Norman Bilbrough has recently passed on after illness.
Born in Feilding in 1941 and educated in Wellington, he worked as a teacher, literary assessor, reviewer and writer. Norman was a children’s writer, short story writer and novelist. The short story was his preferred writing form and he was two times
winner of the Sunday Star-Times short story competition and he published two collections of stories – Man with Two Arms (1991) and Desert Shorts (1999). In 1999, Norman was Writer in Residence at Canterbury University and in 2000 he won the New Zealand
section of the International PEN competition.
Norman’s young adult novel, The Birdman Hunts Alone was a finalist in the AIM Book Awards senior fiction category in 1995 and a collection of YA stories, Dog Breath and other stories, was shortlisted for the 2000 New Zealand Post Children’s Book
Awards. He wrote for the School Journal for over 40 years.
His novel for general readership, A Short History of Paradise, was published by Penguin in 2005. Publishing as recently as 2020, a story called ‘Singapore’ is available to read on Newsroom.
Norman was a long-standing member of NZSA (joining in 1990) and was also known as a talented mentor and assessor, lending his skills to the NZSA programmes. “I believe the best – maybe the only – way to write is to begin writing,” he advised, “
then get informed feedback and keep on writing.” Norman was one of NZAMA’s founder members, and helped a great many new writers.
Long-time friend, David Hill, writes that he delighted in Norman’s wry, mischievous humour and his subversive world view.
“His short stories and novels for adults, teenagers and children often reflected those qualities. They championed the disempowered without ever being sentimental. They confronted life’s unfairnesses with a stoic shrug, while they simultaneously made
fun of the entitled, the pretentious, the indifferent. His writing was spare, laconic, always meticulous in its detail. His dialogue crackled; his characters convinced. He was both an author’s author and one whose stories resonated with that semi-
mythical beast, the general reader.
“Norman had one of the strongest social consciences I’ve met. Even when he was short of money, he gave to charities such as Amnesty International, as well as to individuals who needed help. ‘I worry about the world, David,’ he said to me, without
an atom of pretentiousness or smugness, and he tried to do what he could about it.
“‘What a lot you’ve achieved, mate,’ I wrote to him in his last weeks. And he had achieved, even though circumstances of all sorts meant he wrote little in his final years. He was a dear gnome of a man, and a lot of us will miss him.”