Wednesday, June 30, 2010

P.F. Chisholm and Diana Gabaldon at the Poisoned Pen Conference

(Picture, left to right - Diana Gabaldon, P.F. Chisholm)

Although Dana Stabenow and Diana Gabaldon were to interview P.F. Chisholm at Saturday night's Poisoned Pen Conference, Chisholm needed nothing more than an introduction to be off and running on her favorite subject, Elizabethan England.

Under her real name, Patricia Finney, Chisholm wrote three books featuring Simon Ames and David Becket, secret agents for Queen Elizabeth, in 1580s England. Those books are Firedrake's Eye, Unicorn's Blood, and Gloriana's Torch.

As Grace Cavendish, she wrote some of the books in the Lady Grace Cavendish Mystery series, aimed at readers 8-12.
Finney said the concept of the Lady Grace books was brought to her, and she agreed to write them. They feature a young girl who is a maid of honor in Queen Elizabeth's court. Lady Grace is a sleuth, a Nancy Drew in the rough. Finney wrote the first three, Assassin, Betrayal, and Conspiracy, and "F", Feud. They're alphabetical because they're aimed at girls, and some girls are quite organized, unlike Finney herself.

She's also written two children's books about a dog named Jack.

But, she was actually there to talk about her latest book in the Sir Robert Carey series, A Murder of Crows. Chisholm said if Carey didn't exist, she would have had to invent him. He's just what people see when they think Elizabethan courtier. And, he was real. He was a close relative of Elizabeth I.

Chisholm mentioned Phillippa Gregory's book, made into a movie, The Other Boleyn Girl, about Mary. Henry VIII had an official mistress, Mary Boleyn. Since he was unable to produce a son, Mary did what the official mistress is supposed to do, and became pregnant. So, she was married off to Sir William Carey. Her son was named Henry. Then, Anne was invited to be the official mistress, and she said no. Since Henry wanted to marry her, that was the start of the Reformation in England. Spain finds it hilarious that the entire Church changed because the king wanted to marry his mistress.

In time, Elizabeth's half-brother, Henry Carey, was made Lord Chamberlain and did what he was supposed to do, dealt with the revolt of the northern earls. Henry Carey married Anne Morgan and had at least eight children. Robert Carey was the seventh son. That meant, by the right of primogeniture, the eldest gets the entire estate. But, Robert Carey was sent to France, where he learned French, and to "make good clothes." That didn't mean he sewed them; it meant he knew how to wear them. He became a fashion victim and went into debt. At one time, he was 3,000 pounds in debt after spending ten years at Court. Chisholm then led the audience through a hilarious computation, using the Elizabethan beer standard to come to the conclusion that Robert Carey was three million dollars in debt. To get out of debt, he bet his friends he could walk 90 miles in ten days. In 1590, he won his bet by walking ninety miles from London.

However, in 1592, Robert Carey felt a pressing need to leave London. He could have been arrested for being in debt, and spent the rest of his life in prison. So, he went to Carlisle to be Her Majesty's Marshall in the wild north. This is all true.

So, this fancy, well-dressed man turned up in Carlisle. He became friends with James VI of Scotland, and Deputy Warden. He was very successful in his job, chasing cattle rustlers, and hanging people.

In 1603, he went to London to see Queen Elizabeth in her last illness, and it's his account in his memoirs that anyone familiar with her death has read. Upon her death, he immediately rode to Edinburgh, taking two days, so he could be the first to tell the King of Scotland, now James I of England, that he was king since she'd died.

Diana Gabaldon managed to interject that she loved Chisholm's character, Sergeant Dodd, before Chisholm was off and running again.

Chisholm said she loves history in that people don't really change. Power doesn't change a lot. Gabaldon followed up with the comment that in historical fiction it's one of the good things that people don't change. When people go on holiday, they are still reduced to the same basic needs as their ancestors. Where are we staying? They need shelter. What are we eating? They need food, and way down on the chain is sex.

Barbara Peters commented that she liked the combination of words in Chisholm's titles. The books in the Sir Robert Carey series are A Famine of Horses, A Season of Knives, A Surfeit of Guns, A Plague of Angels, and, now, A Murder of Crows. Chisholm said the angel refers to a gold coin, and that book deals with forgery. Gabaldon's beloved Sgt. Dodd has the lead in A Murder of Crows. Chisholm tries to alternate between Carey and Dodd.

P.F. Chisholm said her next book will be set in Oxford, when the Queen's on progress. She didn't know that the Queen actually went to Oxford then, but she never lets history get in the way of a good tale. That book will be called A Riot of Scholars, and there's a fight between the scholars and the townies.

Diana Gabaldon asked her how she did research. She said, you said you're not organized, which I totally believe. Chisholm said she relies on the archaeological method of filing. It's a layer system. If she saw it recently, she knows it's near the top.

Diana Gabaldon recently had knee surgery, so she didn't take spend much time talking about her work. She said her therapist had to teach her to walk after the surgery, using the heaven method. It's up with the good leg, since it's going to heaven, and down with the bad.

The paperback edition of An Echo in the Bone is due out June 22. Some people might not like the color of the book, but Gabaldon was asked what color she wanted, and she picked green.

The book has an excerpt in it from Diana Gabaldon's graphic novel, The Exile. Diana once wrote comic books for Walt Disney. So, she wanted to partner with Ballantine for graphic novels. It's a new Jamie and Clare story, set within the parameters of Outlander, but it's not the same story. It's from the point of view of Jamie and his godfather, and starts before Outlander. The graphic novel is due out Sept. 21.

Although the Poisoned Pen Conference was set to go on into the late night, with a pajama party and author readings, I left, exhausted after a full week of conference and authors.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Elizabethan England has always been fascinating to me! Wish I could have been there to hear the talk. You've filled me in really well, though! I bet you *were* exhausted from the conference! Sounds like they had really full days there.

Lesa said...

And, I was working during the days, Elizabeth. But, P.F. Chisholm's discussion of Elizabethan England was fascinating!