Incredibly real, credibly invented


Incredibly real, credibly invented

Guns in the North offers Elizabethan intrigue unfettered in a new omnibus: roguish courtiers, rival gangs, border raiders, treason, realpolitik and unbridled ambition. The first three books of P.F. Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey Mysteries will be published in an omnibus edition for the first time this July, so we caught up with the great woman to discuss the incredible real stories behind her novels, her early writing education and her amazingly wide range of projects.

On constructing credible worlds for incredible stories
“I read a ridiculous amount of history and if there’s any book that looks as if it might be promising I buy it, which means my books are not under control,” P.F. Chisholm says. With an almost photographic memory she lets information seep into the hinterland of her fictional worlds, worlds that have been praised for their texture and historical authenticity. She’s done reenactment to get a feel for Elizabethan clothes and her Renaissance Faire-going American fans can’t get enough of the detail she embroiders into her novels. She gets quite animated when we reach the subject of linen shirts: “No historical TV programme you’ve ever seen ever, ever, shows people wearing linen shirts the way they actually wore them.” Not even Wolf Hall, apparently, for which her brother Gavin was director of photography.

P.F. Chisholm introduces Sir Robert Carey and his traveling companion.

On the early days of a prolific career
When P.F. Chisholm was three, her younger brother moved into her room and unwittingly became the first consumer of her fevered and prolific imagination. She says, “I remember very clearly threatening this little child with horrible revenge if he dared to interrupt me when I was telling a story.” But fans of her fiction should probably thank her Hungarian grandmother, “a very difficult, brilliant woman” who, apart from being a practising psychoanalyst, also happened to be a historical novelist too. “I’d write her a story and she’d critique it, which sometimes was pretty rough. On one occasion I’d written a story about cats and she said, ‘This is twee, you can do better’. She gave me the equivalent of an MA in creative writing.” Finney’s book A Shadow Of Gulls had already won an award by the time she got to Oxford at 18 to study history.

On how brilliant minds keep busy


There's a bewildering array of projects on the go. Finney lives in Hungary where she is researching her mother’s adventures during the war — “she was very lucky for a little girl with Jewish antecedents” — while learning the notoriously difficult language (she already knows French and Spanish). She’s on the second draft of something she refers to as Alt History, and she’s working on her various fiction series; she was the editor of the European Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases; and she has a third dan black belt in taekwondo. She says Elizabethans lived more vividly than we do, but I’m not sure many of them could have given her mind’s eye much of a run for its money.

Who wouldn’t want to walk around enthralled in an imagination that’s been stoked by nearly six decades of voracious reading and thought?

“It’s a nice life,” she admits.

Guns in the North is out on the 13th July in hardback and ebook.