill will take you in all directions, mostly including up. I made it to the lookout after a morning of heavy rain, and – when my shoes dry out – will try it again. It is a short walk to the city itself and not too far to the supermarket. Jacinda, Clarke and Neve Te Aroha are close neighbours although I’ve yet to drop in. Tinakori village seems mainly to comprise eateries and antique shops, so ideal if you develop a taste for food or for Victorian living.

I have a writer’s superstition about waxing on about work in progress. Suffice it to say, from my point of view it’s going splendidly. How could it not? The Randell Cottage is a perfect writing environment, peaceful and quiet with wrap around comfort, utterly charming setting and supported by a team of very helpful, friendly trustees. I feel very fortunate and very grateful.

(This essay was originally published, in a slightly abridged form, in the September issue of The Author, the journal of the New Zealand Society of Authors. We are grateful to NZSA and to James for allowing us to share it here.)


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Two Seasons and Countless Treasures, Than-Van Tran-Nhut

In January 2014 French writer Than-Van Tran-Nhut swapped the boulevards of Paris for the windswept hills of Wellington.  Here, she reflects on her six months in Thorndon as writer-in-residence at the Randell Cottage.

I’m back in Paris now and living my second summer this year. After a spell of cold and rainy weather, the temperature has risen again and I hope the white Japanese anemones will settle nicely under my rose bushes. In between their roots are bits of New Zealand soil, and some of their leaves once stirred in the Wellington wind. They are my links to a small garden on a hill in Thorndon.

It has been weeks since I left, but I still return to Randell Cottage in thought. I only have to close my eyes and recall the familiar routines: pulling up the shades of the entrance door in the morning and leaving it open, lifting the sash window in the kitchen to let the wind fill the rooms, connecting to a wi-fi network named Writers Trust. That’s how it was for almost six months and I can still feel the cool brass of the hexagonal doorknob, the little snib that keeps the lock retracted. The front door stays open most of the time, a luxury one can afford in this part of the world. Bird songs and occasional music drift into the house. There are no locks on the gate, no shutters on the windows, just a welcoming threshold.

I remember the light in Wellington. Golden rays on the afternoon of my arrival in January, washing over the Cottage while shadows gathered beneath the hills; pale light reflecting off a blank grey sky; black light on hot pink flowers and tangerine-coloured leaves, when magic took over the Botanic Garden; illuminated words cut into Katherine Mansfield’s metal skirt; the glow of a bus brushing across the Braille sculpture on Lambton Quay.

I remember the string of yellow and red lights moving along the coastline as I looked across the Lady Norwood Rose Garden from the spur above; darkness closing in on the harbour under clouds grazed by a dying sun. And the silver sliver of a moon sailing through a sky studded with unfamiliar stars, the Southern Cross to remind me that the Equator lies north and the South Pole is only 5400 km away.

There were days of rain, but not enough to dampen my memories. Drizzles and showers, the sound of drops skipping on the path or pounding on the iron roof just meant more moisture for the plants. And weren’t we surrounded by water anyway, with the harbour beckoning below, lustrous or leaden, depending on the mood of the clouds? I would run down to the wharf, racing through the old tombstones in Bolton Street Memorial Park, to watch people jump off planks, their bodies in flight before they hit the icy water. Beneath the surface, clinging to wooden poles, yellowy crabs and star-shaped creatures watched them fall in slow motion, shrouded in a veil of bubbles.

Of course there was the wind, chasing clouds over Tinakori Hill, making airport windsocks fly frantically while airborne planes dipped and yawed – the kind of wind that lifts a giant eagle with a wizard astride and messes your hair when your picture is being taken. And you know you’re not in France when a wind from the south means chilly weather.

I loved this place where the moon waxes and wanes in the opposite direction to the one in the northern hemisphere, where people drive on the left-hand side, rotate clockwise at roundabouts, and swim laps likewise (yet run laps anticlockwise?). It’s all a matter of symmetry and it forces you to change your point of view.

It has been six months of ongoing discovery: trevally and tarakihi, red cod and hoki, kumara and Smitten apples, flat white and magic slice, hangi and fish & chips. On the track of an extinct endemic gecko, I stumbled upon feisty kaka, clever kea, a precious white kiwi, two nearsighted kune kune and one short-lived baby fantail. I had mesmerising encounters with birds and beasts drawn by French explorers in the 19th century. I was able to pore over atlases printed in Paris in 1826 while sitting in the National Library of New Zealand, 19000 km away and 188 year later. All this thanks to a book collector named Alexander Turnbull whose grave I always ran by on my way down to the city centre.

