I am pleased to announce today that the government will invest five million dollars towards New Zealand’s defence of the Man Booker Prize in 2014.
The money is an initial bridging investment to secure our top literary talent, but we expect to announce a further substantial monetary commitment in the new year.
That further commitment is contingent on our being satisfied that we can secure a team with sufficient talent to contest the 2014 event.
We were all delighted when Eleanor Catton won the 2013 prize with her book The Luminaries. We are already seeing the economic benefits of that win, as bookstores report increased sales of Catton’s novel. It seems that just about everyone wants to secure for their bookshelf a copy of a book that they have heard is brilliant, but is far too long for them to ever attempt to read.
Such is the length and rich complexity of The Luminaries that book groups anticipate their discussion sessions will last much longer than normal. This is a welcome boost to sellers of tea, coffee and biscuits. Chiropractors and optometrists also expect an increase in revenues as a result of people wearing out their eyes and sitting for too long in one place while attempting to finish the book.
But these benefits may be short-lived if we cannot successfully defend the prize. The Man Booker will be contested again in 2014, and it is vital that we have an expert team ready, willing and able to keep it in New Zealand.
Our first priority will be to secure a team of talented people, and this bridging investment enables us to do that. Without this money it may prove impossible to mount a defence in 2014. We know for a fact that offshore publishers have been in talks with a number of New Zealand authors, and we have very real fears that some of our top literary talent may end up overseas.
Canada has already sought to claim Eleanor Catton as its own, a move she has so far resisted. But we cannot assume that others in the industry will not be lured away by foreign publishers promising fame and fortune, and the huge money an author can earn.
While our first priority is to lock in an author, a winning book needs more than just a writer. We also need to put together a team of publishers, editors, designers, and publicists.
If we can win in 2014, then we think there will be a real case for change in the format of the contest. Everyone loves the Man Booker, but we think New Zealand can do a better job of hosting the event, and we also want to see changes in the format and judging criteria.
While we all love and admire Eleanor’s book, a focus on faster, racier reads would attract more viewers and would generate genuine excitement. Imagine the thrill of watching two fast-moving novels going up against each other, competing to see which author can generate the sauciest sex scene or most unexpected plot twist.
A win in 2014 will make the case that New Zealand is the natural home of the Man Booker Prize.
This government is committed to growing the economy, and bringing big events to this country is part of that commitment. Big events boost our international reputation and encourage investment and innovation, and lead to the creation of jobs. The boost to our tourism and hospitality industries from hosting the Man Booker Prize would be substantial. An economic impact report commissioned by the government has estimated that the boost to the economy could be as much as whatever figure we tell them to insert into the report.
We’re working on a number of other initiatives designed to bring major events to New Zealand. We’re very keen to host the Tour de France and Wimbledon, and we’re exploring the possibility of holding the 2016 Academy Awards in Wellywood.
We also think we have a reasonable shot at luring away from The Hague the International Criminal Court. I’ve always been a huge fan of the ICC and the good work it does bringing to justice some of the most despicable people on the planet. But its procedures are tedious, and trials typically take months if not years. Considering the villainy of most of the people before that court, we should be able to make trials speedier and racier, while adding real excitement to spectators.
But for now the focus is on securing a team to defend the 2014 Man Booker. I’m confident that if we can secure a team then we have a real shot at victory. Many of our opponents will excel at delivering beautiful prose and compelling stories, but our Kiwi can-do attitude and number-8 wire mentality give us huge natural advantages against our competitors.
This government is committed to keeping the Man Booker Prize in New Zealand, the home of literature.