Interview with Cryssa Bazos
Interview with Cryssa Bazos- Author of 'Traitor's Knot'
I am delighted to be able to publish an interview with Cryssa Bazos, author of the novel 'Traitor Knot' and also edits ''The Seventeenth Century Enthusiast' email newsletter. This interview was conducted via email correspondence .
Has to be asked 'Why the English Civil War as a background to your novel'?
I have always felt a strong connection to the 17th century. The era was a time characerized by
exploding literacy, scientific discovery and exploration. Civil War accelerated the social and political
change. People started to question their loyalties, their place in society and relationship to God. Historically the most challenging of times, like worlds wars, result in the greatest leaps for mankind, and the English Civil War marked the dawn of the modern period.
The war had a devastating effect on families and communities. Ideological divisions pit family against family and left long lasting scars. For a novelist, there could not be richer material to use as a foundation
for a story than one where relationships are tested and life is upended. The engine that drives (the) story is conflict and change, and the more primal and personal, the better.
One of the elements that I wanted to explore was the tensions caused by war; duty vs devotion, conflicted loyalties, and the dynamics between those who left for war and those who were left behind.
Can a historical novel add to the wider public's historical knowledge of the English Civil War? Do you feel that your role is to provide qualify fiction- or do you think that a novel can also educate readers about this era?
This question seems to be at the heart of many discussions in the historical fiction community. Should historical fiction educate of entertain? I believe they can definitely do both, though not at the expense of the other. Our primary objective, in my opinion, is to entertain. In order to write an engaging story, the historical fiction author has to be surgical in what they choose to include. It's a difficult balance to strike; bringing in enough historical detail and facts to bring the past to life, but not so much that it reads like a history book. The fulcrum is character. If writers focus on the character and the extent of the character's experiences and perspectives, the historical fiction author can write an engaging story that also educates the reader in the historical period.
As an example I would have liked to give the reader a bird's eye view of the Battle of Worcester with all the drama unfolding across the various arenas of engagement. There were hour by hour maps and detailed troop movements available. This was an epic battle, with many dramatic reversals and enough daring to fill an entire novel. But as my story revolved around one man, I had to limit myself to his sphere and show the battle only through his perspective.
Do you think that novelists end up choosing sides- and showing which side they have more sympathy with when writing a fiction about a war?
I believe this is inevitable. If you're going to spend hours and years writing a story, the perspective and subject matter has to resonate, and naturally you become further entrenched in a perspective. But I also feel that through extensive reading and research, it's impossible not to develop sympathy for the other side as well. I'm certainly not a fan of Oliver Cromwell, but I do admire him for the brilliant strategist that he was .
Are there any subjects which are difficult to write about in a novel set in the past? Such as an essentially well meaning character expressing opinions which are probably unacceptable today concerning gender roles, treatment of criminals, transporting or executing rebels?
To be true to the history, we need to acknowledge sentiments in the past as they did shape people and society . Historical fiction readers often cite as a major irritant stories where the characters act in modern ways. However we still need to consider the reader and the their willingness to engage with the character and the subject matter. It's important to not whitewash the past, but we still need to make it accessible to the reader.
One challenging scene for me was when my heroine, Elizabeth, had to provide aid to a Catholic family. She wasn't entirely comfortable with the situation since she wasn't blind to the risks if they were caught sheltering recusants. As well. she had to face her own misconceptions and prejudices over their religion. I found it a challenge to balance the reality of how people felt at the time about Catholicism (which is what I wanted to show) whilst trying maintain Elizabeth as empathetic for the reader. It would have been easier if I could show these sentiments through another character, but I don't believe it would have been as impactful. I focused on her conflicting perspective, and how she managed to get past it.
Your blog is a great source of information regarding 17th century fiction. Which historical novelists have inspired you?
Thank you I like to encourage people to discover the 17th century because the Tudors have had more than their fair share of time in the spotlight. The first novelist I read was Alexandre Dumas, and it should be no surprise that he's inspired me the most. I adore the swash-buckling adventure and romantic drama of these stories and how the history envelopes every aspect of the story. Daphne du Maurier is also one of my favourites and although she isn't strictly a historical novelist, some of my favourite novels of her are set in the 17th century ( The King's General and Frenchman's Creek). Mary Stewart is better know for romantic suspense, but The Crystal Cave stands out for me as one of her best. Billed as Fantasy ( probably because the main character is Merlin) every bit of it is historical in flavour. She was very faithful to the time and what was known of the history. Her descriptions still cause me to hold my breath.
Can you list any up and coming 17th century writers that we should be looking out for?
There seems to be a growing list of authors taking on the 17th century, and I couldn't be happier. Helen Reynolds is a debut author who has written an action adventure spy thriller set during the Interregnum. The working title is Conspiratessa and is currently under submission. Here is a link to an interview I did with Helen . She's been sharing little snippets of her work on Twitter during #1LineWednesday and I can't wait to read it.
