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Friday, January 28, 2011


Today’s guest blogger is writer Marni Graff, author of two mystery series and co-author of Writing in a Changing World. A former writer with “Mystery Review” magazine, Graff has interviewed Ian Rankin, Deborah Crombie, Val McDermid, and her mentor P. D. James. A member of Sisters in Crime, she runs the Writers Read program in North Carolina, and is also a founding member of the Screw Iowa Writers Group. Her English series features American children’s book writer Nora Tierney; The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford.

Read more about Marni at her blog:
http://auntiemwrites.wordpress.com/ and also at
www.screwiowa.com and www.bridlepathpress.com.

Marni is offering a copy of
The Blue Virgin to one lucky reader who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP


Believing that setting often functions as a character in itself, I’m very careful when choosing where my stories will unfold. Having a lifelong affinity for England and its environs, I originally choose Cumbria as the setting for the opening of the Nora Tierney series. My visits to the land of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter hold a fascination for me. It is one of the most lovely natural areas I’ve ever seen, and the book seemed to belong there.

Then life intervened with an opportunity to study at Oxford, and I found myself in the hallowed halls of Exeter College, studying Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier. Sworn in as a reader at the Bodleian Library, I was able to read the original broadsheet reviews of The Woman in White.

Oxford is a jewel of a town encircled by the lush green countryside of the Thames Valley. Its mellow limestone “dreaming spires,” as described by 19th C. poet Matthew Arnold, change color with the light and weather. Magnificently preserved architecture reflects every age from Saxon to present, all exhibited somewhere amongst the federation of forty-odd independent colleges which make up the University of Oxford.

This mix of “town and gown” is noticed at once when visiting: The university has its dons lecturing in sub fusc, scouts bringing students morning tea, an historic tutorial system, and those forbidden grassy quads, while the town has its own muddle of traffic-choked streets, packed with bicycles and pedestrians, pubs and shops. Both exist alongside green meadows with grazing cattle, and rivers teaming with punters and canal boats.

Small wonder then that I fell in love with the place. I could picture Nora here, too, and suddenly the idea for a new mystery, one that had Oxford at its heart, took over. I set aside the original Lake District manuscript and started writing The Blue Virgin, a combination of cozy and police procedural. Trying to clear her best friend, Val Rogan, of the suspicion she has murdered her partner, Bryn Wallace, Nora quickly becomes embroiled in the murder investigation, to the dismay of DI Declan Barnes, the senior investigating officer. And did I mention Nora’s four months pregnant with her dead fiance’s baby?

I took great care to be accurate in describing Oxford’s history and the colleges, as well as the various locations and sites my characters visit. After all, this is the town that gave the world Lewis Carroll, penicillin, two William Morrises, and graduates spread across the centuries whose influences are still felt. A very short list includes: Shelley, Tolkien, Browning, Auden, Waugh, C. S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Robert Graves, T. S. Eliot, and Christopher Wren. More modern grads you will recognize include Dorothy Sayers, Stephen Hawkings, Richard Burton, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Hugh Grant and Val McDermid.

And Oxford exudes mystery, as any Inspector Morse fan can tell you.

The next Nora Tierney mystery, The Green Remains, is set on the shore of Lake Windermere in Cumbria.

Well, now I’m itching for a trip to Oxford. Too bad Dead Louse of a Spouse left me up the wazoo in debt. What about you, readers? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of The Blue Virgin. And don’t forget to check back Sunday to see if you’re the winner. -- AP 


Gretta & Bill said...

We'd like to go to Oxford AND Cumbria -- but for now we will have to be content with going there via THE BLUE VIRGIN and the next book following our heroine, Nora. What a treat it was to have Marni, as our guest in Brooklyn, talk about writing THE BLUE VIRGIN. Her blog is a great guide if you are looking for the next "great read."

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Please don't enter me--I already own a copy--but I had to chime in and tell your readers that my book club LOVED this book! No one knew until the final pages whodunnit--they thought it was both a satisfying mystery and a fascinating setting. Looking forward to the next Nora adventure!

petite said...

This delightful post was fascinating for the background info on Nora and the wonderful locale. I have read all of Daphne Du Maurier and was enthralled with every novel. Deborah Crombie has written a captivating series which is memorable. I look forward to learning more about Nora and her adventures in Cumbria. When I saw the Beatrix Potter film I was captivated.

Anonymous said...

What a delightful post. I look forward to meeting your Nora! I believe setting helps us to develop much of our character's behaviors as well as being a major contributing character in and of itself. Just thinking about Oxford I sat up straighter in the chair! I wish you great sales and many more Nora adventures.


Thank you all for stopping by. So glad you've enjoyed Marni's guest blog.

Kathy said...

This is a definite must have series for me. I have an on-line friend in Cumbria, I'm a huge Inspector Morse fan and my daughter who has lived in England for the past two years working on a liquistic research project at the University of York, has just applied for a position at OXford. Barnes and Noble, here I come.