Travel to Barbados with Cryssa Bazos
Travel with Cryssa Bazos Severed Knot set in Barbados
We’re going to Barbados today! Hang on though..this might be paradise but Barbados in the 17th century was nothing like it is today. There was war, upheaval and conflict galore….
A fascinating time for an author of historical fiction….
Why is location important to the story?
Severed Knot takes the reader from the British Isles to the West Indies. Both main characters are caught up in different aspects of the War of the Three Kingdoms (English Civil War). Iain Johnstone is a Scottish Prisoner of War who was imprisoned at Tothill Fields after the Scottish army was defeated by Cromwell at Worcester. Mairead O’Coneill is staying with her country cousins in Munster during the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland, but a troop of marauding English soldiers have seized the estate and Mairead finds herself on a ship bound for Barbados. This is where her path crosses Iain’s.
The story mostly takes place in Barbados, where Iain and Mairead are sold to a plantation as indentured servants. Barbados in the 17th century was not an easy place and being “Barbadoed” was a grim sentence. The setting is as much Mairead and Iain’s enemy as any antagonist in the story. It also serves to bring the two characters together as they work together in the sugarcane fields and learn to appreciate each other’s strengths.
What kind of research did you do?
I was very fortunate being able to rely on the contemporary account of Richard Ligon, an Englishman who lived in Barbados from 1647 to 1650 which was only a couple of years before my story was set. Ligon had a keen curiosity about all aspects of life on Barbados, from the flora and fauna, to how people lived, including the indentured servants and slaves, and the material life on the island. I found his account to be an invaluable. His accounts were incredibly detailed, and I was able to easily visualize how life was back then.
I also took the opportunity to visit the island—a hardship, I know. What we do for our art. I happened to visit during what was probably the hottest month of the year (August) and took notes of the sensory world around me. Because I was there during a scorching month, it was not hard to imagine how horrible it would have been for anyone to labour in the sugarcane fields especially if they were not accustomed to the climate.
Where did you go to research?
I took the opportunity to visit St. Nicholas Abbey, a 17th century sugar plantation which is beautifully preserved and open for tours. The manor is one of the oldest Jacobean homes in North America. The plantation itself was the inspiration behind my fictional plantation, Mount Vale and walking around there helped me visualize where my characters would have lived and worked. I also spent some time in Speightstown and visited Arlington House Museum which had a wonderful social history exhibition.
How do you write setting into your book, how do you evoke it and get the details right for the time?
Setting revolves around a character. What they see and what they react to is largely based on the circumstances of their world. It’s such an important facet of my writing that unless I can visualize the setting through the character’s experience, I can’t get the scene right. I also rely on my own experiences. Some writers love to eavesdrop on conversations to get an ear for dialogue. I am absorbed by the physical world around me and it leaves an emotional imprint on me. I try to evoke those feelings for my characters.
What led to your fascination with this kind of history?
There was something that kept pulling me back to this story. I originally put this story aside to start a different one after Iain Johnstone’s role in my first book, Traitor’s Knot, had been scaled back. But while I was working on the other story, I kept thinking about the Scottish prisoners taken after Worcester and their fate. There is a great deal of interest and research concerning those prisoners who ended up in America, but no one was writing about the prisoners who were sent to Barbados. You could say that those prisoners kept calling me and Iain’s voice was the loudest. I knew I had to tell this story.
Could you have lived in those times? What would you have liked or hated?
The mid-17th century was a time of great upheaval taken with civil war and its ugly aftermath. It’s always better to read about “interesting times” than to actually live them. But I wouldn’t have minded hanging out for a little time during the early Restoration, to experience the euphoria of a young, once exiled king, finally reclaiming his hard-won throne.
What about your characters living in modern day?
I love this question! A strange thing happened when I finished my first book. I started imagining what my characters would be doing in the modern day. It didn’t occur to me that this was part of my process until the same thing happened when I finished Severed Knot. I’ve come to realize that when my story is truly complete, my main characters walk off the page of their history and I start imagining what their lives would be like in the present day. I’m not sure if this helps me to let them go or it’s a way to celebrate that they made it.
So what would Iain and Mairead be doing if they were transported to the here and now?
Naturally, they’d still be together, especially after everything I put them through. Mairead’s love for the violin is timeless and she plays the fiddle in a Celtic folk band. Iain’s profession came as a bit of a surprise and immediately inflamed my imagination. Meet Iain Johnstone, lead singer and front man for a rock band called the Moss Troopers. His men (everyone survived in the present) are members of the band. I see Glencross on lead guitar, Killean Ross on rhythm guitar, Masterton the Younger on bass, Angus Rae would play keyboards and even Dunsmore would be on drums. As for the picture on their album cover – a black and white and grainy photograph of the band clustered around Iain. Oh if only I had the time and design skills to mock up the cover.
Where can readers go in the present day to ‘ see’ your book. Places, museums etc
To follow the book trail for Severed Knot, you’ll need to travel to Barbados. The first stop on the tour would be St. Nicholas Abbey, the 17th century sugar plantation that served as the inspiration for the plantation where Iain and Mairead were indentured. The next stop on the tour would be Speightstown where Iain visited to scope out his escape plan. And last, but not least, walk around historic Bridgetown. Although my story predates the buildings you would find there now, it should give you an appreciation for how Iain and the others might have experienced Barbados for the first time.
Where do you live and write? Where inspires you?
I live in Southern Ontario, Canada. What has always inspired me is the beauty of nature, from the woods, to the lakes (and we have many here) and golden fields under a bright summer sky. When taking nature walks, I’m always searching in my mind for ways to describe what I’m experiencing.
Do you visit a lot of historical sites – which ones?
Whenever we travel anywhere, I always look to delve into the history of the place. Here in Canada, there are forts and garrisons, but we’re a relatively young country. I always look forward to visiting England which is steeped in history. Just last summer, I took a trip to Northern Wales, where one of the characters from my next book will have come from. We hopped on the Ffestiniog Railway and although the mining town we visited (Blaenau Ffestiniog) would have sprung up a century later, the views up the Highlands sparked my imagination.
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Severed Knot