Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – A partnership we cherish

Critical thought and enquiry – and extending the joy of thinking and learning to all New Zealanders – is at the heart of the Ockham ethos. Ockham founder Mark Todd reflects on the company’s partnership with the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

It's hard to believe that 2020 will mark the fifth year of our sponsorship of the New Zealand Book Awards. It’s a huge honour for our company, Ockham Residential, to have this association and I confess I pinch myself whenever I hear them called 'The Ockhams'. For the briefest moment I think, 'Oh, what a wonderful coincidence – we share the same name.' Then just 'Oh!' It’s a thrill – the very best kind of reflected glory.

I try to read each of the shortlisted works each year. The poems, the novels, the non-fiction – the lot. I didn’t get close this time round – I’m guessing I’m about a third of the way of the way through – but I have until the next awards next May to catch up. It does mean I have a full-on Christmas coming up.

I’ll have to be disciplined because the longlist for the 2020 Awards is announced in late-January. I can imagine the weeks leading up to the announcement must be exciting and nerve-shredding for the authors and publishers: I get quite anxious myself. And then to March when the shortlist comes out.

I feel for the authors: I feel for the judges too. Perhaps my favourite New Zealand book since we came on board is Greg McGee's The Antipodeans. It was longlisted in 2016: it's an immense and incredibly ambitious work (and if you haven’t read it yet, you absolutely must). I cried the first time I read it, cried even more the second time. As it happens, it wasn’t shortlisted that year, but it has a lifelong place on my internal bookshelf.

"It's an immense and incredibly ambitious work. I cried the first time I read it, cried even more the second time..."

Mark Todd on Greg McGee's The Antipodeans

One of the very best aspects of 'The Ockhams' – see, I had to slip that in! – actually has nothing to do with us. It's the family of sponsors and supporters who have also joined up. I have terrible habit of inadvertently not acknowledging very important people so please forgive me if/when I miss out an absolute legend. The astonishingly generous sponsorship of the Acorn Foundation – $50,000 for the best work of fiction. The Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry. The Te Mūrau o te Tuhi Māori Language Award, supported by Creative New Zealand, for books written entirely in te reo Māori. And – most recently – MitoQ’s sponsonship of the four Best First Book Awards.

It’s a privilege to be part of the Book Awards whānau, marshalled so expertly by Nicola Legat and Belinda Cooke, along with the New Zealand Book Awards trustees. The awards – and the recognition, profile and financial assistance they give to their creators – are a special part of Aotearoa / New Zealand’s cultural fabric and identity.

I have two young children and I guess I could shamelessly use them as an excuse for why I’m a little behind in my Ockham Awards reading. Over the first decade of their lives, I’ve read thousands of books with them – and sat snuggled up alongside them in bed, seen their imaginations bloom, seen them enchanted by the magic and mystery of these other worlds. Truth be told, I’ve often been ensnared myself. There’s a wonderful Dr Seuss quote you may have heard which says it all:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

I believe the good doctor’s observation has never been more pertinent than today. From the start we’ve wanted to give back to those organisations and individuals that enrich us as a society. Critical thought and enquiry – and extending the joy of thinking and learning to all New Zealanders – is at the heart of the Ockham ethos. To play a small part in taking what Stephen King called the "uniquely portable magic" of books to New Zealanders means the world to me – and to Ockham. 

Thank you for letting us share in the story.

Photo credit: Mark presents the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards' Illustrated Non-Fiction Award to Sean Mallon, co-author with Sébastien Galliot of Tatau: A History of Samoan Tattooing, published by Te Papa Press. Photo by Marcel Trompe.