What is the first book that made you cry?
While it wasn’t the first book to make me cry, Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery was the one book that truly left me heartbroken. For those familiar with Anne of Green Gables, Rilla is Anne and Gilbert’s youngest child. Rilla of Ingleside is a coming of age story set in PEI during WWI. With her brothers and secret crush going off to fight in France, Rilla is left behind to do her part on the home front. The story is at turns funny, bittersweet and tragic, especially when her favourite brother, Walter, dies in Courcelette. I destroyed a box of Kleenex by the time I finished the story, and to this day whenever I re-read it (and I have many, many times), I still end up sobbing over it. Rilla is such a real character and her love for Walter is equally real. This wasn’t only Rilla’s loss, Walter belonged to us too. I think the most powerful aspect wasn’t the initial shock of his loss, but that Rilla had to find the strength to carry on, even though a piece of her was buried with him under the poppies. I’m misting up just thinking of it now.
Do you want each of your historical fiction books to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?
I’m doing a bit of both. Both Traitor’s Knot and Severed Knot have been written to be enjoyed as standalone stories and yet they’re linked by theme and an overarching goal to see the monarchy restored. Characters cross-pollinate both stories, and this will continue in the next novel. A new reader will not need to know the background when they meet the character, but those who have followed the books in order will, I hope, greet them like an old friend. The reason why I haven’t made these books true sequels is that I didn’t want a reader to be put off from starting the latest release if they haven’t read the previous instalments.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated historical fiction novel?
Daphne du Maurier’s The King’s General isn’t as well-known as Rebecca or Jamaica Inn, but it is, in my opinion, one of her best. Set during the English Civil War, The King’s General is the story of Honor Harris and her complicated relationship with Richard Grenville, the eponymous King’s general. A historically contentious figure, Du Maurier brought Grenville to life on the pages. Love him or hate him (and he gave many people cause for the latter), under Du Maurier’s pen, he was compelling and multifaceted. One of the most memorable scenes in the novel was Honor playing a high stakes card game with her nemesis while Parliamentarian troops searched the premises for a fugitive. Instead of risking a fortune, the two women wagered over the fate of the young man. Absolutely brilliant tension and writing.
What kind of research did you do, and how long did it take you?
Severed Knot takes place on a 17th century Barbados sugar plantation. My characters were forced into indentured servitude and had to endure backbreaking labour, disease and deprivations. Primary sources of Colonial Barbados exists thanks to the accounts of an English traveller, Richard Ligon, who had made the trip to Barbados in the years that my story takes place. Ligon was deeply curious about all aspects of life on Barbados and captured details about indentured servants and slaves, what they ate, how they were clothed and housed, their daily routines, sugar production and how plantations were organized. The information was invaluable. But I could not rely only on book learning. I travelled to Barbados and toured St. Nicholas Abbey, a 17th century plantation and visited a social history museum in Speightstown. Even though the Barbados of yesterday does not resemble the tourist destination of today, I believe touring a place and engaging all the senses adds authenticity.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Some characters must be named before they take shape, while others need to grow in my mind before they can grow into a name. Iain, one of my main characters in Severed Knot, started as a side character in my first novel, Traitor’s Knot. Initially he was a Highlander, but as the story developed, I realized that I needed him to be from the Scottish Borders, so his last name needed to change. I started researching Border clans and grew interested in the Johnstones. In the 16th and early 17th centuries they were border reivers and during the British Civil Wars were Royalists. This clan history suited the character I had in mind. Initially the men I sent with Iain to Barbados were amorphous until I started picking out names. I searched for surnames that were common around Dumfries, where this crew hailed from. One character in particular didn’t take shape until I gave him a byname: Masterton the Younger, “an old grizzled man…who still answered to the Younger, long after his even more grizzled sire had been laid to rest.”
What’s the best thing a reader has said about or written to you?
In one of the early reviews for Severed Knot, a reader said she had a major book hangover and couldn’t stop thinking of Iain and Mairead after she finished. The few times I’ve experienced a book hangover has been when I’ve been so deep into the story world and the characters that it’s almost painful to come up for air and wrench myself away. Having a reader say that she had a book hangover from a story I wrote is the biggest compliment anyone could possibly give to my work.
Tea or Coffee – Both, but my true indulgence is loose leaf tea from Whittards. Happily they do international delivery.
Dark or Milk Chocolate – Mostly milk chocolate, but the best chocolate I’ve had is Purdy’s dark chocolate caramel with Himalayan sea salt. You have to come to Canada to get it.
When were you the happiest? My wedding day. It was the start of a new story
Favourite Children’s Book. Anne of Green Gables. Anne-with-an-E still has a special place in my heart.
Favourite Adult Novel. Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave. Her descriptions are breathtaking.
For more information about Cryssa and her 17th Century best-selling historical fiction novels, visit:
Amazon Author page: https://author.to/CryssaBazos