What I've been reading-Inside the Law-25 years of true crime writing by Vikki Petraitis
Vikki Petraitis has been a crime writer for 25 years and in that time she has written 14 true crime books. Inside the Law captures her legacy with an overview of her most interesting and lauded cases and how she came to write them.
Vikki is a friend and she told me that a reader contacted her after reading this book and wanted to make a movie about her life, and what a movie it would be. As a 24 year-old full time primary school teacher and mother of a two year old she felt the writing bug. During a professional development session she heard about a case that captured her imagination and decided to write about it. So she contacted the police and started her interviews and research. And then she submitted her book to a publisher and got a contract. And so the Phillip Island Murder book was written, a case that still captures the public's attention.
Her second most known case was The Frankston Serial Killer, a book she wrote that no one wanted to touch. She has maintained friendships with the victims connected to the case and engages in activism to support them and ensure that Paul Denyer remains in jail.
Petraitis is a writer who was always before her time. She was writing about institutional child sex abuse long before the Royal Commission and gave voice to victims when no one else would in Rockspider.
I found Inside the Law a riveting read. While I had always admired Vikki's achievements reading about her writing journey and the twists and turns it has taken really had me turning the pages. I'd already read The Frankston Serial Killer, and didn't sleep well that night as I was haunted by the images of Denyer's crimes, but my curiosity is awakened and I want to delve deeper into her backlist and find out more about the cases that she has written about.
This is a perfect read for True Crime lovers and anyone who wants to be a True Crime writer. Vikki has a way of writing from the perspective of the people she has interviewed and capturing their mindset with intimacy while feeding the reader all the details that True Crime fans love.
I work as a high school teacher and teach across four subject areas: English, English as an Additional Language, Humanities and Creative Writing. I have been teaching for six years and each year is getting easier, mostly because I have now taught across all year levels 7-10 and subject areas and have created resources to support my teaching.
In the first five years of teaching more than 50% of teachers leave the teaching profession. I came dangerously close to becoming a part of this statistic after numerous burn outs throughout my first four years. I want to do something to change this and so every Monday I will be a mentor by sharing my teaching resources and classroom tips.
Creating resources is where I get to put to use my creativity and my writing background and I want them to have a larger audience. Feel free to share, use and adapt my resources.
I developed this unit on Analysing Argument analysing anti-bullying ads. I have used these resources, with different topics, for year 7 English and year 8 English as an Additional Language.
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Review in The Australian
Worlds apart but together
July 20, 2019 | Australian, The/Weekend Australian/Australian Magazine, The (Australia)
Author: Phillip Siggins | Page: 21 | Section: Review
995 Words | Readability: Lexile: 1150, grade level(s): 9 10 11-12
Things Nobody Knows But Me By Amra Pajalic Transit Lounge, 272pp, $29.99
Love, Luck and the Demon By John F. Roe Wakefield Press, 314pp, $34.95
Amra Pajalic’s memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me is a window on growing up in two cultures, an experience shared by many Australians. In this instance growth is shadowed by mental illness and domestic violence. It is told in a distinctive voice, sharp, direct, sometimes bruising.
Pajalic, with frankness and honesty, tells of living under the care of her widowed, manic-depressive mother, Fatima. Our first major encounter with Fatima is during a full-blown bipolar episode:
"Mum suddenly stopped and cocked her head as if she was listening to someone. She dropped the sheet in her hands and approached the tall shelves my father had built to store his tools, which ran up the wall of the house and reached the roof … ‘‘Yes, Allah, I know you are looking after me and I will prove it to everyone,’’ Mum said to God. She closed her eyes as she took her first step, climbing the shelf as if it was a ladder."
In St Albans, on the western edge of Melbourne, Fatima climbs to paradise with crazed self-confidence while the child looks on, terrified, but also curious to see if Allah will reveal himself.
Her mother’s hospitalisations force Pajalic and her brother Haris into temporary shelter such as the houses of family friends and foster homes, but in the main they are able to return to Fatima, who struggles to care for them as best she can. The children are resilient, finding in their innocence, amid the chaos, opportunities for growth and even happiness.
Pajalic’s childhood is spent in St Albans. But when one of Fatima’s boyfriends stalks them, the family flees to Fatima’s homeland, Bosnia. In Bosanska Gradiska, Pajalicand Haris live under the rule of their villager grandparents.
In due course Pajalic refuses to return to Australia with Fatima and Fatima’s new husband because here she finds relative stability. She also discovers friendships, her emerging sexuality, and the violence, illiteracy and fury of life in this almost medieval Bosnian village.
