As an aspiring writer I’m fascinated by authors who manage to develop a character and write a series of books so I’m delighted that Marni Graff, author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries which are published by Bridle Path Press, agreed to discuss how she does this.
The Blue Virgin: A Nora Tierney Mystery (Oxford) – WINNER: Mystery and Mayhem Award for Classic British Cozy, Chanticleer Book Media
The Green Remains: Book 2 (Lake District) – WINNER: Classic British Cozy, Mystery and Mayhem Awards
The Scarlet Wench: Book 3 (Lake District) – Shortlisted, Best Mystery, Chanticleer Book Media
Developing Nora Tierney
A Guest Post by Marni Graff
I’m a voracious reader, and once I find a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed, I’ll read his other books. I try to read those books in the order their written to see the development of his or her continuing characters.
When I decided to write mysteries, I knew a series would allow me to stretch and grow my characters in the same way I’ve enjoyed the growth and development of those readers whose books I reach for again and again.
I developed the character of Nora Tierney, an American writer living in the UK, and made her reasonably young to allow for years of growth as I decided on what I call her “bible” the history of her life that may or may not make it to the page. This background helps me know Nora better, so I have a feeling for how she would react in certain situations. I do these for all the main characters in each book, especially the returning characters in a series. The two most important things I have to decide for any character are: what they want the most, and what they fear the most.
As a writer, Nora loves research of any kind and is an information gatherer. I also gave her an insatiable curiosity, which leads to her snooping, and a strong sense of fairness and justice, both of which contribute to her tendency to become involved in murder investigations. Nora has been known to lie at the drop of a hat if it will further her gathering of what she considers important or necessary information. She sees these fabrications as harmless. The detectives she runs across don’t necessarily agree.
Despite different themes for each novel, where the mystery is solved and resolution achieved, the underlying theme of all the books is how the choices we make affect our lives. Nora’s background had to have some kind of kink in it that has ramifications for her now that follows that theme, and Nora still suffers guilt from her father’s death in a sailing accident. A teenager at the time, she’d turned down his offer for an evening sail in favour of a date, a reasonable thing for anyone of that age, until a squall capsized his boat. She carries the unreasonable idea that if she’d gone with him, he would have survived. This also has an impact on her relationships with men. She’s often confused about her feelings for the men she cares about and has difficulty becoming too attached.
Then I threw in a real kicker in the first book, The Blue Virgin: her backstory had her unhappily engaged to a workaholic scientist. Nora was on the verge of calling it off when he was killed in a plane accident. Fast forward to the current action weeks later, and she finds out she’s pregnant and has to decide whether to keep the baby as a single parent. This is in the midst of trying to prove her best friend, artist Val Rogan, is innocent of a murder charge in the death of Val’s partner, Bryn Wallace. The book is set in Oxford, where Nora is packing up to move to Cumbria. But first, she is determined to clear Val.
Saddling Nora with a child to raise alone gave her many challenges and responsibilities that thwart her natural desires. During the second book, The Green Remains, Nora is living in the Lake District at Ramsey Lodge, home of her children’s books illustrator, and is heavily pregnant. I had to keep in mind Nora’s physical condition and how that would impact and interfere with her ability to snoop actively when she stumbles across a body at the edge of Lake Windermere. She couldn’t rush around Bowness sleuthing due to not being able to see her feet at this point!
In book three, The Scarlet Wench, Nora’s son is six months old when a theatre troup arrives to stage Noel Coward’s farce, Blithe Spirit, at Ramsey Lodge. She’s also developing a relationship with Oxford detective DI Declan Barnes, whom she met in book one. This overarching storyline is one I devised for Nora at the outset. Now when a series of accidents and pranks lead to murder right on the premises, Nora’s son must be protected and cared for as she helps Declan unmask the killer amongst them.
There will be more challenges for Nora down the road. I’ve already planted seeds in these first three books that will grow into plot lines in the planned six books, at a minimym. The next book is The Golden Hour, and Nora has decided to return to Oxford, but the majority of the action takes place in Bath, where she’s staying with friends for a week. She’s there for a reading and signing of her books at a real Bath bookstore that has given me permission to use their setting, Mr. B’s Reading Emporium.
Unfortunately, there will be more deaths and this time the threat becomes very real for Nora and her son. I just can’t seem to keep that gal out of trouble!
About Marni Graff
Marni Graff is the author of the award-winning Nora Tierney English Mysteries, and the new series, The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries, which recently debuted with Death Unscripted. The Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press, Marni Graff also writes a crime review blog at www.auntiemwrites.com and is a member of Sisters in Crime.