New novel to explore Phar Lap’s iconic status

Phar Lap, with Jimmy Pike and Tommy Woodcock in 1930.
Phar Lap, with Jimmy Pike and Tommy Woodcock in 1930. © Museum Victoria

An author working on a novel about Phar Lap is among four award-winning New Zealand writers who will take up residencies at the Michael King Writers’ Centre next year.

Kelly Ana Morey, who won the Copyright Licensing Limited Research Grant last year to research her novel about Phar Lap, plans to complete the project while she holds the residency in 2014. She believes the book, called Daylight Second, is the first New Zealand literary novel about a racehorse. As a horse-lover all her life, she says the subject matter is in her DNA and Phar Lap is a great story.

The book will also examine “why this horse meant so much to people, why they made him a Depression-era hero and a national icon for both New Zealand and Australia, and the passion and compulsion that drives people within the industry.”

Morey, who will take up the Maori Writer’s Residency, is from Kaiwaka and has written four novels, three social histories, a memoir, poems and short stories. She won the First Book Prize at the NZ Book Awards in 2004received the Todd Writer’s Bursary in 2003, the Janet Frame Literary Award for Imaginative Fiction in 2005, and was highly commended in the BNZ Short Story Awards in 2012.

Competition for the residencies was fierce. More than 75 writers applied for the four spots, with nearly 150 applications in total. The chair of the selection panel, author and centre trustee Dr Peter Simpson, said that the applications this year were of exceptional quality and the panel was delighted with the writers who had been selected.

Kelly Ana Morey
Kelly Ana Morey

“It is a very impressive group. Some of the decisions were very difficult to make and we regretted the need to disappoint many thoroughly worthwhile contenders,” Simpson said.

Three of the residencies are for eight weeks and one, offered in partnership with The University of Auckland, is for six months. Last year’s University of Auckland fellow Eleanor Catton went on to win the Man Booker Prize for her book The Luminaries.

Writers who are selected for the three eight-week residencies receive free accommodation at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport and a stipend of $8,000. The University of Auckland Residency is during the University’s second semester and brings a stipend/salary of $30,000. The 2014 residency programme is offered thanks to the support of Creative New Zealand and the centre hopes to offer a similar programme in 2015. Twenty-eight New Zealand writers have held residencies at the centre since it was set up in 2005. The current writer in residence is novelist and graphic artist Sarah Laing.

The centre is also able to assist writers who do not qualify for its supported residency programme. It has a second bedroom which is let at a modest rate to visiting writers who need a quiet place to work.

The other three writers chosen for 2014 were Anne Kennedy from Auckland, Peter Wells from Napier, and Alice Miller.

Alice Miller, who is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and playwright, has been awarded the Summer Residency to work on her new novel called The Tower. It is about “poetry, beauty and the occult”, interweaving two stories, one about a contemporary New Zealand would-be opera writer and the other about ‘George’ Yeats, the wife of W.B. Yeats.

Author and film director Peter Wells has won numerous awards for his writing and film work. He is awarded the Autumn Residency to work on an illustrated, creative non-fiction book called The Enigma of Family, which uses a series of family letters to open up the Pandora’s box of the past and explores how history can be revealed through the lives of ordinary people.

Novelist, poet, editor and screenwriter Anne Kennedy has been selected for the six-month University of Auckland Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre to work on a new novel. Kennedy is in New Zealand after a decade in Honolulu where she taught fiction and screen writing at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa.

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