Hello Nev, thanks for agreeing to talk to us.
The Mervyn Stone Mysteries are a popular series of sc-fi mystery novels. Why do you think that the mix of sc-fi and murder mystery genres work so well together?
I’m not sure the ‘Mervyn Stone Mysteries’ are sci-fi mystery novels. I suppose they could be described like that, but there’s no one getting bludgeoned to death in the space library with the sonic candlestick by Galactic Mistress Scarlet.
I suppose I have written pure sci-fi murder mysteries; ‘Omega’, and my new ‘Vienna’ audio ‘Bad Faith’ has an element of that, and ‘Kingmaker’ was a kind of backwards inside-out murder mystery going on. It is a lot of fun experimenting with sci-fi killings where the murder gizmo can, quite literally, get pulled out of the killer’s black hole, but Mervyn isn’t really sci-fi murder.
‘The Mervyn Stone’ mysteries is more about the life, and more importantly the death, of an old cult television show (‘Vixens from the Void’), and the legacy and the lives it leaves behind. It documents the end of days of glory, a love affair of attrition, the dwindling conventions, the signings, the strange little gatherings to watch old episodes, stuff like that. It’s sort of like the ‘Iliad’, a Greek tragedy measured out over several decades. Hence the name of the first book.
I think ‘Old dead telly/murder mystery’ works, in my humble opinion, because the world of cult/tv fandom fixates on and unearths the past all the time. It’s an area where fans know more about the stars of the old show than they do about themselves, and everyone gets thrown together at conventions and DVD signings year after year and forced to talk to actors and writers and directors they barely worked with decades ago, and probably hated when they did.
It’s a good area for festering rivalries, and looking at the past in a more critical light, sort of like ‘Dallas’ meets ‘Waking the Dead’. After the Jimmy Savile scandal we live in a frenzied time where the sins of old TV stars are being unearthed daily and crimes of the past stalk the tabloids. Perfect fodder for a good murder-mystery.
Will there be any more Mervyn Stone Mysteries? They seem very popular with both murder mystery readers and sc-fi fans.
Mervyn is moving into the world of sound with ‘The Axeman Cometh’, a CD coming out in june, which is performed brilliantly by Nicola Bryant and John Banks. They both play four parts apiece, and it’s amazing to hear Nicola slip from raddled old TV diva to ball-busting TV executive in the space of a few lines.
And of course John Banks is a voice genius; that’s why he’s done five billion audios for them, and now this is his chance to go centre stage. They are both really incredible vocal performers.
I like to tailor my work to the relevant medium, so this story concerns Mervyn writing a script for a company that specializes in making full-cast audios of an old cult SF series. I know, I just don’t know where I come up with these mad ideas…
It also introduces Phyllis Trilby, the woman who actually cancelled ‘Vixens from the Void’ and, ultimately, cancelled Mervyn Stone’s telly career. There’s an element of revenge in this story, but it comes from an unexpected source. I’ll say no more than that.
I worked very hard to make sure that it can be listened to without previous knowledge of the books, but I was surprised that no less than six characters from ‘Geek Tragedy’ found their way into the story. They just won’t die…
Regarding the books, I’m pretty confident that ‘Cursed Among Sequels’ won’t be the last Mervyn novel. I have three unfinished ideas in my computer, and I will return to book four when I’ve finished my other deadline-heavy projects.
What is your preferred medium? Books or Scripts?
I do like both. I enjoy the collaborative side of script writing. I’ve been in the studio for three days so far this year, listening to my words come to life, and it’s a very satisfying experience discussing how to play this line or that character. You feel supported, and you actually interact with other people, which is quite fun for us writers.
Books are far more personal to me, because it’s just me, the words and the reader. It’s a more intense process because I feel more responsible for everything; describing the scene, the characters, the rhythm of the dialogue, you construct everything yourself.
I always say that script writing is more like drawing in chalks, and novel writing is like painting in oils. The former is quicker, and less precise, the latter is slower and you work to a much more specific outcome.
You have written sketches for Dead Ringers and The Impression Show. What do you enjoy about writing sketches?
I like the economy of the writing. It’s the exploration of one idea over two pages, and little else, and they it’s done. It teaches you to trim your verbiosity. I think the genres of ‘comedy’ and ‘thriller’ both share that aspect, even though when you put them together they can be annoying bedfellows.
How long does it take you to write a script for an audio play?
Gosh! That’s a hard one. Each script is a different animal, but you go into each one determined to stick to a deadline. In theory…
‘Kingmaker’ dragged for me; that didn’t have a specific deadline, but the main reason it took so long from idea to script was the hammering out of the fiendish plot, but on the other hand ‘Peri and the Piscon Paradox’, which feels just as complex, just took six weeks, I think. That’s because the idea had its’ own momentum and everything fell into place.
It’s the same with books. I started ‘Geek Tragedy’, the first Mervyn book, simply with the intention that I wanted to write a murder mystery set at a sci-fi convention, and because that original goal was very fuzzy, I took years re-drafting and working up the central idea which simply wasn’t there when I’d started writing; I was always thinking of different ways to improve it. I must have cut about 80,000 words and three characters in the process.
