Catherine Chidgey

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Catherine Chidgey
Chidgey in November 2019
Chidgey in November 2019
Born (1970-04-08) 8 April 1970 (age 52)
Auckland, New Zealand
  • Novelist
  • university lecturer
Alma materVictoria University of Wellington
Notable awardsNew Zealand Book Awards, Katherine Mansfield Fellowship
SpouseAlan Bekhuis[1]

Catherine Chidgey (born 8 April 1970) is a New Zealand novelist, short-story writer and university lecturer. Her honours include the inaugural Prize in Modern Letters;[2][3] the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship to Menton, France; Best First Book at both the New Zealand Book Awards and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region); the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards;[4] and the Janet Frame Fiction Prize.[5]

Early life and family[edit]

Chidgey was born in Auckland and grew up in the Hutt Valley.[6] At Victoria University of Wellington she completed a BSc in Psychology, and a BA in German Language and Literature. In 1993 she was awarded a German Academic Exchange Service scholarship to study at the Freie Universität Berlin. She returned to Victoria University in 1997 to complete an MA in Creative Writing under Bill Manhire.[1][7][8]

As of 2021 she lives in Hamilton with her husband and daughter.[9] She is a lecturer of creative writing at the University of Waikato and has also taught at the Manukau Institute of Technology.[1][10][6] In her role at Waikato she founded the Sargeson Prize, New Zealand's richest short story competition.[9]


Her debut novel, In a Fishbone Church, was published in 1998 and was widely praised in New Zealand and overseas, winning the Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Fiction at the New Zealand Book Awards in 1998. The writer Nick Hornby said "Catherine Chidgey is a wonderful new talent, and In a Fishbone Church marks the beginning of what promises to be a glorious literary career".[11] Louis de Bernières called the novel "warm, subtle and evocative. You will be thinking about it long after you have finished reading".[11] In 1999 In a Fishbone Church won Best First Book at the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region). It also won a Betty Trask Award for a first book (UK), and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (UK).

Her second novel, Golden Deeds - a tale of murder, mystery and Meccano - was published in 2000, and was runner-up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the 2000 New Zealand Book Awards. It was published by Picador in the UK and by Henry Holt in the US (under the title The Strength of the Sun), where it was a 2002 Notable Book of the Year in The New York Times Book Review, and a 2002 Best Book in the LA Times Book Review. The Times Literary Supplement called it "magnanimous and merciless, a work reminiscent at times of darkest Atwood ... A witty and melancholy alchemy of heat and chill, a work of craft and fluency, which revitalizes the book in all its guises ... for those who love books, Catherine Chidgey is a find".[12] The Sunday Express called it "a wonderful, gripping read. Human relations and needs are explored in all their complexity. Chidgey proves herself to be among that elite group of authors who possess a true grasp of the patterns of life".[13] The Independent on Sunday said the novel "ensnares you, creeps up and snaffles you with its small, tense concerns. I could not stop thinking about it. I could not put it down ... I finished Golden Deeds with that delicious and rare feeling: that I was in the presence of a proper, grown-up storyteller who cared not a toss for gimmicks or manifestoes, but dared instead to put her case with real authorial power and verve".[14]

The Transformation, Chidgey's third novel, was published in 2003, and that year she was named New Zealand's best novelist under forty by The New Zealand Listener.[15][16] The book tells the story of a shadowy Parisian wig-maker who flees to Tampa, Florida in the 1890s. The Sunday Times said that "Chidgey spins a horror story which, miraculously avoiding easy sensationalism, is both troubling and haunting",[17] and the New Zealand Herald said it was "her third and best so far ... Chidgey could tackle any subject and produce something wonderful from it. She has that gift of the imagination that finds metaphor, contiguity and paradox wherever she looks, and a seemingly innate feel for structuring events, times and historical detail to make one whole, satisfying narrative out of a myriad unexpected parts".[18] The Sunday Express remarked, "This really is a novel to get lost in ... A highly original read, as beautiful as it is terrifying, which manages to be riotously chilling without ever going over the top".[19]

Her fourth novel, The Wish Child, set in Nazi Germany, was published in New Zealand in 2016 and was an instant bestseller, winning the 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards[20]—the country's richest literary prize. Radio New Zealand called it "a brilliant, brilliant novel ... a masterpiece".[21] The New Zealand Herald found it "meticulously crafted and superbly written ... provocative, haunting, intelligent and lyrical ... breath-taking... It will stay with you long after you finish the final page".[22] The Sunday Star-Times commented "Right from the first sentences I was caught up in the exquisite lure of the writing: musical, clear, lovingly tended. Nothing seems forced ... I loved this book with its subterranean mysteries and spiky issues. I love the way, at this critical point in the world, when fundamental human values are violated, The Wish Child reminds us with grace and understated wisdom of a need to strive for universal good. I ached as I read. This novel is unmissable".[23] It was published in the UK in July 2017 by Chatto & Windus, with The Times calling it "a remarkable book with a stunningly original twist".[24] In October 2018 Counterpoint published it in the US as a lead Fall title.