Everyone knows everyone’s business and behind-doors violent punishment is dispensed for crimes real and imagined. The grandmother bears the scars of a brutal beating. Violence breeds further violence and Pajalic witnesses the same grandmother smothering Pajalic’s cousin, Sanela:
"She covered Sanela’s mouth and nose with her hand and squeezed her cheeks tightly. My grandmother held her hand there for what seemed like forever … I sat silently on the couch, too scared to look directly at my grandmother lest she turn her rage on me. But she didn’t. My brother and I were the prized grandchildren … while my cousins were Vlahs, a derogatory term for Christian."
Inevitably Pajalic too receives cruel, mindless punishment and this spurs her return to Australia.
The clash of faiths within the family reflects national events: the Bosnian war hasn’t begun but the violence and oppression of village life, only partially understood by the youthful Pajalic, anticipates its horrors.
Part of the strength of this narrative is the dual focus. We see the experience from both the growing child’s perspective and from the mature Pajalic’s point of view. While the child lives in the moment, the mature voice oversees and records, is matter-of-fact, non-judgmental, sometimes amused. Even the brutal grandmother is accepted once Pajalic and the reader understand the circumstances of her forced marriage and the culture within which it took place.
Returning to Australia, Pajalic experiences the clash of cultural identities. She discovers the name of her mother’s illness and learns about Fatima’s first migration to Australia, aged 15, and starts to understand. Fatima emerges as flawed, abused but a survivor, one who is ultimately cherished and loved.
Things Nobody Knows But Me is powerfully engaging. The reader is kept in tension, fearful for the child Pajalic and her teenage self, for Fatima and Haris. And Pajalic is masterful in using the contrasting landscapes of St Albans and Bosanska Gradiska to full dramatic and ironic effect.
For the past 18 months I've been completing my PhD in Creative Writing at La Trobe working on a novel tentatively titled Silver City set in Srebrenica, the site of the largest massacre since WWII. During the Balkan War of 1992-1995 Srebrenica was a town under siege. The geography and the minerals they contained made it a strategic and desirable target. The Serbs surrounded the city and starved its population. As they ethnically cleansed the villages surrounding Srebrenica the pre-war population of 9,000 exploded to over 60,000.
In March 1993 the situation in Srebrenica was untenable. People were starving from malnutrition, refugees were living on the snow-covered streets keeping themselves warm by burning tyres, and the UN was forced to alleviate their hunger with air drops, only after the Bosnian Government declared a hunger strike in deliveries to other well-publicised cities like Sarajevo.
After visiting Srebrenica to see the conditions for himself General Morillon, the Commander of the United Nations Forces in Bosnia, declared Srebrenica a safe zone that was under the protection of the UN. After quibbling about how to enact this the UN passed a resolution offering the citizens of Srebrenica a reprieve, however the necessary air support to maintain it as a safe zone never materialised. The Serbs realised this and on the 11 July 1995 they enacted their final solution by massacring 8, 372 men and boys in a well prepared and planned operation that involved buses and killing fields, and disposed of the bodies in mass graves.
On this day every year the remains of those massacred are buried on the site where the massacre began in Potočari at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center and Cemetery. Today is the 24th anniversary of the massacre and the remains of 33 victims are being buried.
In my 18 months of research I have been reading about the massacre and what the citizens of Srebrenica went through. It is heartbreaking and terrifying that after proclaiming that never again would the International Community allow a massacre to happen, they did.
Here are some of the books I've been reading:
War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink
I'm in the process of reading and researching this book. Fink has extensively interviewed local doctors who worked on the ground in Srebrenica hospital without access to any medical supplies and the doctors who volunteered at the hospital during the war. She paints a picture of horrific conditions, amputations and major surgeries being performed without the benefit of anaesthetic, basic medical supplies being constantly in shortage, and staff struggling to maintain morale as the battled to survive and to offer salve to their numerious patients.
Surviving Srebrenica by Hasan Hasanovic
I'm trying to find a copy of this book so this is the Goodreads blurb:
'Surviving Srebrenica' is the moving personal account of a young Bosnian Muslim, Hasan Hasanović, and his family during the conflict that wracked the Balkans in the 1990s. The story takes the reader into the heart of a simple farming family and their lives before, during and after the war. Hasan's account includes tragedy and triumph and is a must read for anyone interested in understanding how a genocide developed again on European soil.
The Last Refuge: A True Story of War, Survival and Life Under Siege in Srebrenica by Hasan Nuhanovic
Hasan Nuhanovic and his family were, like most Bosnians, caught unprepared by the war. As an engineering student in Sarajevo he watched the Jugoslav National Army take all the military weapons out of the city. He urged his father to leave Bosnia for the safety of anywhere, even though only his father had a passport. As the war finds them they embark on a desperate march across the mountains seeking shelter in the surrounding villages, only to be chased out as the Chetniks advance. Eventually they end up Srebrenica where refugees who are all seeking refuge struggle to survive starvation, shelling and snipers. He describes the desperate scramble to find food from day to day and the way that deprivations changes a person.
