An interview with Nev Fountain by Kris Griffin
Amongst his vast body of writing work, which includes Doctor Who, author Nev Fountain has created a new brand of comic murder-mystery set in an all too familiar world. Nev tells Starburst how this came about...
How apt that we sit in the main hall of a science fiction convention sandwiched between Doctor Who author Rob Shearman and legendary actor David Warner. We eye our surroundings nervously. We are clearly safe but is this where Nev got the inspiration for his Mervyn Stone books from?
“I don't know if there was a moment where I said 'Hey I know I'll write a series of murder-mysteries featuring a lapsed Script Editor of an old cheesy sci-fi TV show, with a regular cast of insane characters!'”
It is hard to synopsise more succinctly. Nev does command a mastery of words used exquisitely in sketch show Dead Ringers and satire publication Private Eye.
“I started reading Terrance Dicks who has a very concise, unpretentious but not patronising way of writing. He was writing for children but he wasn't curbing his vocabulary. I then moved to Douglas Adams who has a very brutal, concise prose style because he is going straight for the joke. Nowadays I read lots of thrillers, such as Jeffery Deaver, Jonathan Kellerman, P.J. Tracy, Peter James and Robert Harris all of which work on the principle of 'story first'. When I went on to writing comedy I learnt there is a world of difference between writing a thirty word joke and a twenty word joke. You have to keep the punchline as close to the feed-line as you possibly can.”
From twenty word jokes to full length novels.
“Around about 2005 I'd been doing Dead Ringers solid for six years, and I was desperate to write something which was more than two pages long.”
His science fiction journey began in 2001 script-editing Death Comes To Time for his beloved Doctor Who.
“I was catapulted into the world of sci-fi conventions sharing hot-tubs with Frazer Hines and hotel bars with Nick Courtney.”
Being a fan this must have felt like an unbelievable experience?
“It's a surreal existence, travelling across the country like vagrants, hopping from hotel room to hotel room, conventions, signings and whatnot. It's a world where no secrets stay buried, and rivalries are allowed to grow and fester - I instantly smelled potential when it came to a murder mystery setting.”
Given the relationship Nev had with Big Finish after writing the two Fifth Doctor adventures Omega and The Kingmaker would this be the natural home for Mervyn Stone?
“I'd been touting the books around for a while. Jason Haigh-Ellery, the MD of Big Finish Productions, got wind that I was writing novels just at the same time he was getting interested in publishing. I didn't approach Big Finish before because I didn't think they were serious about publishing. It just came together like that.”
And the difference between writing sketches and writing a novel?
“It's the difference between drawing in chalks and painting in oils. The former is a much quicker exercise but less controllable; the latter is a slower, more painstaking process, but ultimately more satisfying as you can control the picture you are creating.”
Having great control enables you to develop characters from fandom, perhaps the type of people here today?
“I did have 'starting points'; observations based in reality, the process came much quicker; I had tiny seeds of 'truth' I could water and grow into some mad carnivorous plants.”
What were these starting points?
“Fleeting observations, and very quickly I'd discovered I'd created this monstrous character, and I have no idea what this character came from. All I remember is that he/she started with an off-the-cuff remark Nick Courtney once said to me in a bar, or the way Colin Baker played with his pen at an autograph signing.”
But could the show created in the books, Vixens From The Void, be expanded into a fully fledged audio adventure or book of its own?
“Vixens serves the world of Mervyn. I don't have a burning desire to write a 'real' episode of Vixens from the Void because it's very much a museum piece from the 80s. Big Finish once suggested doing clips from the series for a podcast, but I thought faithfully replicating something intended to come across as dated crap wasn't a good use of my time.”
I nod in agreement, were we both admitting that some of our favourite childhood shows were indeed remembered through rose-tinted spectacles?
“I could write a 20 minute script of Vixens for the radio but it wouldn't come with that mixture of ineptness BUT passion that comes from Blake's 7 and Doctor Who of that time. Doctor Who was 80% really good and there was something in every story to love. Even in the worst ones someone is trying: a costume designer, a writer, one of the actors is really doing a good job. Even if everything else around them is rubbish. It is difficult to get that thing across without just looking crap. No one starts off to write crap.”
So the world of Vixens is a closed door?
“I do think it might be fun to do a Vixens script book, with several SF writing luminaries doing their own episodes - all hiding under the aliases of Vixens writers of course...”
Who would play Mervyn in a speculative TV show?
“John Duttine perhaps? I'm a huge fan of Simon Russell Beale who would be great. It has to be that world-weariness but with an acerbic tone. Someone who looks like they could handle themselves, it's Martin Clunes meets Arthur Dent.”
Suddenly there is a piercing scream in the hall where we are ending our interview.
“There's been a murder.” says a man in a thick Glaswegian accent.
I glance at Nev who is already holding a phone to his ear, “Yes, I'd like to speak with Meryvn Stone please....yes it's an emergency.”
The first Mervyn Stone Mystery: A Geek Tragedy is reviewed HERE.