Reading true crime books and even going through true crime authors interviews, there’s this notion they write/dig into the book/story only to make a stronger point, if one is needed, about the significant difference between the criminal and the ones who haven’t been caught yet, between the us and them. How do you feel about that? Coming from a fiction writing background and going into true crime writing more by chance than a desire to ‘make a statement’, what’s your take on it? I have been looking for an answer to my question for a long while now since I started browsing through true crime books, but every time I get a true crime author to do an interview, they seem to duck this question so when I got David Mattichak to contribute a guest post, I couldn’t refrain myself from asking and he was kind enough to answer. Here’s what he says:
When I agreed to write about Malcolm Naden I firstly wanted to tell the truth, whatever that turned out to be. When I examined how the NSW police had handled the case it was tempting to be very critical of how they had mishandled the case. Because Naden is an Australian Aboriginal as were both of his victims, it would have been easy to make the story about how marginalized Australia’s indigenous people still are in the 21st Century but that too would have been a departure from the real story- the murder of two young mothers and the damage that that did to a family (the women were his cousins). If Naden’s victims had been white then I am sure that the investigation would have been better managed from the start, and it was only after Naden shot an police officer that the NSW police seemed to take the manhunt seriously.
When I wrote Loot
, and as I have been writing my next crime novel, I do try and focus on creating an identification between the main character and the reader, a sort of “that could be me” feeling, whereas I found that when writing about Naden’s crimes that it was hard to imagine myself in his position, taking the actions that he took. It was very difficult to make an identification between Naden and the reader and I think that part of telling these stories is to highlight how a cold blooded murderer is different to the average person.
If I did have any desire to make a statement, as you say, it would have been that our society continues to marginalize indigenous people and this contributes to these kinds of crimes, but after thinking about that angle I decided that to write from that point of view would have been to add to the marginalization and that pointing out only the differences would have been painting the wrong picture about Aboriginal Australians. The real story wasn’t that Naden had never been given the same opportunities as his non-indigenous countrymen, the real story was that his family had tried to cope with his strange behavior by ignoring it, or denying it, which is something that any family might do.
So, to answer your question, I tried to show how little difference there really is between Naden’s background and most other people’s but that he had made a choice to pursue the path that he did and that it was possible for anyone to choose to give way to their dark, or animal, inclinations. If I set out to show that there is any difference it is merely that Naden acted on impulses that we all might have lurking somewhere but which we suppress and never act on. Oddly enough, I found myself sort of hoping that he could continue to elude capture simply because he had so embarrassed the authorities that were hunting him. I also found myself identifying with the father of the girl, Lateesha Nolan, who first went missing, presumed murdered. Mick Peet never gave up looking for his daughter which I could understand as I would probably have done the same thing in his place.
It is the place of true crime writers to tell the story that they find and if a writer wants to make a point of some sort that it may be better placed in a fictional setting. Making Naden’s story about the ineptitude of the NSW police, or about disadvantaged Aboriginals would have been to depart from the real point- that two young women had been murdered and that our society demanded justice for them. I don’t feel that I need to make any social point, the truths in the story makes them for me.
Thank you so much to David for answering the question no true crime author or reader wants to answer.