Her fifth book was released in November 2017. A 'found' novel, The Beat of the Pendulum was written during 2016, with Chidgey drawing on newspaper articles, Facebook posts, emails, radio broadcasts, books, street signs and conversations to create an entry for every day of the year.[25] Radio New Zealand selected it as a Best Book of 2017, calling it "Important in terms of its form as much as its content ... sensationally clever writing ... an enormously skilled writer who totally gets the craft".[26] It was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards[27] and was published in the UK by Lightning Books in 2019.[28]

Chidgey's sixth book, Remote Sympathy, was published in 2020, and like The Wish Child is set in Nazi Germany.[29] It was shortlisted for the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.[30] It was a Sunday Times Book of the Month,[31] and was described by The Guardian as "immersive, profound and beautifully plotted".[32] Publishers Weekly praised Chidgey's exploration of the intersecting stories of former Nazis and Holocaust survivors, concluding: "With its multiple registers and complex view of humanity, this marks a vital turn in Holocaust literature".[33] It was one of New Zealand's top ten best-selling novels in 2021[34] and was longlisted for the 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction.[35]

Chidgey has 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.[36]

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Black, Eleanor (16 November 2016). "Catherine Chidgey on infertility and her new novel". Stuff. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  2. ^ James F. English, The economy of prestige: prizes, awards, and the circulation of cultural value, pp. 315, Harvard University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-674-01884-2, ISBN 978-0-674-01884-6.
  3. ^ "Catherine Chidgey's deeds win top award". The New Zealand Herald. 18 March 2002. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
  4. ^ "Ockham NZ Book Awards: Catherine Chidgey, Victoria University Press the big winners". Stuff. 16 May 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  5. ^ "Janet Frame Fiction Prize 2017 to Catherine Chidgey | Booksellers New Zealand". Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Catherine Chidgey by Aimee Cronin & Jane Ussher". Newsroom. 28 October 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Chidgey, Catherine". Read NZ. Archived from the original on 23 January 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Catherine Chidgey". Victoria University Press. Archived from the original on 4 June 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  9. ^ a b Fox, Rebecca (14 October 2021). "Treasured objects bring life to writing". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  10. ^ "Top writer joins Waikato". University of Waikato. 16 January 2018. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  11. ^ a b Catherine., Chidgey (2000). In a fishbone church. London: Picador. ISBN 9780330371803. OCLC 42580322.
  12. ^ Smith, Ali (15 September 2000). "The Stuff of Books". The Times Literary Supplement: 23.
  13. ^ Hunt, Anna (24 September 2000). "Tales of isolation and connection". Sunday Express.
  14. ^ Myerson, Julie (5 November 2000). "Refreshingly diffident". The Independent on Sunday.
  15. ^ Carolyn Bain, George Dunford, Lonely Planet New Zealand, pp. 48, Lonely Planet, 2006, ISBN 1-74104-535-5, ISBN 978-1-74104-535-2.
  16. ^ "Writers sought for prize". Dominion Post. 24 May 2003. p. A12. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  17. ^ "The Transformation". The Sunday Times. 15 May 2005.
  18. ^ "Catherine Chidgey: The Transformation". NZ Herald. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  19. ^ Groskop, Viv (1 May 2005). "Ghoulish Goulet shines in a hair-raising chiller". Sunday Express.
  20. ^ "Winners | New Zealand Book Awards Trust". Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Book Review - The Wish Child | Nine To Noon, 10:38 am on 29 November 2016 | RNZ". Radio New Zealand. 29 November 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  22. ^ Christian, Dionne (17 December 2016). "Haunting and deeply evocative". The New Zealand Herald.
  23. ^ Green, Paula (27 November 2016). "New work fulfils all our wishes". The Sunday Star-Times.
  24. ^ Midgley, Carol. "One surrogate, one donor, three modern families". Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  25. ^ "A Year Found: A conversation with Catherine Chidgey". Pantograph Punch. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  26. ^ "NZ Books Review - Best of 2017". 24 January 2018. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  27. ^ "2018 Awards Longlist | New Zealand Book Awards Trust".
  28. ^ "The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey | Eye Books".
  29. ^ "Catherine Chidgey Products - Victoria University Press". Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  30. ^ "Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2021 shortlists announced". Books+Publishing. 3 March 2021. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  31. ^ Rennison, Nick (23 April 2021). "The Sunday Times picks of the best new historical novels for April 2021". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  32. ^ Dass, Kiran (13 May 2021). "Short stories leave authors nowhere to hide. But Ockham winner Beautrais nails it every time". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  33. ^ "Remote Sympathy". Publishers Weekly. 15 March 2021. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  34. ^ Braunias, Steve (24 December 2021). "The best-selling books of 2021". Newsroom. Retrieved 24 December 2021.
  35. ^ a b "Announcing the Women's Prize 2022 longlist!". Women's Prize for Fiction. 8 March 2022. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  36. ^ "Jiffy, Cat Detective - Catherine Chidgey / Astrid Matijasevich".
  37. ^ Wellington, Victoria University of (3 May 2018). "Catherine Chidgey wins Janet Frame Fiction Prize | News | Victoria University of Wellington". Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  38. ^ admin. "2018 Printable Longlist – International DUBLIN Literary Award". Retrieved 20 January 2021.

External links[edit]