I also wanted to recommend the work of Elizabeth St. John, author of the Lydiard Chronicles series. Elizabeth writes about her famous ancestors, notably Lucy Hutchinson. Her debut novel, The Lady of the Tower, is about the life of Lucy Apsley, Hutchinson's mother. By Love Divided is the second in the series and explores the tragedy of civil war through two divided families, the Apsleys and Hutchinsons. She's currently working on the third book.
I thought that it was great to have a real old fashioned hero in James Hart. Do you think that a novel needs strong characters? Individuals who can take determined courses of action, and not just get submerged by events.
I love the question, so thank you for asking it. There seems to be a tendency in today's fiction for darker, highly flawed anti-heroes. I consciously wanted to create a heroic character (even though he is a highwaymen, albeit a politically motivated one). James Hart is bound by his sense of duty and honour, in the same vein as d'Artagnan. I also like to think of James as winning through his wits, much like the clever Odysseus.
The strength of the story is only as strong as the characters. Someone (I do forget who) once defined plot as 'character in motion'. Readers want to root for characters and want to see them succeed. We've all grown up hearing stories, and it's no surprise that the most enduring are the heroic traditions like The Odyssey and the Arthurian tales.
Do you think that the English Civil War changed women's traditional roles?
The war caused seismic shifts in how people viewed their place in society and women weren't excluded, even thought it didn't translate into immediate change. When Freeborn John and the Levellers were lobbying for freedom for all Englishmen, it did spark a movement amongst Leveller women to extend it to them, not just for class but also for gender. In 1649, women signed a petition in London and Westminster arguing for their rights. Although the petition was well represented it didn't enact any change. It was a bridge too far for most. Even though the petition wasn't successful, it was an awakening that inevitably led to change.
That isn't to say that the crisis of war didn't cause a change for women. They were pressed to defend their homes ( Brilliana Harley) , raise funds for their husband's war effort (Ann Fanshawe) and become pamphleteers, speaking out for their principles. I like to think that they sewed the seeds for future movements.
Is there going to be a full sequel to Traitor's Knot? I understand that there is a short story which follows the adventures of James and Elizabeth Hart in exile already published.
Traitor's Knot is the first in a series called Road to the Restoration. I'm currently working on a second book that follows the fate of one of the characters from Traitor's Knot, Iain Johnstone is the captain of the Scottish moss-troopers and we follow him after the Battle of Worcester. His story will take him (and others) to the sugar cane fields of Barbados and beyond. I am giving James and Elizabeth Hart a cameo, so I haven't allowed them to go too far, and they will return again in other books in the series. I'm also working on a long short story called the Highwayman of Moot Hill. It will be about the adventures of James Hart before the events of Traitor's Knot. Knowing how I write, I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up becoming a novella..
It was great to see Weymouth and the research of local historian Mark Vine re. 'The Crabchurch Conspiracy' getting a mention. How did you hear about this small but quite significant 1645 Royalist uprising?
In the early days of my first draft, I was reading up on the civil war in Dorset and stumbled on an article about the Crabchurch Conspiracy. The story immediately grabbed me. The Crabchurch Conspiracy was a local uprising that did not make it in the general history books about the war, but it was, as you say, still significant. Mark's passion for the subject certainly make a compelling read, and what really stayed with me was the daring on both sides. I marvelled at the Royalist conspirators, merchants and tradespeople, who risked everything to win the ports back for the king ( and nearly succeeded) as well as the Parliamentary defenders who manged to repel the attack. When I realized that, I had to incorporate this into my novel ( even in a small way). I discovered that Mark had written both a non-fiction book about the conspiracy, and the lyrics for a Crabchurch Conspiracy album.
Mark is now writing novel about it. He's a born storyteller, and he knows the historical figures and the events so well. He'll put flesh on these characters and tell a thrilling tale.
Have you any tips for aspiring historical novelists?
Historical fiction writers need to balance the history with the story. Instead of presenting the history from thirty-thousand feet in the air, get as close to ground level as you can and walk around with your character , seeing and feeling what they would experience. What this means is that you may not be able to show everything, but will make what you do show more intimate for the reader and serve up the story more faithfully.
Can you choose a favourite a poem from the 17th century?
I do love John Donne's No Man is an Island. The final lines have resonated with me. When I was imagining Elizabeth leaving Weymouth, I kept thinking of a forlorn and haunting bell tolling somewhere beyond the grey mist. The final lines are just as relevant today as they were in the 17th century.
"Any man's death diminishes me
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefor never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee."
Biography- supplied by Cryssa Bazos
Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction author and 17th century enthusiast
with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical
Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor
of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog.
Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, is published by Endeavour Media.
Traitor's Knot is the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction)
a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards ( historical romance) and the RNA
'Joan Hessayson' Award.
Sign up for newsletter
Traitor’s Knot is available through Amazon. http://mybook.to/TraitorsKnot
Traitor’s Knot is available through Amazon. http://mybook.to/TraitorsKnot