Wednesday 15 February 2012

In Conversation with... Marilyn Fountain

I am thrilled to welcome fellow writer, Marilyn Fountain to my blog for a bit of a chat.

I was a great admirer of Lyn’s work long before I met her – and she’s just as lovely in real life as you’d imagine. And her talent doesn’t end with magazine fiction. Lyn has written articles, won competitions, appeared in anthologies and has been on the radio reading her work.

Lyn lives in Norfolk with her husband and two absolutely gorgeous cuddly Scotties.

I asked Lyn if she remembered her first acceptance.

Oh, vividly. It was from D C Thomson & Co, a proper written letter telling me they'd accepted a story called "Late Arrival". It was my first submitted story, so how lucky was that? It was such a surprise I sat on the stairs and stared at it for ages.

Wow, a hit with your first one! Did you celebrate? sitting down and writing more stories.

That doesn’t surprise me. What sort of stories do you most enjoy writing?

The ones that write themselves! My preference has always been for honest realism, which isn't very commercial unfortunately. To get over this, some of my stories have versions with two endings; one to save and one to send out.

What a great idea! You have a talent for bringing characters to life and a skill for bringing out emotion in the reader – this reader has laughed and cried at your words.

Anyway, another question, who are your favourite authors?

I love Magnus Mills for his quirky worlds and brilliant dialogue. William Trevor is a big favourite of mine. His short stories are so accomplished they turn me green with envy. Jilly Cooper's short stories - though very much of their time - are still great fun to read.

And do you have an all time favourite book?

Eek! Just one? Oh, Teresa, come on...! Don't you find your favourites change over time and as you go through different stages of life? For years my absolute favourite was The Sleepless Moon by H E Bates, but it's dropped right off my radar now. Nell Dunn's Poor Cow and Up the Junction have stayed in my top ten since I first read those. With my sociologist's hat on, John Steinbeck's feeling for humanity in The Grapes of Wrath takes my breath away. But the 'chicken soup' book that I dip into when all else fails is John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. The family dynamics are spot on.

I know, that wasn’t a fair question was it? So do you keep regular hours or go with the flow?

If the flow is flowing, I go with it - and it's the greatest feeling. More frequently, it's discipline and grind.

Is there one achievement that you are most proud of?

Outside of writing it's my first class honours degree in Politics and Sociology. Four years of slog as a mature student - during which time I lost my mum and two other close family members - it's the hardest thing I've ever done. The university environment didn't suit me, and brought back all the horror of school, but my pride comes from sticking at it when everything in me was screaming to run away. When it comes to fiction, I'm rarely if ever 100% satisfied with the end result, and always think I should have done better.

That is very typical of the Lyn I know, to keep at it. And also not to be 100% satisfied with your writing – I promise you I have never read a single one of your stories and thought it could have been better.

This is a question many writers dread, but where do you get your ideas?

Oh, all over the place. Does everyone say that? But it's true. Something on the news, a conversation overheard in a shop, an advertising poster, sometimes all it takes is a single word or phrase. You have to be in the right sort of receptive mood though, to let that first spark ignite into something more substantial.

What are your writing ambitions? And do they change?

Primarily it's just to keep on coming up with stories. For years I've been trying to get something accepted by BBC Radio, and been shortlisted so many times that the word 'shortlist' now brings me out in a rash.

I've been lucky enough to be included in a couple of short story anthologies; Bridge House Publishing's Gentle Footprints and The Wind in the Willows Short Stories. I'm also in an upcoming anthology called Radgepacket 6, due to be published by Byker Books next month. The launch is on Saturday 10th March at ‘The Back Page’ book shop in Newcastle upon Tyne between 12-3pm.

That story is a bit of a change of tone for me, and it was hugely liberating to let rip and write something different. I'd love to see something with my name on the spine, a collection of short stories probably. Not having the skill or dedication to write a full-length, commercially-produced novel is something I'm still struggling to accept. But on the other hand, didn't someone once say that you only fail when you stop trying?

I beg to differ there – I think you do have the skill to write a full length novel. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hold a book with your name on the cover in my hands one day.

But what do you wish someone had told you when you first started to write?

I think I'm glad no-one told me anything. Because if I knew then what I know now, I don't think I would have even tried. There's a lot to be said for naiveté.

Love it!

Finally, do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Definitely try not to let rejections put you off, or to take them personally. Use them as a challenge to spur you on.

That’s great advice, Lyn, thank you – and thank you so much for coming by to talk to us. Good luck with the anthologies.

Gentle Footprints raises money for the Born Free Foundation and includes a story by Richard Adams.


  1. "There's a lot to be said for naiveté." That made me smile as I completely agree.

    Love the scotties. If I'm ever in the position to have a dog again, that's what I'd have.

  2. What a lovely interview. I've read and enjoyed so many of Marilyn's stories it's a real treat to find out more about her :o)

  3. This is a lovely interview. Thank you Marilyn and Teresa.

    William Trevor and Jilly Cooper are among my favourite short story writers too. I have read and re-read them so many times. And, funnily enough, I have just begun reading Up The Junction.

  4. Lovely interview, ladies. And I smiled at that naivete comment - so true. All the best with your writing, Marilyn.

  5. Terrific post Teresa, and thank you Lyn. 'The stories that write themselves'... my favourites too! Wish more of them would come my way though. x

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Teresa. Informative and entertaining.

  7. I'd never met a Scottie until I met Lyn's two and I was smitten! They're such characters aren't they, Patsy x

    Thank you, Karen x

    I want to read up the Junction again, Joanna, it is so many years since I read it x

    Thank you, Rosemary x

    I know what you mean, Diane :-) x

    Thank you, Martin x

  8. I always enjoy Marilyn's stories (and yours too of course, Teresa!). It's so interesting to learn more about the person behind them.

    Ah - William Trevor - I worship at his feet!

  9. Thank you, Teresa and Marilyn - a lovely interview. I, too, like finding out more about the writers of stories I enjoy.

    I've always been fascinated by Scottie dogs ever since reading Malcolm Saville's books when I was around 7 or 8. The Scottie in one of his series is called Macbeth because: "he murders sleep!"

  10. Just like your own, Teresa, I see Marilyn's name appearing regularly in several magazines. Thanks for sharing this chat with us.

  11. Thank you, Joanne x

    Thanks, Pat - ooh Malcolm Saville, now there's a name I haven't heard for a while, but remember well! x

    Thanks, Keith x

  12. Lyn has been having a problem reading the comments (haven't we all been there?), so I emailed them to her. And she hasn't been able to reply on here, but she's asked me to thank you all for your lovely comments - so from Lyn, thank you!

  13. Hi Teresa, thanks for the interview. I read Marilyn's story in this weeks People's Friend. She writes similar to you, and is now on my list of ones to look for.

  14. Thanks for the interesting interview .

  15. What a great post Teresa. Thank you and thank you Marilyn. Inspiring. I agree you and her write very similar stories and I always enjoy both so much. :o) xx

  16. Thank you, Debs x

    What a lovely thing to say, thank you, Sue x

  17. I must look out for Marilyn's stories as I must be one of the few that hasn't come across her yet. Thanks for a very interesting post Teresa.

  18. Great post, Teresa and Marilyn. Thank you.


  19. I read this after reading a short story in fiction feast. The story was excellent and it is in the December edition.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Derek. I will pass it on to Marilyn. She writes great stories :-)