Yvonne Payne enjoys a duel life between Wiltshire, UK and Kritsa, a village in Crete, Greece. Since 2001, short-term Human Resources (HR) contracts funded long breaks in the sun that inspired her to write creatively instead of redundancy letters.
Secondary school streaming meant English literature classes did not feature on Yvonne’s timetable despite her being an avid reader, and author of eagerly awaited, hand written serialised stories for classmates. Leaving school at sixteen Yvonne worked in retailing, a move that eventually led to her writing company newsletters and training materials to launch her successful HR career.
As a regular contributor to Crete related forums, which included sharing children’s stories based on observations of Cretan village life, Yvonne finally decided time was right to tackle a novel, so she started to investigate the true story of a Kritsa lass who, in 1823, participated in a fierce battle against Ottoman oppression. Research into tales of Kritsotopoula (Girl of Kritsa), plus firsthand experience of Cretan food, customs, mountain hiking, and donkey trekking, delivered the inspiration for Yvonne’s first novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa.
What is your book’s genre/category?
The right answer is historical fiction, but for me that conjures up a vision of men in doublet and hose, with women in low cut gowns and bonnets. Whereas Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, is an historical adventure set on the Greek island of Crete in 1800s, during the rebellion against Ottoman oppression.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
The novel is based on the true story of a young village lass, Rodanthe, who was abducted from her home in Kritsa on the orders of a ruling Turk, who intended to make her his bride. However, feisty Rodanthe was having none of that! Rodanthe tricked her captor, and then fled to the mountains dressed as a young man. After joining rebels as Spanomanolis (Beardless Manolis), she drew on her unusual experiences and rare education to maintain her disguise throughout daring raids. Infused with myths and local flavour this novel also gives insight to customs that still shape many lives in Kritsa today. Perhaps I should add a warning here that the content does reflect those bloody times, and although the ending does mirror the legend, I’ve given it a unique twist.
How did you come up with the title?
Kritsa villagers still commemorate the legendary exploits of Rodanthe annually with a special parade and service, although she now known by the honorific title, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. In light of this, it seemed an obvious title for the book.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
I live a duel life split between Wiltshire in the UK and Kritsa in Crete, and after first learning about ‘our’ local heroine I was disappointed not to find any text in English to tell me more about her. Then a few years later, I watched in awe as fellow Brit villager, Nigel Ratcliffe sculpted the wonderful memorial to Kritsotopoula, now placed at the site of her last battle. This piqued my interest in the story again, so I decided to write a pamphlet to allow summer visitors to Kritsa to learn more about her amazing story. When I found nothing to explain how a young girl could maintain such an amazing disguise my imagination took over, and the pamphlet grew into a novel.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I love writing what I experience, in the way that other people might take photographs. For example, I wrote the description of a spectacular sunrise as it happened, and I’ve completed every walk that I attribute to Rodanthe so that I could write about it from first hand experience. I even rode a donkey as that was the mode of transport in Rodanthe’s day, and for part of the story I cast her in the role of a drover, so I had to know something about the care of these beautiful animals.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
I love big fat novels and wrote one of 150,000 words. Then I had to face up to the fact that as an independent author paying production costs myself, I needed to aim for 80,000 words, ouch! Without doubt, it was hard to cut characters and dispense with big chunks of storyline. However, I think that writing so much before pruning meant that I gained great understanding of my Rodanthe.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I find that a difficult question as I’ve read and enjoyed so many over the years. Sharon Penman – The Sunne in Spendour, Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave, Jean M Aual – The Clan of the Cave Bear, Wilbur Smith – When the Lion Feeds, and Ken Follett – Pillars of the Earth have all met my preference for meaty tales that whet my appetite for the next book in a series. Since living in Crete, I’ve sought out books set in Greece and Crete and while I thoroughly enjoyed the deservedly acclaimed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres I found his Birds Without Wings a compelling read.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
As a child I devoured Enid Blyton books, she sowed the seeds for a lifetime of reading pleasure. That might not be a very sophisticated answer but I think once a child is hooked they’ll treasure reading forever.
Favorite place to write?
Under a shady tree on a quiet Cretan beach, where surf crunches the pebbles. As well as being a scene in the story, it’s a fabulous place for creative phases as I can gaze at my beautiful surroundings when I’m stuck for inspiration.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I can’t speak Greek. I’m ashamed that after spending so much time out there, my skills remain at the same level as a three year old. This means I won’t starve! One reason is that as my husband is now very deaf, so I don’t have someone I can practice with, and English is the second language. I have many Greek language books and CDs so perhaps one day…
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
My own patience surprised me, as I’m usually someone who looks for fast results. I never got bored with revising, editing, even after three big re-writes, I think this is because I was literally learning to write as I went along. I have a very active and pragmatic learning style, so I’m sure that if I’d have set out to learn the theory of writing I’d have been overwhelmed and not started.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I showed my first manuscript to Nigel Ratcliffe, the sculptor of the Kritsotopoula memorial because I knew that he’d be interested in the subject matter. What I didn’t know was that in his past Nigel had been a writer so knew an amazing amount about the process. His feedback after reading developing drafts was an amazing gift that gave me the confidence to continue.
I decided not to spend time perusing traditional publishing, as I wanted to get the book into the Kritsa market place where I’ve judged tourists might buy the book as a souvenir of their visit. This meant I needed to find a good assisted publisher, as I didn’t have the knowledge or time to be totally independent, and I think I made a fabulous decision when I chose SilverWood Books.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Be prepared to invest the time and money it takes to make your book as good as it can be. Even though I chose to publish independently, I wanted it to look and feel like a traditionally published novel. I became increasingly confident as feedback from early readers, and my editor, allowed me to polish the manuscript further, and I adore the cover design provided via SilverWood Books.
My website is now a hobby, and I’m developing it to focus on Kritsa and the surrounding area, rather than just me and my writing. I’ll soon be starting two new features, Meet My Kritsa Neighbours and My Greek Bookshelf, to feature some of the wonderful books that I’ve enjoyed. You can find it via www.kritsayvonne.com
Where can we find your book?
Amazon supplies both paperback and ebook http://tinyurl.com/ofkk7jd
While I’m delighted with the lovely book reviews on Amazon, they only show on the UK site, so if you’d like a peek, they are here: http://tinyurl.com/njxql7m
What’s next for you?
I have written 60,000 words of a sequel called Rodanthe’s Gift, but work on it has stalled as I’m focusing on launching Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. I’m also excited about a forthcoming party in the centre of Kritsa that will act as an official launch, and give me opportunity to thank the villagers who have made us so welcome. The party, during the second week of May 2015, will coincide with the opening of a new museum dedicated to Kritsotopoula and the annual memorial events. You are all invited!
Thank you for a wonderful interview and your kind invitation, Yvonne! One of these days, I will return to Greece. I wish you much success with Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa!
About EleanorParker Sapia
Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.
A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M