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James Norcliffe
Photo Credit: © Sharon Bennett and University of Otago

James Norcliffe

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James Norcliffe is an award-winning poet, educator, editor and author of books for adults and children.

He was the 2018 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writing Fellow, the 2012 University of Otago College of Education Writer in Residence, the 2006 Fellow at Iowa University and the 2000 Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University.

In 2003, Norcliffe, with Bernadette Hall, received the inaugural Christchurch Press Literary Liaisons Honour Award for ‘lasting contribution to literature in the South Island’. Norcliffe has taught English in Christchurch, China and Brunei. He won the Lilian Ida Smith Award in 1990, and the New Zealand Poetry Society’s international competition in 1992.

His children’s fantasy novel The Assassin of Gleam won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for the best New Zealand fantasy novel of 2006, and was shortlisted for the 2007 LIANZA Esther Glen Medal. In the Christchurch Press, Trevor Agnew wrote that Norcliffe had avoided producing what could have been ‘just another cardboard fantasy cliché’ and had ‘breathed life into his characters and situations. The result is a skilfully told story, with a dark mood and a sense of urgency. It is clear that a master storyteller is at work from the first sentence...’ In New Zealand Books, Heather Murray identified Norcliffe’s ‘experience as historian and poet to create a logical, believable and exciting story out of an alienating and threatening world’. She concluded: ‘Though Norcliffe creates frightening worlds, [he] grounds his story and characters in acceptable reality through using known language’.

The Loblolly Boy, published in 2009 in New Zealand, Australia and the United States, was described by acclaimed children’s writer Margaret Mahy as ‘a rich fantasy — alive with original twists surprises and mysteries’. It won the 2010 NZ Post Junior Fiction Award, was shortlisted for the LIANZA Esther Glen Medal for Junior Fiction and the Sir Julius Vogel Science Fiction Award, and won a Storylines Notable Junior Fiction Book Award.

In Science Fiction World, Gerard Woods wrote of The Loblolly Boy that Norcliffe ‘has written that rare children’s book, as much a joy for adults to read as for children’. USA’s Booklist described The Loblolly Boy as ‘an imaginative and richly atmospheric fantasy with sympathetic characters...a haunting story that will capture most readers’ imaginations’. ‘The Loblolly Boy by James Norcliffe is an entrancing, exciting, unexpected read...it has a wondrous, magical fairy-tale ambience...I never quite knew where it was going or how it would be resolved,’ wrote George Ivanoff in Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus (ASFF). Fran Knight, writing in Read Plus, highly recommended The Loblolly Boy as an ‘intriguing, engrossing and wholly satisfying...highly original fantasy story’, while in the same publication Peter Pledger declared it ‘A unique and original fantasy, complete with adventure, magic and appealing characters, this is a tale that was hard to put down.’

A sequel, The Loblolly Boy & the Sorcerer, released in 2011 and was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. The Enchanted Flute, described in the Otago Daily Times as a ‘Part Grimm’s fairy tale, part classical mythology, part outdoor adventure…inspired, in part, by a piece of classical music’ followed, and was a finalist in the 2013 Sir Julius Vogel Awards.

Norcliffe’s 2013 novel Felix and the Red Rats is a riveting adventure which sees the margins between fiction and reality, and the past and the present, dangerously blur. Dave Pope, in Hawkes Bay Today, noted that ‘like all good stories this one has a plot within a plot within a plot. It keeps the reader wanting more, as minor characters are drawn into this dark tale.’ It won a Storylines Notable Junior Fiction Award in 2014.

The Pirates and the Nightmaker, a continuation of the loblolly boy’s adventures, was published in 2015. It won a Storylines Notable Junior Fiction Award and was a finalist in the junior fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2016.

In a review in The Sapling, Sarah Forster described Norcliffe’s 2017 novel Twice Upon a Time as ‘traditional quest storytelling at its best, from a master of the form’ and declared that ‘James Norcliffe is a national treasure.’

He lives in Church Bay with his wife, Joan Melvyn.