Mark Dapin is the author of The Nashos’ War, a highly acclaimed history of the Vietnam-era national service scheme in Australia. He is also editor of the Penguin Book of Australian War Writing and another Penguin anthology, From the Trenches: the Best ANZAC Writing of World War One and a PhD candidate in history at UNSW@ADFA. In addition to his work as a historian, Mark is a well-known journalist, and the author of several novels, all of them set in different times and places, from the Burma Railway in World War Two to Kings Cross in the 1960s.
You’ve said that you grew up wanting to be a historian. How did you make the transition from history to journalism?
I grew up wanting to be a journalist or a historian, although I wasn’t really clear what a historian did – or how that might differ from, say, an archeologist. Or indeed, whether I should say “a historian” or “an historian”. The only subjects I really enjoyed at school were English and history, and I was equally good at both of them. After I left university, I worked for a year in England as a community history worker, a kind of outreach worker for a museum, but there wasn’t really much to do. However, I’d been writing journalism (and fiction) on and off since I was 16.
Of all the stories you’ve encountered in your career as a writer, what were some of the most exciting to write about?
I’ve done lots of exciting things but I haven’t really enjoyed them. I particularly didn’t enjoy jockeying in a camel race at Harold Park, or having my rib broken by the boxer Kostya Tsyzu. I guess I like to meet people, so the stories I talk about the most are profile pieces, but ever they have the potential to go wrong – such as the time Gordon Ramsay threw me out of his house.
What’s your best tip on getting started with creative non-fiction, particularly for writers accustomed to writing fiction?
Remember, most real journalism is based on interviews. It’s not just your opinions, it’s not like blogging. Go out and speak to other people and find out how their lives are different from (and similar to) your own.
Join Mark and learn how to write journalism, memoir and history in Writing the Real: Creative Non-Fiction. Wednesday evenings: 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 August; 7 September, 6:30-9:30pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.