Once upon a time, not long ago, I went to Wellington. To the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. I was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category. I received a certificate. Small. Soft. White. Handed to me while we waited in a side theatre for the official finalist group portraits. I did not receive a prize. Nor the $7,500 award money I coveted. I’d seen palm trees swaying. Powdered blond sand. But more sensibly, my next printing bill.
I did however, receive, ten days later, a photograph (2 in fact with varying degress of eyes shut-ness).
Here we are – resplendent. Word worms of differing heights and motivations. Thank god my eyes are open in the photograph and I’d tilted my head just so’s my under eye bags did not catch the light. I felt like Stella Dubois on the stage under that blinding dazzle. Matt should have checked we were all awake. I’m the imposter on the left. In Black. Dressed by Maje. That’s French. And Trudy.
(JB, Sarah Johnson, Stacy, Gregg, Kate de Goldi, David Hill. Photo:Matt Bialostocki)
It was a fun night. I felt immensely proud. And desireth of returning. The H’s hands were sweaty before my category’s announcement. I did not collect. It saved me from reading out the speech I’d written at 4pm and emailed to our hotel reception for printing, then collected as we stepped into the taxi. It also saved me from walking up to the stage, hitching down the underskirt under my lace mesh dress which threatened to ride up and nestle under the crest of my derriere. Despite having had the side seams taken out. It threatened to flash a hint of the red knickers I worn to match my shoes.
The event sailed swiftly and professionally. The ebullient Fi Colston at the helm steering its course. The judges were relaxed. Elated. Dressed to the nines in black and royal blue. Their job done.The recipients' speeches were emotional and heartfelt. No one tripped on the stairs. No one made a gaff. Kyle Mewburn carried a laminated headshot of his illustrator. David Hill made reference to his age more than once, and his agility, then sprinted off the stage. Stacy Gregg said when she collected her children’s choice award, ‘I’m glad I won because I’m desperate to go to the loo and I didn’t want to rush out … and look like a sore loser.’ She did eventually rush out on her glorious Catherine-the-Great gold heels.
Stacy also said, as we trudged out afterwards heads hung, flanked by David Hill. ‘Our’s was the strongest category.’ It sure felt like it was. Kate de Goldi won it! She was charming and humble in her acceptance. She praised our strong lineup and the mighty small publisher (mine) - Luncheon Sausage Books, and the self-pubbed author Sarah Johnson. That was nice. Later we discussed junior fiction and the responsibility we have to young developing minds. I worried about the country wide Barbie-doll-decapitating-pandemic Lily Max and I may have created.
The bar was in sight. It was also in the sight of 200 others. The one barmen could only be slow. He had one greying front tooth, two hands, and a briefly ironed white shirt. He also had about 100 highly polished but empty wine glasses on display. The wine was free, the Te Hana bubbly wasn’t. I didn’t think to carry my credit card in my bra. For that. Frightfully dry.
Pizza arrived. Hells of it. In flat cardboard boxes from the nearest devilish outlet. It was coldish. Stiff. Like the wind outside whipping Wellington and its puddles into waves. I took a slice of vegetarian. Only for the juicy olive centre stage which bounced directly onto the Circa theatre’s dark carpet full of sins.
Somehow time disappeared. I yakked incessantly to the lovely Vasanti Unka about peonies. Eating my lipstick. Too shy to say, I have a picture book text I always wanted you to illustrate. Maureen Crisp whispered in my ear. Fi patted my dress. Paul my award winning distributor introduced me to reputable booksellers. By 7, the swill complete, we were ushered out. I found my coat and followed the Welly literati next door. Celeb type authors from Auckland and Nelson (you know who you are!) had already been herded into waiting limos and taken to the Matterhorn most probs. Mac Brewery please.
The H was bored. He sat on a sofa. Maria Gill still looked stunned from shaking hands with Maggie Barry, raven-haired Minister of Arts and Culture. Maria was the winner of the main cheese she had her first interview scheduled for 5.45am. On the telly!
I felt suddenly exhausted and a little sloshed. Two drinks, two slices, and a day of nerves and secret hope. All mainlining. Taxi. Back at the hotel, the Olympics were STILL on. Our mini bar was also on - high. I ate the scorched almonds instead. $15.99. And remembered family and friends had said, take loads of photos so I did. Silly selfie-selfs. Just in case the official ones sucked.
Smile, girl - you're at the New Zealand Book Awards!
Oh, what a night, 8th August 2016.