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Chidgey, Catherine
Author photo: Ebony Lamb
Writer's File

Catherine Chidgey

Chidgey, Catherine
Author photo: Ebony Lamb
In brief
Catherine Chidgey is a novelist and short story writer. Among numerous awards, Chidgey received a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship in 1998, and is a member of the Sargeson Trust. She was awarded the 2001 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship, the inaugural Glenn Schaeffer Prize in Modern Letters in 2002, and in 2005 she received the Robert Burns Fellowship. Her honours also include the inaugural Prize in Modern Letters; Best First Book at both the New Zealand Book Awards; the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region); the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards on two occasions; and the Janet Frame Fiction Prize.
  • Primary publisher
    Te Herenga Waka University Press
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Chidgey, Catherine (1970 – ) is a novelist and short story writer. Born and raised in Lower Hutt, Chidgey was educated at Victoria University of Wellington, where she studied German literature, Psychology and Creative Writing. She went on to study in Berlin, where she held a DAAD scholarship for post-graduate study in German literature.

In 1997, Chidgey was awarded the Adam Prize in Creative Writing for In a Fishbone Church. The prize is awarded annually to the best portfolio in the MA in Creative Writing programme at Victoria University, then convened by Bill Manhire. In a Fishbone Church was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Fiction at the 1998 Montana New Zealand Book Awards (now the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards), and was runner-up for the Deutz Medal. It also won the Best First Book award in the South-East Asia/South Pacific section of the 1999 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and a 1999 Betty Trask award in the UK. It has been published in Australia, the UK, and Germany.

Critics have praised Chidgey's ‘unusually fine emotional register’ (Cath Kenneally, Landfall), describing the novel as ‘a triumph of lightness’ (Elizabeth Smither, New Zealand Herald), an ‘exceptional achievement’ (The Bookseller, UK), and ‘a wry, tender and absorbing first novel’ (Emily Perkins, Times Literary Supplement).

The novel attracted the notice of overseas critics and authors: Louis de Bernieres writes that ‘[t]his book is warm, subtle and evocative. You will be thinking about it long after you have finished reading.’ Nick Hornby describes Chidgey as ‘a wonderful new talent.’

Short stories have appeared in literary journals including Landfall, Sport, School Journal, Takahē and the NZ Listener. Chidgey’s stories have also been published in numerous anthologies, including Mutes and Earthquakes (1997), The Picnic Virgin (1999), Small Packages (Pearson, 2000), Morrieson’s Motel (Tandem Press, 2000), Dies ist eine wahre Geschichte: Neuseeländische Autoren in Berlin (DAAD, 2002), An Affair of the Heart: A celebration of Frank Sargeson’s Centenary (Cape Catley, 2003), The Colour of Distance (Victoria UP, 2006), Are Angels OK? (Victoria UP, 2006), Second Violins (Vintage, 2008) and Nurse to the Imagination: 50 Years of the Robert Burns Fellowship (Otago UP, 2008). Chidgey won the 1997 Listener Women’s Book Festival short story competition.

Catherine Chidgey held a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship in 1998, and is a member of the Sargeson Trust. In 1999 she was awarded the Todd New Writers Bursary.

Chidgey's second novel, Golden Deeds (2000) was a runner-up in the Fiction category of the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Awards (now the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards). Linda Burgess writes in the Dominion ‘So — is Chidgey's second novel as good? I think it is... I glided through this immensely readable, beautifully written, rather profound, thoroughly excellent book.’ Golden Deeds is published in the US by Henry Holt, under the title The Strength of the Sun.

The book received rave reviews in the British press. 'Golden Deeds is a wonderful, gripping read,' writes the Sunday Express. 'Chidgey proves herself to be among that elite group of authors who possess a true grasp of the patterns of life. The Times Literary Supplement described it as 'magnanimous and merciless, a work reminiscent at times of darkest Atwood.’