I was surrounded by books: Two Worlds, First Meetings between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772, written by Anne Salmond; The Mijo Tree by Janet Frame; a pile of works by New Caledonian authors. In the Cottage were books that gave me a glimpse of New Zealand society: short stories by Katherine Mansfield and other Kiwi writers, The Honey Suckers by Victoria McHalick, novels by Fiona Kidman and Kirsty Gunn (the Kiwi 2009 Randell Cottage resident), The Collector’s Dream by Pierre Furlan (the French 2004 Randell Cottage resident), so beautifully translated by Randell trustee Jean Anderson. And one very special book written by Susan Price: A Mind of His Own, The Childhood of Hugh Price. It tells the story of the young boy who, with Beverley and Susan, would later gift Randell Cottage to the Trust, making the writers residency possible. It contains old pictures of houses, ships and trains, toys and stamps, notebooks and certificates, things that make up a life and keep its memory alive. Above all, it shows the love of a daughter for her father.

Every time I opened the gate, I was reminded that Randell Cottage is a Wellington landmark: the round metal plaque states that it is a Notable Home – Home of Sarah & William Randell, bricklayer, and their ten children. On several occasions, from my desk, I sighted groups of tourists peering into the garden. Behind waves of pink anemones the small house with a red roof elicited looks of appreciation and it felt nice to be somehow a part of a historical place.

On my numerous visits to Te Papa, I would stop at the World of WearableArt exhibition, where clothes from past international shows held in Wellington were on display. I marvelled at the creativity of the designers: a gown bristling with spikes of polished wood, a shiny laser-cut dress crafted after a Rorschach inkblot, a bodice etched with an ancient map, under a coat lined with paua shells. And a corset of white china whose blue willow pattern had been directly lifted from a plate donated by Beverley Randell. Once again, Randell Cottage appeared in the warp and weft of Wellington’s cultural fabric, as history wove itself into art and beauty.

Even when I went to the movies I was reminded of the Cottage. Relaxing in a velvet-clad sofa at the Light House Cinema where I saw What We Do in the Shadows, a parodic vampire movie filmed in Wellington, I followed Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh and Jermaine Clement on their nightly prowls. True, they were keen on any unclogged artery, but they definitely demonstrated good taste when they singled out Denis Welch, my predecessor at Randell Cottage.

During my residency, I left Wellington several times: I went to the South Island to hike with my husband Joël who came to visit; to Christchurch, Auckland and Palmerston North, on my tour of the Alliances Françaises in New Zealand; to New Caledonia where I was warmly welcomed by Nicolas Kurtovitch (the French 2007 Randell Cottage resident); to Australia to give talks at universities in Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide.

I left many times. But always I left lighthearted because I knew I’d return.

I roamed endlessly around the Botanic Garden where blue and purple hydrangeas grew in a fairytale hollow. I watched the seasons pass as roses bloomed and withered, their petals scattered by the wind. I felt the temperature plummet and saw the light fail, when the summer song of the cicada ceased sometime overnight. Time was catching up on me.

So I tried to outrun it by doing more, cramming my days with new experiences, stretching them till three in the morning. I hopped on bus 10 to the zoo, bus 11 to Seatoun to do the Eastern Walkway, took the East by West Ferry to Eastbourne. I committed to memory the sound of traffic lights signalling it was safe to cross, the tug needed to open the letter box by the gate, the shimmer of the silver fern globe floating above Civic Square.

The last moments I spent with my friends in best-loved places: dining out and drinking ginger beer at Sprig & Fern;having tea at the Cottage; indulging in an afternoon flat white at French Cancan; returning to my favourite haunt, the hole in the wall on Bond Street called Fisherman’s Plate, with superb Vietnamese soups and derelict decoration.

All my travels and experiences fueled a blog I kept over these two seasons in which I sought to capture the moments and encounters that made this residency so special, such an unforgettable period in my life. It tells of the lectures I gave at the Alliances Françaises in Wellington and Palmerston North, the reception at the Résidence de France where I was officially greeted by Ambassador Laurent Contini, the annual general meeting of the Friends of the Randell Cottage, the presentation I gave at the National Library, just a week before my departure…

In the end, at five in the morning on 26 June, Gollum watched Fiona Kidman and her husband Ian give me my last Kiwi hug.

In Sydney I started at the boarding call for a flight to Wellington. Only this time, it wasn’t for me.

And yet, half a world away and ten time zones behind, I haven’t lost my bearings. Just as explorers of old, hoping to return, buried bottles in the sand to mark their passage, so I’ve left a part of my heart under long white clouds – right here: 41°16’42.8″S, 174°46’06.3″E.


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An Evening With James Norcliffe

7.30pm Monday 15 October, Vic Books, Pipitea campus, Rutherford House, 27 Lambton Quay. Join us to hear James Norcliffe talk about his work and writing career. $3 NZSA members, $5 non-membersNEW ZEALAND SOCIETY OF AUTHORS

James Norcliffe

Join us to hear James Norcliffe, award-winning poet, fiction writer, editor and teacher, and 2018 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writing Fellow, talk about his work and writing career.

7.30pm Monday 15 October
Vic Books, Pipitea campus
Rutherford House, 27 Lambton Quay

Everyone welcome! Koha at the door:
$3 NZSA members, $5 non-members
Vic Books bar will be open from 7pm, before the 7.30pm event.

