Scoop Review of Books

Release: Lowlife, short stories

Lowlife: Short Stories by Michael Botur


lowlife-cover-webA Whangarei writer says ‘working poor’ experiences he has had as part of Generation Rent inspired his latest short story collection.

Michael Botur released Lowlife: short stories on June 16. The book is Botur’s fourth collection of ‘dirty realism’ literary fiction, with the previous collections garnering strong reviews.

Many of the stories are inspired by Botur’s experiences as a student or low-paid white collar worker in Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington or Auckland, although Botur now lives in Northland.

Botur, 33, says most of the characters in the stories are aged under 35 and were largely inspired by Generation Rent’s working poor population, ie. The population who are paid too little and have costs too high to save money or invest in a house.

Botur says the cast of characters including poets, young teachers, student barbers, musos, solo parents, gangstas, bogans, nightfill workers, burglars and activists do desperate things to get by, work jobs they hate, party too hard and get themselves in trouble as they try get ahead and find spiritual satisfaction.

“The Lowlife stories are about people trying to make their lives better and encountering roadblocks,” Botur says. “My characters often share frustrations with me as we both try to make our lives better in a country where money doesn’t always trickle down to the people who need it. Buying a cheap house in Whangarei and moving away from Auckland – where everything is hand to mouth for people in their 20s– has been a particularly big influence on me. That’s a class conflict thing, and class conflict is a big theme in the stories.”

“Some of the characters desperately want to take from people who have more than them; other characters are well-off and comfortable but want to take something from poorer people. Other characters are so hopeless that they do self-destructive things to empower themselves, like one story Granny Frankenstein in which an elderly woman with arthritis gets involved in drug dealing because she doesn’t have any other way to access medicinal cannabis.”

“Northland has the lowest median income in NZ, so a lack of money motivates plenty of characters in my stories. Losing all your money to food, recreation, rent and study is a struggle most young people share whether you have the privilege of tertiary education or not.”

Botur says the Lowlife stories come from a kernel, which may be a quote, a character or an event, often from temping or labouring, or from the worlds of writers and poets. “One Friday afternoon in Whangarei I watched two security guards chasing a young man, a shoplifter. I didn’t have the motivation to help catch the guy, even though I could have blocked his escape. Later that night I went to my data collection job at the Whangarei Police Station. I made small talk with the cops on duty about tailing the shoplifter. They seemed unimpressed that I didn’t want to hunt the shoplifter down. All the politics that came into play there inspired a story, Wonder Woman, which is in the collection. That one’s about a caring woman’s desire to save a young shoplifter from entering the prison system, but what she doesn’t anticipate is that the shoplifter character’s role models are all jailbirds themselves and thug life, it turns out, is for him something to aspire to.”

Another story, Survive September, is about the difficulty parents of under-three year olds get into when WINZ won’t pay for daycare for children and the parents have to work. “There are virtually no work-from-home jobs in Northland. So that story is in honour of all the stay-at-home dads out there who are desperate to earn more income but have to be there for their babies.”

“I feel deep empathy with people who struggle to earn the ‘living wage’ of $20 per hour – a struggle which, unfortunately, is more acute in Northland,” Botur says.

Lowlife is available from and

250pp ISBN-13: 978-1547018598 RRP $24.99