Out of the Shadows – WLF in review

In the coming weeks, The Penny Mint will be providing their wonderful perspective from the Willy Lit Fest. Welcome Jake Stevens to the InkCloud family…

I was late to the hype of Serial, often credited as kick-starting the latest wave of true crime podcasts like the Australian produced Trace (ABC) and The Teacher’s Pet (The Australian). But where did this wave come from, and why now? Is true crime destined to remain out of the shadows?

To answer those questions, the Williamstown Literary Festival suitably assembled a panel of true crime connoisseurs. The discussion was led by Vikki Petraitis, most notable for her exploration of The Frankston Murders – recently re-released to mark twenty-five years since the attacks. For Petraitis, the success of The Frankston Murders came well before the true crime phenomena. “Publishers thought no-one would want to read about it in a book,” she said. Instead, the book was self-published, and sold 5,000 copies in the first three weeks of its release. “There was a huge appetite not just to read the headline, but to read the story.”

Petraitis was joined by Liz Porter, former Sunday Age journalist and award-winning crime writer focused on forensic science; Helen Thomas, ABC radio journalist who covered the Easey Street murders for Radio National; and Claire Halliday, feature writer and non-fiction author. They are all in agreement that the attraction to true crime has only grown with the rise of podcasting. “We have always been interested in true crime,” Thomas says. “The way we’re listening is so different now – the way we’re watching and reading is so different now.”

Reflecting back on Serial as my first significant consumption of both true crime and podcasting, I realise that my listening habits differed as I went along. At the outset, I had maybe half of the first season to binge on when I finally jumped on the bandwagon, but then I caught up and was forced to wait for the next episode as it was published.

That can be both an enticement and a frustration, and demonstrates how – in Porter’s words – “the narrative is evolving.” What these new media forms have fostered is a sense of community among its audience. “Social media is bringing people together,” Halliday says. Good true crime, in her eyes, makes you feel “like you’re solving the crime,” and in an age where social media conspiracies run rampant, it’s no surprise that the fundamentals of true crime novels have translated so well to other media forms.

But what about the victims? The panel conclude that they “often want to talk about their loved one so much,” but aren’t given the opportunity to. I feel here that the panel see part of their role as writers and story-tellers, is to give closure to the innocent parties involved; the victims, the witnesses, and the first responders.

True crime, really is as popular as ever. Petraitis’ success with The Frankston Murders in 1995 demonstrates that the desire for a compelling narrative dealing with otherwise taboo social issues, is certainly not new among readers. They just happen to be listening, watching, and writing more themselves.

Find out more about The Frankston Murders: 25 years on by Vikki Petraitis here.

Find out more about Crime Scene Asia: when forensic evidence becomes the silent witness by Liz Porter here.

Find out more about Murder on Easey Street by Helen Thomas here.

Jake Stevens

Photos by Amanda Piper and Melissa Longo

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