We’re talking today with Marnette (Marni) Kathleen Graff, author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in England. Marni is currently in Maine, visiting with her friend Barbara Jancovic, who runs the 365 Days of Christmas shop on Route 27 in Belgrade. On September 8th, from 2-4 p.m., Maine crime writers Kaitlyn Dunnett, Lea Wait, and Kate Flora will be joining Janis Bolster and Marni there for a book signing, fudge fest, and free ice cream cones to everyone who buys a book.
So, Marni, where are you coming to us from?
Well, I’m originally a Long Islander and I spent many years working in Manhattan. I now live in rural coastal North Carolina on a river at the end of a dirt road. Quite a change.
Your books have been described as a cross between police procedurals, and cozy mysteries. When you start a book, where do you begin?
Setting and character are important to me; plot rises out of that.
Your background is in nursing, but you’ve spent a lot of time working on learning the writing craft. Tell us a little bit about that.
Marni: I’ve been an RN since the age of 19, but completed my BS in Literature in 1996, and have studied writing extensively in between: Poetry at Harvard and Radcliffe, Screenwriting at NYU, Gothic Literature at Oxford University in the UK and five different writing courses at the Summer Writing Festival at Iowa. 5. I started writing poetry in junior high school and just kept on writing. When I was a nurse I wrote feature articles for a journal called Nursing Spectrum for seven years “on the side” as I educated myself in different forms of writing. I also edited a medical journal.
And what about working with movies and TV?
Marni: Maybe my favorite nursing position was as a medical consultant for television and motion pictures, working on scripts from home and medical scenes on set in Manhattan.
So what was it that drew you into writing?
I’ve always been attracted to writing because I’m a bibliophile. I read three to four novels a week, love papers and stationary, love the feel of books, old and new. My mother taught me to read early on, and it’s something I couldn’t live without. I am never so happy as when I have a stack of books waiting to be read, or am working on a new writing project.
Tell us a little bit about the writing that you do. You write both fiction and nonfiction, right? I’ve co-authored one non-fiction book and written four books, three in publication: Writing in a Changing World was authored by my writing group and describes our workshop method for novelists along with helpful ways to critique writers work. The Blue Virgin (2010) is the first Nora Tierney novel, set in Oxford; The Green Remains (2012) continues the series in the Lake District. Both are and published through Bridle Path Press, an authors cooperative out of Baltimore, MD. My unpublished novel is titled Death Unscripted, the first of my Trudy Genova series set in Manhattan. It’s currently making the editorial rounds through my New York agent.
And about your current series:
Marni: The Blue Virgin was originally set in the Lake District in its first draft. After I’d been to Oxford one summer, I knew I had to start Nora off there, and re-wrote the novel. The feel of the city fit my story, and the setting became almost a character in itself. It’s one of my favorite places in the UK with its history, the Radcliffe Camera library and reading room, and the mix of ancient and modern colleges that make up Oxford U. It’s really small town with a big city feel. The Green Remains finally takes Nora to Cumbria, where she’s living and awaiting the birth of her first child. That area remains one of the most beautiful nature-filled places I’ve ever seen, and has its own literature history, the land of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Beatrix Potter, amongst others.
Marni: My protagonist is Nora Tierney. She’s someone I knew I would be spending a lot of time with over the next years, so I had to make her someone I wouldn’t grow tired of quickly. A journalist who has traded that job to write children’s books, she’s nosy (in a most charming way), lies easily (ditto) and is fiercely protective of those she loves. She’s also pregnant with her dead fiance’s baby when the novel opens, and has decided to raise the child alone. So she has lot going on in her life.
Shall we ask you the dread “literary influences” question?
Marni: Influences on my writing range from Lewis Carroll and Dickens to Christie, Marsh and Sayers. Daphne Du Maurier is a favorite. But Colin Dexter and P. D. James are two who influenced me when I chose mysteries. James in particular had the depth of the psychology of her characters, as well as her use of setting, that I wanted to incorporate on some level. I had the very good fortune to interview her at her London home when I was writing for the magazine and studying in the UK. She has encouraged my writing, and was the first to insist I write a mystery based on my favorite nursing position, as a medical consultant on soap opera and television sets filmed in NY; hence, the Trudy Genova series is all down to her. We remain in contact and I consider her a mentor and friend.
And in your spare time?
Marni: Nothing beats sitting on my screened-in porch, watching the river, and working on my laptop. The wildlife and birds we see every day, the soothing atmosphere, my Spinone, Radar, swimming in the river—it’s all heavenly.
I’m very proud of the Writers Read program I started on 2007. It gives writers young and old an opportunity to read from their works-in-progress and receive immediate feedback, while also giving them experience reading in front of a group. My crime review blog, Auntie M Writes, has grown to the point that I receive free books from several big US houses and two UK houses to review, which has cut my book budget considerably! I also write a monthly blog for Eco Women, an environmental group that passes along information and tips for home use.
My husband and I have three married sons who lucked out with incredible wives, and seven grandchildren we adore.
Where can we find you and your books?
Marni Graff’s English mystery series, a mix of police procedural and cozy, features American children’s book writer Nora Tierney. The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford; The Green Remains in the Lake District. She is currently working on the third book, The Scarlet Wench.
A former writer for seven years with “Mystery Review” magazine, Marni Graff has interviewed Ian Rankin, Deborah Crombie, Val McDermid, and her mentor, P. D. James, amongst many others. She reviews crime novels on her weekly blog, Auntie M Writes (www.auntiemwrites.wordpress.com). She is also the co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer for modern writers to find their writing group. Her poetry was most recently published in A Tribute to Amelia Earhart and her creative nonfiction most recently seen in Southern Women’s Review. A member of Sisters in Crime, she runs the Writers Read program in NC, and is a founding member of Coastal Carolina Mystery Writers.