AWARD WINNER: Amiria Stirling is the winner of a new children’s fiction award with her story, Nga Ngeru o te Tiriti o Paia.

TE Whanau-a-Apanui educator Amiria Stirling has been announced as the inaugural winner of a new children’s fiction award dedicated to the memory of her favourite writer, Dame Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira.

The Storylines Children’s Literature Trust announced the winners of its major annual awards on Monday, in lieu of its Storylines Margaret Mahy National Awards event, which was scheduled to be held on Sunday night but had to be cancelled due to the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

Stirling’s story, Nga Ngeru o te Tiriti o Paia, was the winner of Te Kahurangi Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira Award for a manuscript originally written in te reo Maori. It is a collection of seven poems that Stirling says reflect the unique and lively style of humour and love of entertaining people Te Whanau-a-Apanui are known for.

Though Stirling was born in Lower Hutt and currently lives in Wellington, both of her parents are from the East Coast, near Waihau Bay, and she spent some time living in Te Kaha and working as a teacher at Te Whanau-a-Apanui Area School before the school was restructured.

With 20 years as a teacher, she says she enjoyed being part of the Te Kaha community and describes the students she taught there as “full of heart”.

She is currently studying toward a masters degree at Te Wananga o Raukawa in Otara on the Kapiti Coast while also working as a consultant, online resource developer and adviser to the Ministry of Education.

She said although both of her parents were fluent in te reo Maori, and she was raised in a community of Maori speakers, her love of te reo Maori didn’t take hold until she was in her teens.

“My parents wanted me to study Japanese or French, but I got the bug and they eventually learned to accept that.”

“Getting the bug” for writing was something that came later when she was part of a group run by the Maori Literature Trust. More recently, she took up a creative writing paper as part of her masters which has renewed her love of writing.

She said her winning story, Nga Ngeru o te Tiriti o Paia, was inspired by a street where she lived when she was teaching in Otaki that was mostly filled with elderly people who all owned cats.

“The cats owned the neighbourhood. They helped themselves to everyone’s homes and ate their food and stole nicknacks. They were welcomed by everyone and it wasn’t uncommon to come home to find a cat sitting in my lounge.

“As I put pen to paper I thought, “it has to be funny. It has to be something children can giggle about.

“As I was writing it, I realised that it was totally of Te Whanau-a-Apanui. The humour that we have as a tribe, our love of telling a story and entertaining people was all in there.”

Storyline judges describe it, saying, “figurative, poetic, humorous language is spread throughout the story, to entice children and adults alike to read and love te reo Maori”.

Stirling said she “had a bit of a cry” when she was told about her award and that it was especially poignant because Dame Katerina was her favourite author, and someone she looked up to as an educator who promoted the teaching of te reo Maori.

The award is sponsored by Huia Publishing with the cash award for the winner sponsored by Massey University Te Putahi-a-Toi: School of Maori Knowledge.

“These awards acknowledge previously unpublished writers and illustrators, and have often been the stepping stone to further success in children’s literature or illustration,” said Storylines chairwoman Christine Young.

“Although we are unable to meet the writers and illustrators in person, I’d like them all to know that the children’s literature community celebrates with them and congratulates them on their achievements.

“We look forward to marking their success at an event later in the year, when gatherings are again possible.

Other winners of the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust awards for 2020 were:

  • Tania Sickling, from Snells Beach, won the Joy Cowley Award for her story Grandpa Versus Swing.
  • Belinda O’Keefe, from Christchurch, won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for A Recipe for Disaster.
  • Cristina Sanders won the Tessa Duder Award, New Zealand author of an unpublished work of fiction.
  • Janine Williams is the first winner of the Janice Marriott Mentoring Award, for her manuscript Holding the Horse.
  • The Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award, for a book which has been continuously in print for more than five years and has established itself as a favourite among New Zealand children and families went to writer Janet Slater Bottin and illustrator Christine Dale for The Big Block of Chocolate published by Scholastic.