Today’s guest, poet and fiction writer Marilyn Jenkins, is a member of the Welsh Academy. Marilyn’s work has been published in magazines such as: The Anglo Welsh Review, The New Welsh Review, Paris Atlantic, Envoi and prize-winning anthologies.
Shelagh: Hi Marilyn, please tell us a little about yourself.
Marilyn: I was raised in post-war Wales, one of a privileged generation: NHS; free grammar school education; university grants. I went through to university. I taught and lectured in English and carried on after marriage and children. Later, I travelled widely because of my husband’s (academic) career. I’m grateful because I experienced other cultures. This, together with my Welsh background, has greatly influenced my writing.
Shelagh: When did you first begin to write and in what genre(s)?
Marilyn: I was always hooked on words. A good book to read is an essential for me. Because story, fiction, was the big draw; from primary school days I wanted to write my own. I remember sitting on the back steps at home trying to work out a knotty problem of how to get my characters out of an impossible fix in The Mystery of the Moated Grange (thanks for the inspiration Enid Blyton). While the novel was my first love, – fiction with a dark mystery underlying it – I also had a poetry reading bug.
Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish?
Marilyn: It took some time before I could imagine myself as a ‘writer’. I stepped out of teaching for a while when I had small children and that’s when I began to draft novels. I say novels because my life is littered with unfinished novels. Completing one and getting it published was my secret goal. Poems, short stories were less challenging to complete in a peripatetic existence. The way life panned out meant I was having these published long before my novel finally appeared. But the novel was the big thing.
Shelagh: Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Marilyn: I don’t have a message, as such, in anything I write. I think it was Alice (Lewis Carroll’s) who said: “How do I know what I mean till I see what I’ve said.” Working in longer fiction has told me quite a lot about myself, in fact.
Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book.
Marilyn: My novel, The Legacy of Alice Waters, finally appeared this year (2009). It is, as expected, fiction with a dark mystery: a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit.
Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?
Marilyn: Poisoners are not easy to like or understand – how different is Alice Waters?
Shelagh:. How do you develop characters and settings?
Marilyn: My characters develop in relation to the settings. I place a character in a situation and then probe the way in which removing them from their comfort (or discomfort zone) affects what happens. Each change becomes a test. Alice moves from her unhappy home in Wales to find love in wartime London. A return to post war Wales brings disaster. This is also true of her best friend Emily who comes home to die and who led an extraordinary life as a lawyer.
Shelagh: Do you have a favourite character?
Marilyn: I admire the character of Emily: a lesbian who hid from Alice that she was the love of her life. She is an intelligent woman who faces death with courage and finally carries out Alice’s last request: to tell her ‘lost’ daughter the truth.
Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Marilyn: Writing my second novel has shown me how ingrained my method is: I don’t tell the story through a single point of view. In my first, there are 2 primary third person POVs told in discrete sections: Emily’s and Madeleine’s (Maddie, Alice’s daughter). Alice’s story is told in first person through her journals and her granddaughter, Daisy (Dessie), keeps a first person account when she visits Wales with her mother in pursuit of the truth.
Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Marilyn: I start with a character and what happened to him/her. That gives me the skeleton. I don’t work particularly economically. I throw away a great deal but by the time of the final draft, I pretty much know who I’m dealing with and how it ends up. I know my characters – their strengths and weaknesses and, most of all, what they want.
Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Marilyn: My core environment is Wales. Like so many of my generation I left Wales to pursue a career. It was a kind of Welsh diaspora. I have experienced so many different environments that they inevitably colour my fiction. But I am now back home and writing; Wales is always there but so are other parts of the world. How can I be insular with the multitude of addresses I’ve had? My current novel begins in Saskatoon, Canada, which I loved.
Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Marilyn: You can read some reviews on my website (below) but the ones I treasure are the unsolicited, unexpected. Early on Boxing Day, I received this in as part of an e-mail from Maddison, Wisconsin:
“I so enjoyed your book, which was beautifully written. It kept me riveted all Christmas Eve after I played Santa for my daughter and Christmas Day after cooking the roast. I loved the suspense and the wonderful female characters: Dessie, Maddie, Emily, Harriet. It was tragic on the one hand, but triumphant on the other; I loved that Maddie walked out on her deadbeat cheating husband (none of the married men seem to have understood the meaning of fidelity) and that the truth really did set her free in so many ways.”
I love this because the writer has engaged in the book and the fact that she loved the female characters was a real plus. I came across a similar comment from a review pasted on Google. On Google Books, you can open and read a goodly portion of the novel (as well as Amazon).
Shelagh: What are your current projects?
Marilyn: The novel I’m working on is: Shadow of the Black Mountains, set in Saskatoon and the mysterious Welsh Border country. If you’ve visited the Hay Festival you’ll know the area; the nearby mountains and valleys have exerted a mysterious, spiritual fascination for centuries. You can read the opening chapters and links to all my work on my website:
Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?