When she’s not preparing for UCOL’s semester start, local lecturer Airini Beautrais is celebrating – her debut collection of short stories, Bug Week, has just been announced on the longlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
A phenomenal achievement for any writer, Beautrais is remarkably calm about all the hub-bub. “Oh it’s always nice to get some affirmation for your creative work.
“It was a nice surprise, I only found out when my publicist called me. I was busy doing teaching prep for the year and had forgotten about things like book awards for the time being!”
Up for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction – and its $57,000 prize - Beautrais isn’t sure of her chances, but she isn’t ruling it out. “It would be very unusual for a collection of short stories to win this award, but there is a first time for everything. With 10 books on the longlist it looks like better odds than Lotto, but I am up against previous winners Pip Adam and Catherine Chidgey, as well as a number of other very talented novelists.”
Bug Week was launched last September at Whanganui Regional Museum, and has earned rave reviews from some of New Zealand’s literary critics. This included New Zealand's foremost short story writer Owen Marshall, who highlighted it as his Book of the Week on Newsroom.
While it’s Beautrais’ first published collection of short stories, it’s not the first time her work has attracted award attention. She has published four poetry collection, with her first, Secret Heart, winning the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2007 NZ Book Awards. She also won the Landfall Essay Prize in 2016.
“I had been working on short stories all along but it took me until last year to publish a collection that I was happy with. A lot of these stories are inspired by female experiences. Some of them are pretty heavy in terms of subject matter but it was a cathartic experience writing them. I have mostly gotten good feedback, so I guess it’s not too horrific!”
So what does the future hold for this talented writer? “At the moment I am working on a few poems and essays - but I’m always keen to write stories when the inspiration strikes.”