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Norcliffe, James
Writer's File

James Norcliffe

Canterbury - Waitaha
Norcliffe, James
In brief
James Norcliffe is a poet, fiction writer and educator. He has written collections of poetry and short stories, and several books for young adults. His writing has been featured in journals and anthologies, and he has also worked extensively as an editor. Norcliffe has won awards and prizes, and has been the recipient of prestigious fellowships, including the 2006 Fellowship at the University of Iowa. For his children21q12s book The Loblolly Boy (2009), Norcliffe won the Junior Fiction Award at the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.


Norcliffe, James (1946– ), poet and fiction writer, has taught English in Christchurch, China and Brunei.

He followed his debut collection of poetry, The Sportsman and Other Poems (1986), with the successful Letters to Dr Dee and Other Poems (1993), which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards 1994.

Described by David Eggleton as an ‘Absurdist’s grab-bag of whatever is bumped up against that can be made to reveal the sheer numinous strangeness of existence, imagist-style’, the collection contains traces of China in ‘a distilled Taoist influence’ and poems that are ‘fine-spun, like silk screens, or else transparent, like rice-paper’ (Quote Unquote, Apr. 1994).

China also features in The Chinese Interpreter (1993), short stories based on cultural clashes Norcliffe observed while teaching English at Nankai University. These lucid, keenly observed narratives have proved popular on radio.

Equally popular have been four novels for young adults: Under the Rotunda (1991) employs the powerful magic of an old cornet to restore to normal a brass band maliciously reduced to the size of carrots; Penguin Bay (1993) recounts the scary adventures of children holidaying in an old house on Banks Peninsula; The Emerald Encyclopaedia (1994)—honour award recipient at the 1995 Aim Children’s Book Awards—a fantasy based in Christchurch that explores the manipulation of peoples’ minds by those wanting control of the masses; and The Carousel Experiment (1995) chronicles a boy’s search for his mother in the enigmatic Carousel Caravan Park.

Norcliffe has won awards including the Lilian Ida Smith Award 1990 and the NZ Poetry Society’s international competition 1992.



In 1990, James Norcliffe received the Lilian Ida Smith Award.

A Kind of Kingdom
was published in 1998.

In 2000, Norcliffe was the Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University.

The poems in Rat Tickling (2003) are described by Alan Riach in Landfall as being surrounded by an 'atmosphere of summer lightning ... they act as tilted mirrors, sharp-edged postcards, or glimpsed moments, taste and textures....'

Double Jointed by Jenny Powell-Chalmers (2003) features poetry by the author with Rob Allan, Martha Morseth, John Allison, Larry Matthews, Emma Neale, John Dolan, Peter Olds, Claire Beynon, Trevor Reeves and James Norcliffe.

In 2003, Norcliffe, with Bernadette Hall, received the inaugural Christchurch Press Literary Liaisons Honour Award for 'lasting contribution to literature in the South Island.'

Along Blueskin Road was published by Canterbury University Press in 2005.

Norcliffe was President of the NZ Poetry Society 2005 - 2007, and became vice president in 2007.

He also participated in the Tasmanian Writers’ Island of Residencies programme in 2006, residing at the Hobart Writer’s Cottage. Norcliffe spent a month in July working on projects, holding a writing workshop and giving readings of his own work.

Norcliffe won the 2006 Fellowship at the University of Iowa as a participant in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Programme, and Residency in Nebraska at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Centre, Nebraska City.

Norcliffe's Young Adult novel The Assassin of Gleam was published by Hazard Press in 2006. In addition to being shortlisted for the 2007 Esther Glen Medal, the book received the 2007 Sir Julius Vogel Award for the best science fiction / fantasy novel published in New Zealand in 2006.

2007 saw the publication of his sixth collection of poetry, Villon in Millerton (Auckland University Press).

Tennis with Raw Eggs, the sixth in the Re-draft series by the Christchurch School of Young Writers Inc, was edited by Norcliffe and Alan Bunn.

The Loblolly Boy (Longacre, 2009) is a young adult book by Norcliffe, telling a story of dangerous wishes that come true - with surprising consequences. It was listed as a 2010 Storylines Notable Junior Fiction Book. The book won the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction award. Its sequel, The Loblolly Boy & the Sorcerer (Random House, 2011) was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

In 2011, Norcliffe was a finalist for the Proverse International Writers' Awards. In consequence, Proverse Press published his poetry collection Shadow Play in 2012. The collection, which encompasses a wide range of subjects and settings - all connected by Norcliffe's consistent voice - was reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett as an "imaginative, sharp and deeply enjoyable collection" (NZ Books).

Norcliffe published a children's poetry collection entitled Packing a Bag for Mars in 2013. With illustrations by Jenny Cooper, the book is the result of a commission from The School for Young Writers in Christchurch, and compiles a medley of poems that cover a broad range of childhood subjects.

Norcliffe’s most recent work, Felix and the Red Rats (Random House, 2013), was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It was also shortlisted for the LIANZA Esther Glen Medal.

In 2014 Norcliffe co-edited Mad Honey with Tessa Duder. Mad Honey is the 13th collection of teenagers’ writing in the Re-draftseries.

In the same year, Norcliffe worked alongside Siobhan Harvey and Harry Ricketts to put together Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page, a collection of New Zealand poetry.

The 15th serial of the Re-draft series, titled They Call Me Ink, was edited by James Norcliffe and Tessa Duder and published in January 2016.

In 2015, Norcliffe’s children’s novel The Pirates and the Nightmaker was released. Set in 1740, the story follows the adventures of a pirate ship as it drifts across the Caribbean, recounting the fantasy, intrigue, and adventure that accompanies the crew’s journey across the sea. The novel was a finalist for the New Zealand Children's Book Awards in 2015, and made the Storylines Notable Book list for 2016.

The most recent work Norcliffe has produced as an editor (alongside Joanna Preston) is Leaving the Redzone: Poems from the Canterbury Earthquakes. Published in February 2016 to mark the fifth anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake, the text comprises a variety of poems that artistically address the natural disaster.