Friday, January 25, 2013

The British are Coming!

Today's special guest is Marni Graff, the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in the UK. The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford and introduces Nora, an American writer, as she involves herself in a murder investigation to clear her best friend, who has been wrongfully accused of murdering her partner. The Green Remains follows Nora to the Lake District where she’s awaiting two firsts: the publication of her children’s book and the birth of her child. When she stumbles across a dead body at the edge of Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, Nora sets into motion a series of events that will have consequences for herself and those she’s come to love.

Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on selecting and being a part of a supportive writing group, as well as helpful critique techniques for many genres. She writes a weekly mystery review at Graff’s history includes working on movie and television scripts and providing onset medical consultation through her nursing background. For seven years she conducted interviews and wrote feature articles for Mystery Scene magazine.

A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. She has also published poetry, and her creative nonfiction has most recently appeared in Southern Women’s Review. Her books can be bought at or at

We hope you'll stop by and meet her in person at Book 'Em North Carolina on Saturday, February 23!


I’m an admitted Anglophile and my reading list is heavily tilted towards UK authors. Early readings of Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Tey and P. D. James were a heavy influence on my writing, but I’ve continued to read mysteries set in the UK with great delight. They are frequently featured on my weekly crime review blog ( to bring new readers to these authors. A few of my favorite writers these days are: Michael Robotham, Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson, Barry Maitland, Denise Mina, Susan Hill, Graham Hurley, Mo Hayder, John Harvey, Stephen Booth, S. J. Bolton, Rosamund Lupton, Ian Rankin, and Val McDermid. Unfamiliar with them? Check them out!
There’s something about the enigma of a true mystery I find captivating, especially when it’s combined with the psychology of the characters. My mysteries, to this point at least, have not revolved around sociopaths or psychopaths, the genesis of serial murderers, but feature normal people who cross the line to murder. What motivates them to make this move fascinates me as a writer; and if I can give my readers a decent puzzle as they try to figure out the culprit, so much the better.
While honing my fiction writing skills, I interviewed many of my favorite mystery writers for Mystery Review magazine. Meeting with and learning from writers I enjoyed reading, such as Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Deborah Crombie, and my hero, P. D. James, went a long way to helping me get my wiring chops. When I decided I was ready to write my first mystery series, I knew it would be set in England. I’ve traveled there extensively and several areas beckoned for settings. So although my protagonist is an American children’s book writer from Connecticut, Nora Tierney lives and works in the UK.
This means that I try very hard to keep a British accent in my ear when writing dialogue for most of the characters. Brit slang appears, too, and while Nora has appropriated some words in common usage just from living there, she still has a distinctly American twang to her own dialogue. Good email contacts and friends I’ve developed allow me to find answers to questions that Google just can’t supply. And I’ve found that many policemen are willing to answer my questions via email when I dangle a mention in my Acknowledgments page.
After studying Gothic Literature at Exeter in Oxford, (think Wilkie Collins and Du Maurier) I knew that ancient town had to be the setting for my first Nora Tierney mystery. Oxford is the city of Inspector Morse, a mix of town and gown filled with the many colleges that make up Oxford University. While my books are set in contemporary times, this small but exuberant town provided the perfect backdrop to murder.
The Blue Virgin introduces Nora to readers, as she’s packing up for a move to Cumbria to work with illustrator Simon Ramsey on her first children’s book. But she quickly becomes waylaid by events when her best friend, artist Val Rogan, is accused of murdering her partner. Nora swings into action to clear Val, to the chagrin of Simon and of Declan Barnes, the DCI on the case. And did I mention she’s three months pregnant by her dead fiancĂ©?
Nora doesn’t hesitate to fabricate ways to get information, drawing on her journalistic background. There will be more deaths, and Nora will find herself in jeopardy before the case is solved.
In the second book in the series, The Green Remains, Nora has moved to the magical land of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, filled with England’s highest peaks and loveliest lakes, including its largest, Windermere, which is where Nora will make her home for the next year. She’s living at Ramsey Lodge with Simon and his sister, Kate, awaiting the publication of her first children’s book and the birth of her child, a boy she will raise alone.
On her morning walk along Bowness Bay, Nora stumbles over the body of the heir to Clarendon Hall. Keith Clarendon was Nora’s reason for meeting Simon and moving to the Lake District; she gets involved in the investigation when it’s decided Keith was murdered. When Simon falls under suspicion, she doesn’t hesitate to explore for the real murderer, despite being heavily pregnant. Unfortunately, Kate’s lover, Ian Travers, is the local CID man assigned to the case. Complications abound, as Nora tries to unmask a wily murderer as the bodies start to pile up.
My books are written in a classical English mystery style, complete with a Cast of Characters listing and chapter epigraphs. For the third book, which is in progress, the epigraphs will all be lines from the play Blithe Spirit, which necessitated getting permission from Noel Coward’s estate. In The Scarlet Wench, the action revolves around a theatre troupe staying at Ramsey Lodge to put on the play; a series of escalating pranks lead to murder.
I have a second mystery series, set in Manhattan and revolving around nurse Trudy Genova, who has my favorite job from my nursing career: as a medical advisor to television, soap operas and films shot in the Big Apple. Death Unscripted is making editors’ rounds through my New York agent.
But my heart is drawn to England, and this August I’ll be able to travel there again. I’ve received a Regional Arts Grant to attend St. Hilda’s Crime Conference, and will stay on to do research in Scotland, Bath and maybe Cornwall. You never know where Nora Tierney will turn up next.


Nora rounded the corner of Bowness Bay; her gaze flitted across the shallow water along the pebbly shore. A few yards ahead, the tip of an overturned green scull caught her attention; it was wobbling up and down at the stony shore, disturbing its neatness.
            As she came abreast of the scull, the next slopping wave nudged it higher onto the pebbly shingle. Without pausing, Nora left the path and reached out to pull on the scull’s tip to keep it on shore. Someone would be looking for it later today. She was surprised when it barely budged, and she heaved harder, throwing her small frame into the effort. It must be filled with sand and water, she thought, and tugged harder. There was a sucking sound, and suddenly the scull slid up the bank, knocking Nora off balance and onto her knees on the damp sand. She was abruptly opposite the swollen, glassy-eyed face of a very dead man, partially covered in muck. He lay curled on his side, half-hidden by the scull. There was a greenish cast to his skin, mottled with gouges and missing pieces of flesh. His swollen, purple lips grinned grotesquely at her; one eye socket was empty. The distorted features shifted with the next wave.
            Nora’s stomach roiled, and her breakfast threatened to come back up. She sucked in air and gasped. Then she heard her own screams echoing across the water as she realized the dead man was someone she knew.