Crimechurch: Why Kids From Humble Homes Demand Danger
by Michael Botur
Crimechurch is a novel I’ve been working on which asks why some people in the first world privileged with safe, clean lives decide they want to be bad.
Here’s the synopsis:
Marty is a twentysomething from a comfortable family in the suburbs of Christchurch. Real life isn’t dangerous enough so our man starts to rage against his safe situation. Drifting through the decentralised city, Marty finds plenty to inspire his angst – punk, protest, politics and powder.
Soon Marty finds co-dependence in Mona, a teenage prostitute he flats with in a flophouse of skinheads and goths. The two descend into a druggy fog and refuse to return to their parents.
Still, Marty and Mona are minnows when it comes to doing dirt. Out to eat them are psychopathic brother and sister Jade and Shayna. Jade is training to become the city’s deadliest predator; Shayna simply preys on her friends.
Meanwhile, gang war has broken out amongst the bikers Marty and Mona depend on for their drugs. Fuelling the fight are beasts like Chong Ah Sam, a thug determined to become Number One in the 03.
Swimming between the legs of the big kids is Winston, Marty’s little brother. He may be a shrimp, but Winston has a violent plan to earn himself a big reputation.
Being Bad Feels Fun
Crimechurch is narrated by characters whose lives offered them plenty of chances to stop causing trouble, but they chose to be bad anyway. Why? Cause it feels fun.
I trashed my hometown when I was younger through vandalism, sloppy drunken petty crime and fighting. Crimechurch makes art from the baggage I picked up back around 2002 when I was trying to barge my way into manhood.
I write inspired by a mixture of guilt over the wastefulness and pride in the risks I took. All that risk-taking was like exercise for Mikey’s mischievous side, though it was years before my sensitive, caring side was developed.
Back in the day, I saw some scary shit. My immediate friends didn’t get stabbed, shot, patched or imprisoned, but I was one degree away from people who did. Instead of running away or aspiring to live more responsibly, I saw the dating, drinking, drugs and drama and thought: Safety is boring. Let’s have some fun.
Sifting Through The Wreckage
Some memorable mayhem from the boyz in my hood:
+ Squirrel at my high school brought a baseball bat to smash a younger kid who’d bashed him and nearly started a race war
+Big Tony snapped a cue over his leg at a pool hall on Colombo Street when he needed an impromptu weapon for a rumble
+ One mate’s older bully brother – who taught us all how to fight – had a punchup in the Avon River with two guys (more than once)
+Trebe got into a 20 minute headlock with another guy in a Cashel Mall clash
+Goblin got punched through the driver side window of his Chrysler on Colombo Street, leaving him bloodied and covered in glass
+ Mr T smashed a redneck kid’s letterbox with a baseball bat, so the redneck kid’s older brother gave Mr T a hiding in the locker room
+Buck, age 15, had his face kicked in by a 13 year old gangsta
+ G. attacked his girlfriend’s dad, had regular punch-ups with the younger goons who hung out with him, got stomped by army boys out clubbing… email me if you want more anecdotes about this guy
The Code Of Honour
Young men love violence. Our code says that if somebody insults you, you should seek rough restitution. Your peers will admire you for it. Your ex-girlfriend has a new lover? Txt ’em some threats and set up a brawl. An insult comes your way from a passing car on Manchester Street? Bash ’em with a Jim Beam bottle at the traffic lights. Baycorp’s on your case cause you owe thousands of dollars? Why not run up some more debt to really get your money’s worth.
As Crimechurch argues, all the smashing and bashing can be easily walked away from – but where’s the fun in that? Sure any one of us could take up a quiet job and a quiet life in a quiet house with no debts, threats or regrets – but the cost is missing out on opportunities to explore your inner animal with some truly wild behaviour.
Plenty of people went all the way in terms of risk-taking. A number of peers from my community aren’t here to tell their tale. I can tell you about the aspiring athlete who hung himself; the handsome, witty man who chose to do home invasions and underworld debt collecting; the junkie skinheads whipping people with chains; the boys right now putting primer patches on for a smooth entry into the brotherhood of bikers.
White people problems?
One of the stereotypes of Christchurch is that it’s full of bothersome white people. But I didn’t get into trouble in Christchurch because I’m white. I got into trouble simply because I have a curious, mischievous and creative streak. I used my brains to think up naughtiness. For most people though, being short on money, hope and good influences is the main reason for getting into trouble. The city is post-industrial; career and comfort aren’t as assured as they once were. Where working class railways, warehouses, mining, shipping and farming collide with orchestras, art, tech and literature, that’s where people start shit. Crimechurch has it all – and earthquakes, too, of course.
The novel is a brief reunion between a promiscuous, lazy, impulsive, naive and immature 18 year old and the 34-year old man I’ve become – family-focused, creative, energetic and cultured.
The novel promises to be regretful yet unapologetic, raw and tender. Within the gritty lifestyles of my conflicted characters we’ll experience passion and pride, love and lament, guilt and guile.
I follow in the path of authors I admire who have a history of troublemaking. Will Self did dope on the prime minister’s plane. Alan Duff went to jail for running with a fraud gang. Irvine Welsh first got in trouble with the cops at age eight. Luke Davies spent the entire 80s as “a horrible and untrustworthy person full of hatred and resentment to the world because the world got in the way of me getting drugs.”
All these authors would agree: make art from dirt and you’re on the road to redemption.
It might sound like Crimechurch is me criticising the city. It’s nothing of the sort. I had a rich childhood in a city I’m still proud to call home. The novel is simply me looking back half a life later and saying ‘Holy shit – that was a close one.’