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Applications for 2019 CNZ RCWT Writers Fellowship now open

Applications are now open for the 2019 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writers Fellowship. The deadline for applications is Friday, 2 November 2018.

More information about the residency can be found here.

Applications for the 2018 fellowship will be accepted from 1 September 2018 to
3 November 2018.

The successful applicant will be announced in December.

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An evening with Amélie Lucas-Gary

Amelie Lucas GaryAn original and promising young French writer, Amélie Lucas-Gary has spent the past six
months living and working in Wellington as the 2018 Randell Cottage French writer in
residence. Join us for an evening of conversation and reflection on life in a new land and the writing of imagined histories.

Date: Thursday 7 June, 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Location: Programme Rooms, Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), National Library, corner
Molesworth and Aitken Streets, Thorndon
Cost: Free although koha in support of the Randell Cottage is appreciated.




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Amélie Lucas Gary – Speaking tour

Amélie Lucas-Gary has begun her programme of speaking engagements around the country.

Last week saw her in Dunedin at the Alliance française. The rest of us will have the chance to hear her in the following cities over the coming months:

Alliance française Christchurch, Tuesday, 13 March
Alliance française Auckland, Friday and Saturday, 23 and 24 March
Alliance française Wellington, Thursday 19 April
Alliance française Palmerston North, 17–19 May.

Further information is available from the various Alliances.

Wellingtonians will have a second chance to hear at the National Library on the evening of 7 June.
(We’ll be publishing more details closer to the date.)


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Dear Oliver – Peter Wells

New release from Peter Wells, Randell Cottage writer-in-residence 2002

New release from Peter Wells, Randell Cottage writer-in-residence 2002

Peter Wells
Photo by Liz Marsh

Peter Wells, who in 2002 was the Randell Cottage’s first writer in residence, has just released his latest work: Dear Oliver, a family history, prompted by his discovery of a trove of family letters amongst his elderly mother’s effects.The find provided an entrée into writing a story that is uniquely his family’s but also very typical of other families whose ancestors emigrated from Britain during the nineteeenth century.

“The journey of my ancestors from Britain to New Zealand could be said to be the ur-journey of so many Pākehā New Zealanders. We are overfamiliar with its shape – poverty in the homeland, struggle across the seas, the hard impact on landing. Scrabbling around for a way to survive.

Gradually, some success as adaptation takes over, accompanied by a loss of memory about origins as the present obscures a now-distant past. Even the act of looking back – the search for genealogical origins – is a Pākehā cliché. Why do it?”

Dear Oliver cover

Massey University Press $39.99


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Beryl Fletcher – Obituary

Beryl Fletcher

We were saddened this week to hear of the death of Beryl Fletcher, who was the Cottage’s New Zealand resident in 2006. Beryl came to fiction writing later in life and did so with a bang: winning the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in the Asia / Pacific region with The Word Burners. She went on to write four more works of fiction and memoir, The House at Karamu.

In 2012, to mark the Cottage’s 10th anniversary as a writers residence, a team of trustees and Friends, led by Jean Anderson, collected and translated short texts from the Cottage’s residents. Writers were asked for a memory, a reflection, an extract from a work written at the Cottage: for something that captured their experience of that period in their career.

Beryl sent us the following. Farewell, Beryl, you will be missed.


Randell Cottage, April 2006. Retrospective fragments from the journal of Beryl Fletcher.

We arrive at the cottage at dusk. My partner Mike has accompanied me on the train from Hamilton. Anne Faulkner, the secretary of the trust, gave us a warm welcome.

The cottage is brilliant, haunted of course, but how could it not be? My ghost is a young girl who is dressed in a pinafore and a large floppy satin bow. She serenades me from the garden with cascades of musical giggles. Alas, she disappeared soon after Mike’s departure.

Wellington has the feel of a foreign city to me. The weather is like a living breathing animal that can change its mood in a second. Behind the cottage is a sharp and brooding mini-mountain covered with dead trees cut down to allow some light to fall on an old house below.

I have a large extended family back in Hamilton. It is strange to be alone down here. I realise once more how difficult it is not to mediate, filter, test everything you think and feel through another person.

I fear that I will learn to love being alone too much.

Milo the cat who lives next door visits me but I have to be careful not to trip over him. I wonder if my hip will survive the daily walk over the botanic gardens to the cable car. Each day is structured. I can only write in the morning. I get up at six, work until lunch time then down to Lambton Quay for shopping.

I love this little cottage. I wonder about the women who have lived here. The bookshelves held some printed booklets about their history. Harriet Randell coached her singing pupils in the sitting room. One night, I swear I heard someone singing ‘Danny Boy’ accompanied by Harriet on the out-of-tune piano.

I stand at the old Shacklock coal range and feel the presence of Sarah Randell and am overwhelmed and daunted by the enormous domestic labour that was the centre of her life.

It was a privilege to live and work in Randell Cottage.

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