WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT: 2021 Wright-Murray Residency


A.J. Ponder, author of the much-loved children’s title Wizard’s Guide to Wellington, is the winner of the 2021 Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Writers, now in its second year.

“I’m excited and honoured to be this year’s winner,” says Ponder from her hillside home in Wellington. “As a fantasy writer, opportunities and accolades are rare, despite the importance of speculative fiction in negotiating the modern world. Works like Joe Halderman’s The Forever War, Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, and the surge of cli-fi from some of our great New Zealand authors are testament to the power of speculative fiction to deal with difficult topics.”

Author AJ Ponder

The residency comes with a week’s uninterrupted writing time at Bay of Plenty country manor, a small stipend, community outreach, and peer support. Ponder says she is grateful for the encouragement and the opportunities on offer. “It’s fantastic to have my writing recognised by The Wright Family Foundation and multi-award-winning writer, Lee Murray. Both have contributed so much to New Zealand writing and writers. I’d love to use this residency not only to find a quiet space to complete the first book in my epic fairy tale series, but also to contribute and learn from young New Zealand writers and the local writing community.”

Ponder, who describes herself as an author with ‘a head full of monsters’ will be working on Into Brocéliande, a high fantasy series for youth based on the Arthurian realm of magic and inspired by the New Zealand landscape. “As when I was writing Wizard’s Guide to Wellington, I find my surroundings can really add depth to a story,” Ponder says. “Much of the inspiration for the secondary world in my Into Brocéliande project comes from walking in New Zealand’s forests as they have always seemed to me to be the perfect location for fairies.”

Wizard's Guide to WellingtonPonder’s was just one of a plethora of exciting proposals submitted to the residency, which included fantasy, alternate history, fairy tale, Lit-RPG, magical realism, middle grade, young adult, dystopia, and horror, and addressed issues such as Māori futurism, feminism, climate change, technological development, and otherness. Residency co-founder, Lee Murray says, “the breadth and quality of the projects was astounding, reflecting the depth of talent and commitment within our local speculative community”. Murray added that the judging committee found selecting the winner challenging, and they “would love to have had twenty residencies to offer writers”.

Thanks to SpecFicNZ, the professional group for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and convenor of the award, the following shortlisted authors will receive their choice of a free year’s membership, or assessment support for a short story or excerpt.

Jack Cottrell—for a speculative novella-in-flash project based on found objects

Jade Kake—for a speculative anthology showcasing emerging Māori writers

Deb Potter—for a Lit-RPG time travel novel for upper middle grade readers

Robinne Weiss—for a collection of short stories addressing climate change

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