Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Ass-kicking nerds and performing poetry: an interview with Michael Botur

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to a new instalment of 9mm, the 211th overall edition of our long-running author interview series. It's been a while - almost six months in fact. A busy spring and summer in the UK, with lots going on.

But as Chris Cornell sang on Soundgarden's return back in 2012, "I've been away for too long". I'm mulling some changes to Crime Watch - we all need to evolve and keep things fresh. Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you.

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things may change moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome talented Kiwi storyteller Michael Botur to Crime Watch. He has published five short story collections, so far, as well as dozens of other stories in various journals and online. A poet and a stand-up comic who likes performing his work live for others, Michael has also published the novel MONEYLAND and written two crime novels that he plans to publish in future.

I first read Michael's stories a few years ago from one of his earlier collections. Many of his tales are about about crime, lowlifes, petty thieves and other such characters. He writes literary short stories with a gritty edge, full of Kiwi vernacular and fascinating characters. His work has been published in some of the top literary journals in our part of the world, and he's also made many of his stories available to read for free on his own website. So you can check Michael's work out there.

Earlier this year, Michael appeared onstage at Rotorua Noir, and also gave a reading at McLeods Booksellers during the festival. His latest short story collection is TRUE, published in late 2018, which the highly regarded New Zealand Listener called "sixteen dark but wellcrafted snapshots of Kiwi life", saying "Michael Botur's work grabs you by the throat and won't let go".

Looking ahead, Michael is keen to publish CRIMECHURCH, his first crime novel. He describes it as "very gritty" and says it "explores the male code of violence and asks why young men do self-destructive things when we have the option to lead safe, harmless lives."

But for now Michael Botur becomes the latest storyteller to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

Michael at Rotorua Noir in January

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. I think Clarice would have been extremely distinctive and original when she first appeared in print in 1988. A hardworking young beautiful female nerd who kicks butt and saves lives, with a southern accent… great character.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I have a powerful memory of being sent to my room about age 15. I’d been reading John Grisham thrillers but avoiding The Chamber because it seemed so boring. I read The Chamber while sulking in my room and it was surprisingly engrossing – there’s a really good conflict between the lead characters. It remains memorable to this day.

3. Before your debut book, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I studied snobby poetry and postmodern literature at university around age 20/21, so I was surrounded by pretentious arty types! All we consumed was avant garde highbrow so-called literature. So from ages 20-25 I was mostly publishing small amounts of poetry and flash fiction in New Zealand literary journals. It was only after studying a Masters in Creative Writing that I was exposed to really influential novelists and short story writers from the world of literature. I trained as a journalist about age 29/30 which changed everything and I got heavily into journalism collections and true crime books.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I’m obsessed with exercise, always dragging my kids and friends from the mountains to the bush to the beach. I perform poetry and improv theatresports and a little stand-up comedy. It keeps the mind sharp and makes you a great speaker.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I live in Whangarei, and Northland, New Zealand is covered in little volcanic hills you can climb in as little as 30 minutes. Get muddy, get dirty, climb a mountain then come down and recover in the pub. Awesome.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
It would need to be a young man brimming with rage! I was such a resentful angry young man until I had anger management around age 30. Jack O’Connell from Starred Up – the best film I’ve ever seen which addresses issues around shame and male violence.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
This story "Kiss You While You Sleep" was extremely hard to put together because I had to learn what it’s like to train in medicine and get it factually accurate. Reviewers like to single this story out.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut collection in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
Unfortunately the thrill of public reactions to my work in print decreases a little each time. When I was about 20 in 2004, I had my first poetry and short fiction published by University of Otago’s Critic student magazine and then Takahe literary magazine. Both publications botched it a little. The poem in Critic didn’t have my last name on it; Takahe didn’t have my name on the poem at all! But that was really thrilling. The high decreases a little bit each time.

One thing that’s immutable is performing poetry to a crowd. There is so much risk involved. Huge risk for huge reward and it’s all raw and real. Not digital, not in print. That feels more rewarding than seeing a book on the shelf.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Well the other day, I was trying to walk my kids home from school and people kept stopping me on the street to congratulate me on stuff. I got really embarrassed, which is unusual for me! Silvana was complimenting me for winning this Northland Short Story Award; poet Vaughan Gunson stopped me in the middle of a pedestrian crossing to compliment me for a positive review in the Listener. I’m not used to reaping benefits, lol – I’m accustomed to a hard, thankless grind on a filthy keyboard writing underappreciated stories hardly anyone reads.

Thank you Michael. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can find out more about Michael and read many of his short stories at his website

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