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Severed Knot shines a light on colonial Barbados

Interview with historical novelist Cryssa Bazos

 

Once in a while I read a novel that is so captivating I can’t get it out of my head. I carry the characters around with me, savoring the experience and marveling over the story. Severed Knot by Cryssa Bazos is one of those rare books. It shines a light on a shadowy corner of history—the 17th-century era when Irish and Scottish prisoners of war were shipped by the English to Barbados and forced to work on plantations as indentured servants. The story features a blazing romance, vivid depictions of life on colonial plantations in the Caribbean, plenty of drama, and some truly excellent high-seas swashbuckling. So naturally I jumped at the chance to bring Cryssa on my blog for an interview. Enjoy!

AM: Welcome, Cryssa!

CB: Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Amy! 

AM: What’s the tagline or super-short blurb description (“elevator pitch”) for your book?

CB: Forced into indentured servitude, two prisoners of war, Mairead O’Coneill and Iain Johnstone, discover passion in each other’s arms as they struggle to escape from Colonial Barbados. 

AM: What inspired you to write about that particular era or character?

CB: In Severed Knot my main character, Iain Johnstone, is a Scottish prisoner of war. He appeared as a secondary character in my first novel, Traitor’s Knot, where he was last seen heading off with his men to defend the southern access to Worcester against Cromwell’s army. The city falls and the king escapes, but the fate of this character is an unanswered question. I always had a soft spot for this gruff Scotsman, so I wasn’t ready to see him disappear. As well, I wanted to explore the fate of those who became prisoners of war (and there were thousands), especially the men who were shipped to Barbados as indentured servants.  

AM: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

CB: Thank you for the compliment! To me, setting is one of the most important aspects of historical fiction. In this genre, readers want to feel that they’ve stepped into the past, to experience a world that no longer exists and become immersed in it. As I’m writing, I try to imagine how my characters engage in their world: what they see, what occupies the place around them, and how they react to their material world. To help me build this world in my mind, I dig into research which includes diaries, travel stories, and historical accounts. I also like to travel to the key areas that I write about (in the present day, not the past. I haven’t quite managed to start the Tardis). While I’m exploring the area, I take notes about topography, as well as flora and fauna. Any details, however minor, make the setting authentic.  

AM: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research? (Or perhaps both?) 

CB: For me, it’s both. At the early stages, the history shapes the story that I want to tell, and the events dictate how I want my characters to be engaged. This helps me to loosely plot out my story before I start writing. But in the course of writing, the characters may have other thoughts and the original plan needs to be modified. For example, in Severed Knot, I fully intended to throw my characters in the heart of a very famous hurricane, but no matter how much I contrived to put them there, it never served the story, so I had to modify the initial timelines. 

I tend to do most of my research as I go along when I realize that I need to know something very specific (i.e. where my prisoners of war would have been kept and what they would have been given to eat). It’s easy to get lost in the rabbit hole, and in the end, very little ends up on the page, but I feel that the essence of what isn’t on the page still shapes the story. 

AM: Do you have any tips for other writers about historical fiction research?

CB: I love diving into historical research as does everyone who writes it. But sometimes too much of a good thing is not really a good thing. Here are two tips I live by:

  1. Don’t feel the need to research everything before starting to write. The story will likely diverge by the time “The End” is typed. Instead, take the ‘need to know’ approach. Start with a general understanding of the era/age/events to get the story on the page, then drill down to research the specifics that the story demands. 
  2. Give yourself permission to exclude tidbits of research if they do not reveal character or further the story. Holding onto a bit of information as a safeguard to prove that you’ve done your research is not a good enough reason to include it. These extra historical bits become info dumps and ‘As you know, Bob’ moments. Maintain a Bob-free zone. 

AM: Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

CB: I am a huge fan of both Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart, the former for how she crafts complex characters, and the latter, for her gorgeous descriptions. They both share the gift of creating stories that are taut with suspense. 

AM: Why do you write historical fiction?

CB: Because I don’t have the Tardis [a fictional time machine]. If I could go back in time to experience the past, I would, like a shot. Instead, I use the next best thing—historical fiction. On a more serious note, exploring the past through story helps us to understand our present. It gives us context and perspective when trying to decode a modern world. 

AM: What do you have planned for your next writing project?

CB: I am currently working on a third novel which initially started as a novella. The story is set in Ireland during the final months of the Irish resistance against the Cromwellian invasion (mid-17th century). Irish irregular troops, called Tories or Tóraidhe, used guerrilla tactics to wage a war of attrition against the English. The conflict affected everyone, most especially civilians. There is an important link to Severed Knot and is another aspect of the War of the Three Kingdoms. 

I also have to get back to working on a full-length novel featuring Nathaniel Lewis, a character who appeared in both Traitor’s Knot and Severed Knot as a secret agent. That novel will be full of spies and intrigue.

Severed Knot is currently on sale for just .99c/.99p. Find it here:

Amazon: https://mybook.to/SeveredKnot

Kobo, Nook, Apple: https://books2read.com/SeveredKnot

Learn more and connect with Cryssa Bazos:

Website: https://cryssabazos.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cbazos/

Twitter:  @CryssaBazos https://twitter.com/CryssaBazos

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Cryssa Bazos says:

    Thank you so much, Amy, for having me on your blog!

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      My pleasure, Cryssa!

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