If I say that when I started writing, Mervyn was called Mervyn Randle, he was the writer of ‘The Tomorrow Corridors’ TV series, and the first victim was originally the murderer, you get some idea of the journey the book took over the years.
But with ‘Cursed Among Sequels’, the third book in the trilogy, I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was going. That was done and dusted in two months, and even though Big Finish asked for a big rewrite, it didn’t change the character of the book in the slightest.
I think I count three? ‘Green Eyed Monster’ for DWM, and ‘The Man in the Moon’ and ‘Store Wars’ for Doctor Who Adventures. Can’t think of another offhand…
Comic writing was my first love. I used to make my own comics when I was a kid, drawing twelve panels on a page with a ruler and trying to fit a story into them, usually based around anthropomorphic animals.
Then I got into 2000AD, and all I wanted to be was comic script writer. I sent dozens of strips off to 2000ad, ‘Eagle’, ‘Crisis’, even ‘Viz’. I’m sure they were all utterly awful. I worked on comic projects at uni, and wrote a strip for the University newspaper.
I love doing comics – I’m currently doing my fourth strip for ‘Private Eye’ – (‘Vaz’ begat ‘The Broonites’ and that begat ‘Dig For Libtory’ and now we have ‘Milibean’) and I would jump at the chance to do more, longer adventures in strip form. I still have this secret desire to do something for 2000AD. I suppose it’s not a secret, now I’ve just said it.
Getting a strip in Doctor Who magazine (‘Green Eyed Monster’) was a dream come true for me. I’d read it since issue one, and those times of Gibbons, Wagner, Mills, Neary, Lloyd and Parkinson were golden years for me. I’d love to do another. I had one Doctor Who strip lined up the magazine in which we heard the thoughts of the TARDIS, funnily enough! But then the editor changed and it got dropped.
I don’t think after ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ that idea will see the light of day now!
You seem to enjoy writing for The Fifth Doctor as two of your audio plays star him in the main role and the third briefly features him. What do you like about that version of The Doctor?
Well I was asked to do the fifth doctor twice, and then I was asked to write a Peri Companion Chronicle, which of course featured him too. That’s the way things happened. I didn’t ask to write for the fifth doctor, even though I was delighted to do so. I’m sure in another universe there’s a Nev Fountain being asked why I like like writing for the Sixth Doctor!
Actually, I like writing for both fifth and sixth doctors, because they are so fallible. I look back on my longer Doctor Who stories, ‘Omega’, ‘Kingmaker’, ‘Piscon’, and now ‘Trouble in Paradise’, and the one thing that unites them is the Doctor screwing up big time. I don’t think I can write a story where the Doctor just fights and defeats the baddie with a playful wink and a handy gadget. I really need the Doctor to bollocks things up on a galactic scale that I don’t see J. Pertwee or T. Baker doing.
You are a keen Twitter enthusiast, with two Twitter accounts, one for Mervyn Stone and one which your use for your own personal use. What is it about Twitter than you think makes it such a good social network platform?
It’s very handy to keep a handle on what’s happening; both with your chums and on a national and international level. I’m always clicking on recommended articles and finding out stuff that I wasn’t aware of without twitter. It’s like a ticker machine to my life. But because of that, it’s good to step away from the computer or phone, and listen to the silence. You can become obsessed about not knowing what other know. It’s fine just to live in ignorance sometimes.
It’s also good to reach people direct; people who like your stuff. It’s great to get direct messages from fans, and even if they don’t like your work, well it’s only 140 characters, they can’t go on about it at tedious length, like on the forums.
You co wrote with Dan Freedman, Death Comes To Time. How did the project come about?
I was working on ‘Dead Ringers’, squatting in an office in Broadcasting House, and Dan just put his logo on his office door, the one adjacent to mine. I e-mailed him and asked if I could be his ‘scientific advisor’, and he said yes.
‘Co-wrote’ is a rather grand thing for what I did. I script edited the pilot, and ‘script advised’ on the story. But it was big thrill to be in the studio and get to become friends with Sylv and Sophe, and to give notes to Stephen Fry and John Sessions. It seems the moment you get used to meeting your heroes, another set come along and reduce you to a dribbling, gurning imbecile.
You have written a short story for the Bernice Summerfield Series. What do you think is the main difference between Bernice Summerfield and Doctor Who?
She’s a lady, and he’s a boy. You can’t catch me out like that. I do know the difference now. I’ve had sex and everything.
What projects have you got planned for the future?
I’ve just completed four Big Finish projects this year, with two more in the pipeline, hopefully. Sometimes these things come all at once, and If someone asks nicely I just can’t say ‘no’.
I’m also writing a novel – a thriller – which has nothing to do with spaceships, cult TV or time travel. I’m very excited by that. I want all this done by the summer, so I can get back to Mervyn and complete book four: ‘I Dismember the Eighties’, by the end of the year.
Thanks for talking to us Nev, it has been great.
Thank you too!
- Why You Should Be Reading Saga (comicbooked.com)