Catherine Chidgey was awarded the 2001 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. One of New Zealand's most long-standing and prestigious literary awards, the fellowship is offered annually to enable a New Zealand writer to work in Menton, France. She also won the inaugural Glenn Schaeffer Prize in Modern Letters in 2002. With a cash award of $60,000, it was at the time Australasia's most lucrative literary award.

In 2003 she shared The Ursula Bethell Residency with Gavin Bishop.

Her third novel The Transformation (Picador) was published in 2003. Margie Thomson of the New Zealand Herald said in her review, 'on the strength of this novel, her third and best so far, Chidgey could tackle any subject and produce something wonderful from it'. Barnes & Noble selected The Transformation in their Discover Great New Writers programme in 2005.

In 2005 Chidgey translated Donkeys (Gecko Press), an Austrian children's book by Adelheid Dahimene-Heide Stollinger.

Catherine Chidgey was awarded the 2005 Robert Burns Fellowship. She was invited to stay on for the first half of its 2006 tenure, to continue working on her fourth novel.

She was the 2009 Writer-in-Residence at Waikato University.

Catherine Chidgey was the recipient of the 2012 NZSA Beatson Fellowship, and in 2013 she won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award, judged by Albert Wendt.

In 2016 Chidgey released her novel The Wish Child (Te Herenga Waka Press, then Victoria University Press), a novel set in 1939 Germany and told from the perspective of two young children. Described as a book with ‘velvetine language,’ The Wish Child has gone on to be a critically acclaimed bestseller, winning the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The judges awarded the $50,000 prize to Chidgey for her book which ‘exposes and celebrates the power of words – so dangerous they must be cut out or shredded, so magical they can be wondered at and conjured with.’ An ‘elegantly written, compelling and memorable’ novel, the judges thought readers would be ‘caught by surprise with its plumbing of depths and sudden moments of grace, beauty and light.’ Sue Esterman in The Reader called the novel a ‘tour de force, a work of art... one of the best novels I have read.’ Paula Green reviewed the novel as one of ‘subterranean mysteries and spiky issues... I ached as I read. The novel is unmissable.’

In 2017, Chidgey released The Beat of the Pendulum, (Te Herenga Waka Press) a 'found novel' based upon upon the language she encountered on a daily basis, such as news stories, radio broadcasts, emails, social media, street signs, TV, and many conversations, over the course of a year.

The book received glowing reviews, and was included in Radio New Zealand's Best Books of 2017 segment as being "important in terms of its form as much as its content... sensationally clever writing... an enormously skilled writer who totally gets the craft."

Chidgey's sixth book, Remote Sympathy, was published in 2020, and is also set in Nazi Germany. It was shortlisted for the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. It was a Sunday Times Book of the Month, and was described by The Guardian as "immersive, profound and beautifully plotted". It was one of New Zealand's top ten best-selling novels in 2021 and was longlisted for the 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction.

Chidgey has now translated more than a dozen children's picture books from the German for Gecko Press. In November 2019, OneTree House published her first original picture book, Jiffy, Cat Detective, illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich.

In October 2022, her seventh novel, The Axeman's Carnival, was published. Set in Central Otago, the novel tells the story of the relationship of a farming couple and is narrated by a magpie called Tama. The book featured eighth on the list of New Zealand fiction bestsellers of 2022, and won New Zealand's top book award, the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, at the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

In 2023, her eighth novel, Pet, a thriller about the relationship between a 12-year-old girl and her schoolteacher, was published in New Zealand, the UK and the United States. Ruth Franklin in The New York Times called it a "lingering, haunting book", and "a landmark in the small but potent canon of contemporary novels about unusual girls reckoning with themselves and the world around them". Pet has been longlisted for the 2024 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction.

Chidgey lives in Ngāruawāhia, where she is a lecturer of creative writing at the University of Waikato. In her role at Waikato she founded the Sargeson Prize, New Zealand's richest short story competition.

The New Zealand Listener has called Chidgey '[i]ntelligent, lyrical, disciplined and observant, she is the real deal, the star of her generation.'

    February 2024
    February 2024