Michael Botur's novel Crimechurch was reviewed in last week's issue of Midweek. Paul Brooks asked the author a few questions:
When you want to read a book, who do you turn to? Do you have a favourite author or style of writing?
I binge on collections of longform journalism, almost always American stuff. I would read more longform collections by writers Downunder if we had them, but I'm not aware of many.
America is so huge, and there are so many more opportunities for daring gonzo journalists, that many writers have put together stunning collections of really gripping stories that are stranger than fiction.
See the work of Evan Wright, Michael Finkel, Mike Sager, Susan Orlean and Barbara Ehrenreich.
You've said you like heavy metal. Somehow that doesn't surprise me. What appeals about it? Stephen King likes to write with rock music blaring (he bought a local radio station so he could programme the play list). What's your best writing ambience?
I can't concentrate well with loud music, sadly, because I find myself getting sidetracked by YouTube and band news. Internet is toxic for writing, because to create the strongest writing, you need to go deep inside your brain and listen to pure, original uncorrupted voices. Also waking up long-sleeping memories is important. Memories give you feelings, and the writer has to be feeling something powerful to create effective sentences that pass that feeling onto the reader.
Metal is better used when going running to shake out the stiff computer body and RSI.
You are establishing yourself as a writer immersed in a certain subculture, your plots, characters and language reflecting that. Have you ever wanted to write something completely different just for the hell of it?
Yes, I'm having a go at writing horror fiction, which is off to a great start, and right now I have a children's book that teaches zoology and is being illustrated.
If the children's book is successful, I might have to follow that path for a while. I love kids and I love teaching and I love science - much more uplifting than gloomy literature and dealing with snobby journals.
In Crimechurch you've proved once again that you can write (think, perceive) from more than one angle. In this book I like how you've taken a similar timeframe and looked at it through different eyes. Is that difficult?
Yes, Crimechurch was quite difficult to write and I had to plan the perspective shifts using a spreadsheet, Excel I seem to remember.
It was essential to diversify the seven sections of the book so each chunk of 10,000 words was narrated by somebody very different from the previous narrator. Writing from the perspectives of Pasifika people and Maori people and women was challenging. I like to think I succeeded.
A real coup is the Alan Duff chat in the beginning of the book. How did that come about?
I nagged a certain writer for Alan Duff's email address way back around 2012 and sent him fan mail. Alan Duff was nice enough to respond and we've communicated each year.
If you ask around, I think you'll find lots of people over the years that Duffy has taken the time to write to, for example my friend the writer Leanne Radojkovich. He keeps it real, he's down to Earth and he appreciates people that reach out to him.
I think of him this way: he's an important writer because he's self-made, he forged his own path and he's very original. No one gave him a handout. He was around 40 years old and a kitchen maker when he wrote his breakthrough book Once Were Warriors, from what I understand. I think he still identifies with being an Average Joe. We need more Average Joes and fewer silver spoon Victoria University ivory tower snobs.