The book ends in 1993 as he gets a job as an interpreter with the UN after teaching himself English from a textbook while hiding in basements during shelling. He foreshadows the event that three years later, after the Srebrenica massacre on 11 July 1992 when 8,000 men and boys were killed, he is in Tuzla and sees a Serb soldier he knows and desperately asks him for information about his mother, brother and father who are missing. The book cover blurb indicates that discovered the remains if his family in mass graves and they have been buried at the Potocari Genocide Memorial, the site of the massacre. His story is to be continued.
This is a book that brings to life the reality of war and loss. Hasan Nuhanovic has used his life to campaign on behalf of victims of the genocide and his book is a testament to this loss of life.
Postcards from the Grave by Emir Suljagic
Emir Suljagic was a refugee in Srebrenica after Serbs attacked his hometown of Bratunac. He lived through the three years of harsh deprivation and hardship while the Serbs tried to starve the town. In this beautifully written memoir titled Poscards from the Grave he writes postcards about the things he witnessed and survived, from the enforced conscription of civilians to the front lines, to attempts to maintain a connection with civilisation with three youths writing a newspaper that they typed individually in batches of twenty copies that were handed from citizen to citizen. As a UN interpreter he survived the massacre at Potocari and bears witness to what happened to Srebrenica and what its citizens endured, until its final bloody chapter. The epilogue is particularly poignant as he writes about those who dared to return to Srebrenica and their surrounding villages, an area that is now a republic of Serbia, and how some of the survivors endure in the hope of finding remains of their loved ones.
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II by David Rohde
David Rohde presents a nuanced book charting the events that lead to the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, during the Balkan War. He extensively interviewed and researched the DutchBat soldiers who were expected to protect the enclave that was designated a safe zone, residents and survivors of the genocide, the Bosnian soldiers who were fighting to protect the enclave, and a Serb who was fighting against. He analysises the political landscape against which the war was happening and decisions were being made by the UN. The book is published in 1997 so there have been further developments in recoveries of the remains from mass graves, as well as trials against war criminals, but this is no way detracts from the relevance of this book. This is an excellent book that objectively shows the ineptitude and apathy that led to the genocide.
Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia by Chuck Sudetic
By telling the story about a family from the 19th century through to the Balkan War, Sudetic is able to tell the story of Bosnia. The Celik family come from the mountains and through their family history we learn about Bosnia's history from feudalism, to the Ottoman Empire, and how these sewed the seeds of WWII, and then the Balkan War. The Celiks become refugees and end up in Srebrenica where half the family is decimated by the massacre in which 8,000 men were killed. This is a book where the tragedy of a massacre is told up close through the suffering and loss that one family experiences. A heartbreaking and important read.
Surviving the Bosnian Genocide: The Women of Srebrenica Speak by Selma Leydesdorff, Kay Richardson (Translator)
"In July 1995 the Army of the Serbian Republic killed some 8,000 men and boys in and around the town of Srebrenica--the largest mass murder in Europe since WWII." Selma Leydesdorff is a oral historian who interviewed the female survivors of the massacre and through this book gives them a voice. They are the witnesses to genocide who have been silenced, and initially were called crazy women. Leydesdorff does an amazing job of telling the women's stories, while also sharing the context of how trauma affects survivors. This is a book that is focussed on giving these women a voice that they have been denied and through their voice brings to life the suffering that they, and the men and boys who were killed, suffered.
Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime, by Jan Willem, Norbert Both
A great analysis of the factors that led to the genocide in Srebrenica that is told with compassion and understanding. This book charts the chilling and methodical ethnic cleansing that the Serbs perpetuated and the ways the international community was complicit.
Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide by Lara J. Nettelfield and Sarah Wagner
I have requested a copy to be purchased at my uni library so haven't read this yet. Goodreads blurb below:
"The fall of the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica in July 1995 to Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces stands out as the international community's most egregious failure to intervene during the Bosnian war. It led to genocide, forced displacement, and a legacy of loss. But wartime inaction has since spurred numerous postwar attempts to address the atrocities' effects on Bosnian society and its diaspora. Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide reveals how interactions between local, national, and international interventions - from refugee return and resettlement to commemorations, war crimes trials, immigration proceedings, and election reform - have led to subtle, positive effects of social repair, despite persistent attempts at denial. Using an interdisciplinary approach, diverse research methods, and more than a decade of fieldwork in five countries, Lara J. Nettelfield and Sarah E. Wagner trace the genocide's reverberations in Bosnia and abroad. The findings of this study have implications for research on post-conflict societies around the world."
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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