Writers On Writing / Tips on writing history with Mark Dapin

“Research is daunting, but its fruits can be deeply satisfying.”

You interviewed 160 people to produce your prize-winning history of Australia’s Vietnam-era national service scheme, The Nashos’ War. What do you think makes a good interview?

A good interview happens when the interviewer does not ask too many questions or interrupt the interviewee. Most people are happy to tell a version of their life story, provided they do not feel as though they are undergoing a criminal interrogation.

The amount of research required to write about history can be quite overwhelming. Do you have any tips on how to make the research process less daunting?

Break down every large task into a large number of small tasks. Research is daunting, but its fruits can be deeply satisfying.

What’s important to remember when trying to turn dry facts into vibrant prose?

Avoid cliche. Use vocabulary appropriate to the era under discussion. Learn how to edit quotes tightly, without changing their flow, structure or meaning.


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 very 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.

Join Mark for Writing History: You Can’t Google It!, Saturday 5 March 2022, 10am-4pm. Enrol here >>

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