Life of a Series Character by M.K. Graff

 Writing a series is a bit like forecasting the weather: you don’t really know if what is forecast is going to happen. When I set out to write the Nora Tierney Mysteries, I created a vague story arc for my protagonist’s life over six books to track her growth and changes. In another life I swear I lived in the UK and wanted to set my series there after my travels always made me feel like I was coming home. But I knew I had to allow myself to deviate from this outline to keep Nora fresh and alive.

First I created a “bible” for my recurring protagonist. Nora is an American living in the UK because I thought it would be interesting to see how she adjusted to a place with different traditions and slang from what she was used to, things that would go beyond learning to drive on the other side of the car and road. I gave her a background I was familiar with, and a reason to be there—a transfer from the US wing of the magazine she works for to its UK branch. When the series opens, Nora has won a contest and taken a leave to work on the children’s books she’s always wanted to write.

With her backstory firmly in mind, although I parsed out that information over several books, I added a major complication in Book One, The Blue Virgin. As the book opens, Nora is in the early stages of an unplanned pregnancy and preparing to leave Oxford to work with illustrator Simon Ramsey in Cumbria. Her fiancé, a scientist working for the British Government, has died in a plane crash several months before. Nora was on the verge of breaking that engagement when Paul died. When she finds out few weeks later that she is pregnant, she makes the decision to have the baby and raise it as a single parent.

That particular decision has made life both easy and difficult for me in several ways. In The Blue Virgin, Nora’s budding pregnancy creates sympathy wherever she goes. She’s a journalist by nature and not above a bit of creative lying to get an interview, so it’s second nature to her to use her pregnancy to gain entrée to speak to suspects when her best friend becomes the main suspect in a murder investigation.

But in Book Two, The Green Remains, Nora is heavily pregnant, and that comprises her ability to move around and be active. Now she’s living in the Lake District, temporarily ensconced with Simon and his sister, Kate, at the lodge they run. They’ve offered her a home while she awaits the birth of her child, and she and Simon grow close as they work on her books. When Simon is implicated in the murder of the son of the town’s wealthiest patron, Nora wants to swing into action to clear his name—but that swing became more of a lumbering due to her tiredness, hormonal moods, and inability to see her feet.

In The Scarlet Wench, due out this May, Nora’s baby is almost six months old when a theatre troupe arrive at Ramsey Lodge to put on Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit. A series of accidents will escalate to murder—with Nora on the premises with her infant. Great motive for getting her involved in finding the murderer, right?. But it also means that I had to account for that baby in all of Nora’s activities. She can’t just run off to sleuth with a child who needs feeding, diapering, playtime and naps. Boy, did I create a mess for myself!

And then there’s the issue of her love life. Nora’s back story includes her father drowning when she was a teenager, on the same night she turned down his invitation to go sailing for a date. For years she felt responsible for his death, carrying around the conviction that if she’d been with him she could have saved them both. Nora’s mother, back in Connecticut, has never felt blamed Nora and is remarried after many years of being alone. But guilt affects Nora’s relationships with men; she chooses unwisely, and puts up walls to keep them from her inner thoughts. This compartmentalizing, which has served her well in other areas of her life and allowed her to get ahead in her career, becomes a liability when she’s attracted to the detective she met in Oxford. In The Scarlet Wench, DI Declan Barnes arrives to cement their budding relationship. Besides her own fears, there’s that baby to consider. Will Declan understand she’s truly a package deal?  Will she screw up their relationship by allowing him only into certain parts of her life? And don’t forget there’s a murderer living under the roof of Ramsey Lodge.

These are some of the questions Nora must answer as she forges ahead in her personal relationships. They are separate issues from the mysteries in each volume and I hope readers of the series will see her grow and change as she irons out what she wants from life.

Bio: Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England and featuring an American protagonist. Written in traditional English mystery style, complete with chapter epigrams and a cast of characters, they are a mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural. The series are available from in hard copy and Kindle; signed copies from Bridle Path Press (



Marni said…
Thanks for hosting me, Marilyn!
Kaylene Wilson said…
I really enjoyed reading this piece. It's very helpful to see how the arc works in this type of story. Thank you.
Nancy LiPetri said…
Really enjoyed how the character's back story affects her love life and relationships. Thanks for sharing your process.
Nancy LiPetri said…
Really enjoyed how the character's back story affects her love life and relationships. Thanks for sharing your process.

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