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Cross Purposes: Profile of Mark Dapin

On the way to meet journalist and novelist Mark Dapin at the Kings Cross Hotel, I witness a junky couple squabbling. She’s ten steps ahead of him and he’s yelling ahead “You’d be all right if you got off the gear!” Her grubby T-shirt says “LOVE”.

Dapin, a former Cross resident, is familiar with these human dramas. “I actually had one of those scenes in the book, because it happens continually here. They’re people right at the bottom so they argue at the top of their voices to show that they’re not ashamed of what they are.”

His first novel King of the Cross centres on the characters and crims of Sydney’s dodgiest suburb. Jewish gangster Jake Mendoza is as big as the Cross’s landmark Coke sign when aspiring British journo Anthony Klein comes to interview him. Klein’s interviews chart the slimy self-rationalisations of Mendoza as he grows up with the Cross while Anthony finds his place in the seedy suburb.

Dapin is known for sticking a microphone in the face of the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Nick Cave and Chopper Read. The idea for this novel came out of a failed interview with Ramsay. The celebrity chef concluded the interview in less than 15 minutes because he didn’t like Dapin asking about his father.

But Dapin had unanswered questions from the encounter. “I thought if that’s the worst interview a journalist can do, what if that got repeated day after day after day until this evil vulgarian (who isn’t Gordon Ramsay) had told you his entire life story.” His nightmare interviewee became Mendoza, who consumes people for sex or power like they were tissues.
“It’s one long proud self-justification from somebody that has an enormous amount of self-knowledge and a strong sense of humour, but nonetheless is evil. Just absolutely completely psychotic because he doesn’t believe other people matter.”

Not all Dapin’s interviews have taken nasty turns. The notoriously media-spiky Nick Cave joked that Dapin spoke like Bob Hoskins while Dapin encouraged rock’s dark prince to draw a moustache cup when the pair bantered for a Good Weekend profile. Dapin reckons the mood was because “Cave really cared about that interview. I said ‘Why? What’s it matter to you? You do hundreds of these.’ And he said ‘Yeah, but I hardly do any that my mum would read.’”
Watching Dapin soaking up the sun and sirens on the balcony of Kings Cross Hotel, it’s hard to imagine a time when he wasn’t at home here. “I came to Kings Cross when I was 26 from England and I lived where my character lived behind the Kings Cross police station. I came here to re-invent myself and I lied about who I was.”

Dapin blagged journalistic credentials, turning a couple of months selling advertising for a local paper into an editing role. His employers were na├»ve about his skills because he was British and had an honours degree in social policy. “People thought my English would be better because I was English.”

Rather than a place of sin, the Cross saved Dapin. He got his first journalism job, gave up smoking and started his lifelong affair with boxing. He even edited one of his “twenty something” tattoos from a snarling panther’s head into grey and black yin and yang on his wrist. “Far from being a place for me to get in trouble, it was a place where I got out of trouble.”

But it wasn’t an easy road. When Dapin was editor of lad mag Ralph, he split up with his wife. “I went off with the features assistant. I felt really bad about that because we’d grown up together. I wanted to get in trouble, I wanted someone to beat me up.” In his memoir Sex & Money about his time as an editor, Dapin wrote he considered suicide for this bleak three years.

“The idea of getting punched hard in the face really appealed to me until it started happening. Then it got less and less appealing and I got over it.” Welter weight champion Kostya Tszyu famously helped Dapin get over it when the two sparred for an interview. Tszyu broke Dapin’s ribs and changed his mind on punishing himself.

Instead he built his journalism career, penning stories for everyone from Penthouse to Ita eventually becoming Ralph’s editor. He completed a Masters in Journalism and BA in History. But he’s characteristically casual about his qualifications. “I’m supposed to be halfway through a PhD in Media but I haven’t really done anything about it. It’s suspended.”

Writing a novel is his latest re-invention. “What I’m doing almost throughout this book, almost every single opinion expressed is the opposite to what I think.” He loved not knowing where the story would go and surprised himself by crying at a character’s death. He’s started work on a longer novel based on the Burma Railway, even as King of the Cross is being shopped around for film adaptation. But after so many stories, Dapin’s become more interested in how people tell them.

We wrap-up with his personal tour of Kings Cross: past Dapin’s first Australian flat, past building works that were once his training gym and past more than a few junkies. It’s a Cross that Mendoza would claim as his own as he spins a gangster into a businessman. Having just been subjected to a day of radio interviews, Dapin appreciates his character’s storytelling. “In a way it’s true of everybody who mythologises their life – me as much as anyone else… You tell the story over and over again and even you don’t know what’s true.”

An edited version of this profile appeared in The Big Issue, No. 342.

Comments

  1. I enjoy Dapin's stuff, his self-effacing humour and his quirky take on the world. He can be educational, too - I have his book Fridge Magnets are Bastards. It taught me that bastards are everywhere.

    Nice profile. I'll look out for it in Big Issue.

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  2. Every article of his I read, cracks me up. He's bloody hilarious in such an uncontrived way.

    Nice one, George - look forward to seeing the extendo version in the B I.

    Em

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  3. Actually Emma and TF this is a longer article than the one in the Big Ish which ran last issue. I have spares if you like.

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