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Maurice Gee

Maurice_Gee_signing.jpgMaurice Gee is one of New Zealand’s most distinguished novelists. He grew up in Henderson and his childhood near Henderson Creek has provided inspiration for both his adult and children’s fiction. After university he taught for two years and then spent several years doing casual work – but always writing. A grant from the New Zealand Literary Fund enabled him to spend a year teaching and writing in England in 1961 and his first novels were published during the 1960s and 1970s.
 
In 1979 Maurice won the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Award for Plumb and his first children’s novel was published in the same year. Under the Mountain was also televised, providing a rare opportunity for New Zealand children to see their own landscape in a children’s drama. Since then, it has been adapted into a feature film.
 
Maurice was unable to attend the presentation of the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award in 2004 for Under the Mountain, but he sent an acceptance speech to be read by Bernice Beachman, from Penguin. The speech captures well the essence and importance of this award:
Much-loved Book is such a great title for an award, and a great idea, much healthier, I think, than prizes for so-called best book. ‘Best’ can never be measured. ‘Loved’ in some sense can. I’m especially pleased to receive the award because it’s named in memory of Gaelyn Gordon, a much-loved person. Gaelyn’s warmth and generosity are legendary. She was a person who, when you met her, was instantly lovable.
 Under the Mountain becomes a better book, at least in my mind, by securing this association with her. The book itself: it was my first for children. It all began with having two red-headed daughters – not twins though. Then there was my desire to write a fantasy – get away from the real world of my adult novels – but set it in a place New Zealand children would recognise, so that they might get an ‘our story’ feeling. What better place than Auckland’s volcanic cones? It was seeing Mt Eden looming in the misty rain one morning that really got it started. Everything, monsters and all, followed from that.  It has an interesting history in that it couldn’t find a publisher in the beginning. Hearing this, the marvellous Christine Cole Catley offered to publish it, and then generously stood aside for Oxford University Press. From Oxford the book went to Penguin – found its permanent home – and with Penguin both it and I have been very happy. Sales make writers happy. It’s my biggest-selling book, never out of print since it came out 25 years ago.  But reader response makes me even happier. Children like Under the Mountain and tell me so. That makes me feel really good. But just as enjoyable an experience I've started having lately – the people in their twenties and thirties who, hearing my name, say, ‘Did you write Under the Mountain?'
I've had it from bank tellers, airline clerks, a courier van driver, the man who came to water-blast moss off my garden path. They’re getting older. The book seems to get itself remembered by some bit of magic that I don’t understand. And I wonder if at some distant date – very distant, I hope – as my coffin slides into the hearse, the undertaker will be heard to murmur, ‘Maurice Gee? Ah yes, Under the Mountain.'  So thank you readers, thank you publishers and librarians and booksellers and teachers, for your part in winning this prize for me.  And thank you Children’s Literature Foundation for choosing me, and thank you Gaelyn Gordon for letting me put my name next to yours.

Maurice has won a number of awards over the years but The Halfmen of O, published in 1982 and winner of the New Zealand Government Publishing Awards Children’s Book of the Year in 1983, is probably his most popular children’s book. This was one of the few children’s books ever to feature on the weekly bestsellers list, which used to be compiled by Whitcoulls and G.H. Bennett and published in the monthly New Zealand Bookseller & Publisher. Fifteen years later the KiwiKids Top 100, compiled by Whitcoulls as the result of a national survey, showed it to be still one of the most popular New Zealand children’s books. The Motherstone, the final book in the O trilogy, won the Esther Glen Medal in 1986 and The Fat Man was AIM Book of the Year in 1995. After several years living in Wellington, Maurice has recently moved to Nelson.
 
Maurice was the 2002 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal winner.
 
Selected bibliography:
  • Under the Mountain (Oxford University Press 1979).
  • The World around the Corner illustrated by Gary Hebley (Oxford University Press 1980).
  • The Halfmen of O [O Trilogy, book one] (Oxford University Press 1982).
  • The Priests of Ferris [O Trilogy, book two] (Oxford University Press 1984).
  • The Motherstone [O Trilogy, book three] (Oxford University Press 1985).
  • The Fire-raiser (Penguin 1986).
  • The Champion (Puffin 1989).
  • The Fat Man (Viking 1994).
  • Orchard Street (Viking 1998).
  • Hostel Girl (Puffin 1999).
  • Salt (Puffin 2007).
  • Gool (Puffin 2008).
  • The Limping Man (Puffin 2010).
Awards:
  • Robert Burns Fellowship 1964.
  • New Zealand Government Publishing Awards New Zealand Children’s Book of the Year Award winner 1983 for The Halfmen of O.
  • Esther Glen Award 1986 Winner for Motherstone.
  • Victoria University Writers' Fellow 1989.
  • AIM Children’s Book Awards 1990 Fiction Second Prize for The Champion.
  • Katherine Mansfield Prize 1992.
  • AIM Children’s Book Awards 1995 Junior Fiction Winner for The Fat Man.
  • AIM Children’s Book Awards 1995 Book of the Year for The Fat Man.
  • Esther Glen Award 1995 Winner for The Fat Man.
  • Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal 2002.
  • Honorary Doctor of Literature, University of Auckland, 2004.
  • Prime Minister’s Awards 2004 for Fiction.
  • Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award 2004 for Under the Mountain.
  • Esther Glen Award 2008 shortlist for Salt.
  • New Zealand Post Children’s Books Award 2008 Winner for Salt.
  • Storylines Notable Book Awards 2008 Young Adult Fiction List for Salt.
  • New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2009 Young Adult Fiction Shortlist for Gool.
  • Storylines Notable Book Awards 2009 Young Adult Fiction List for Gool.
  • Storylines Notable Book Awards 2011 Young Adult fiction List for The Limping Man.
  • New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2011 Young Adult Fiction Finalist for The Limping Man.
  • LIANZA Young Adult Award 2011 Finalist for The Limping Man.
 

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