Friday, August 18, 2017

Blog Tour Q&A with Cryssa Bazos, Author of Traitor's Knot

Please join me in welcoming Cryssa Bazos to Let Them Read Books! Cryssa is touring the blogosphere with her debut novel, Traitor's Knot. I had the privilege of offering Cryssa some editorial assistance before the novel was picked up by Endeavour Press, and I could not be happier to see the wonderful reception it's receiving. I recently had the chance to ask Cryssa some questions about her story and her characters. Read on and enter to win a signed paperback copy of Traitor's Knot!

England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.

Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Traitor’s Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.

Can you tell us what first drew you to the English Civil War period?

I have always felt a strong connection to the 17th century and have gravitated to books set during this time period. The era was a time characterized by exploding literacy, scientific discovery and exploration. The war accelerated this social and political change. People started to question their loyalties, place in society and relationship to God. This was an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change. Historically, times of great destruction, like world 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 England, Scotland and Ireland. About a quarter of a million people died, either directly or indirectly. You think about homes being destroyed and civilians becoming collateral damage, but the more insidious enemy was starvation. Thousands of troops required free quarter and ate up most of the winter stores. It must have been an impossible situation for the women and children that were left behind facing starvation. What made it even worse was that it struck so close to home—the enemy wasn’t a foreign power coming to invade and thereby rallying the people to defend the country. Instead, the war divided families and communities, the very connections that are ingrained into us from birth. England had had civil wars before: the Anarchy and the War of the Roses to name a couple, but those conflicts were nobles fighting against nobles to found a new dynasty. The English Civil War was the first time when commoners and noblemen jointly rose up against the monarchy.

Do you think you would have been a Royalist or a Parliamentarian?

I have to admit that I’m a bit conflicted over it. I first learned about the English Civil War after reading Twenty Years After, the sequel to The Three Musketeers. Two of the musketeers (Athos and Porthos) were sent off by Queen Henrietta Maria to save her husband, King Charles I, who was imprisoned by Parliament. They very nearly did save him, and I found myself caught up in the adventure and the heartbreak of the defeat. So I started reading up on the English Civil War, firmly in the Royalist camp, and it wasn’t hard to stay there because of Charles II, who became a complete fascination of mine. And yet, the more I read about the war, I began to question my sympathies.

The Parliamentarians had at first mostly wanted reform, and their proposals looked a great deal like the Constitutional Monarchy that Commonwealth Nations have today. This is the system of government we have in Canada, and in my opinion, it works quite well. As well the Levellers (also on the Parliamentarian side, at least during the war), lobbied for equal rights for all English men (for women, it was more contentious) and you can’t deny that this is the foundation of our democracy.

Given both of these issues, I would have sided with the Parliamentarians were it not for the extreme fringe members that rejected moderate reform. These Independents (later called Puritans), were seeking a religious catharsis and using Parliamentary reform to realize it. Extreme factions seem to be by-products of revolutions and steamroll through moderate attempts at reconciliation. Look to the French and Russian Revolutions for more examples of this. This group was instrumental in Charles I’s execution and for propping up Cromwell, who became a de facto king during the Interregnum. For this reason, I would have stayed on the Royalist side.

Were your main characters, James and Elizabeth, based on or inspired by real-life historical figures?

I find that my characters, though mostly a creation of my imagination, include a composite of different people, living and otherwise.

Elizabeth Seton was not fashioned from a historical figure, though her strength can be found in many English Civil War heroines who had to defend their homes and families. She has a love of the earth and all things herbal, which came from me. I’m an avid gardener, and I’m fascinated by the medicinal properties of plants. The old herbal remedies may sound odd, but I believe there was a great deal of knowledge handed down across the ages as to what worked. But her courage was inspired by stories of my grandmother’s perseverance during WWII. The women who stayed behind and kept things working were every bit as courageous as the men who left for war.

James  Hart was inspired by the real-life 17th century Royalist highwayman, Captain Hind in that he robbed from Roundheads to avenge the deposed King. However, my James quickly evolved from the original inspiration to become his own man. I saw him as a more disciplined man, one who had been well educated and not opposed to a hard day’s work. My James had been estranged from his family because of politics rather than from a lazy desire to seek his fortune in London Town.

James also has elements of my favorite Greek hero, Odysseus, who was beloved of the goddess Athena for his clever wits and cunning. If there was a way to win without resorting to brute force, Odysseus was your man. I admire a hero who uses his head to turn things around. But I also consider James conflicted and wounded by the double edge of honor, in much the same way that D’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers had to maneuver between duty and devotion.

You drew some inspiration from the Alfred Noyes' poem "The Highwayman." Can you tell us what moved you about that poem and how its influence can be seen in the story?

I loved that poem from the first time I read it! Every time I see a full moon floating above a section of clouds, I quote, “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.” That poem probably also spurred my love for the moon, but that’s another story. For those who don’t know the poem, it’s the ill-fated love story between an 18th century highwayman and a landlord’s daughter, Bess. There she stands by her casement window as her lover visits her at night, plaiting “a dark red love-knot in her long black hair.” He tells her that he’s off to steal some gold (not exactly an admirable quality, but that’s what highwaymen do) and he vows to return to her the next evening: “Look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.” Now I’ve completely forgiven him for his crimes if he’s willing to brave the underworld for her.

The next afternoon, before he is due to arrive, King George’s redcoats come to the inn and use her as bait to capture the highwayman. Bess can’t free herself to warn him that he’s heading into a trap, so she instead kills herself with a musket just as he’s approaching the inn. Though he is alerted and gets away, when he finds out that she’s dead, in a fury, he charges the redcoats but is shot dead on the highway. A tragic end for these two lovers.

There are a number of elements in this story that pull at the heartstrings, and I couldn’t help but be inspired by it. A secret romance is guaranteed to get me all misty-eyed. The secrecy makes it more poignant, especially when there’s danger if the relationship is exposed. I also love how both characters in the Noyes poem sacrifice themselves for each other. Bess clearly preferred to kill herself than to see her lover die before her eyes, and I feel that the highwayman in the poem knew that his charge against the redcoats was doomed to fail and would result in his certain death, but he didn’t care. He threw everything into that last attack. In Traitor’s Knot, both James and Elizabeth are willing to sacrifice themselves for the other, but I’m not telling how this story ends.

One final note, Loreena McKennitt wrote a haunting, poignant musical score to accompany the poem. I often listened to that song for inspiration.

Did you come across any surprises in your research?

Oh yes! One of the most intriguing aspects of the period known as the Third Civil War is the escape of Charles II after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Cromwell was beating the countryside to find him and offered an incredible £1000 reward for his capture. Charles managed to elude him and after six weeks, finally escape to France. During this time, servants, papist families and local Royalists sheltered Charles.

Early on, I had James, my highwayman, as a character firmly in mind, and there was no question that he’d be fighting at Worcester. I then thought, what if he was one of the people who helped Charles escape? Then I started reading more about the 17th century highwayman Captain Hind who had been hanged for fighting for the King in Worcester. Before his arrest, rumors had been circulating around London that he had helped the King escape after the battle, though he denied it. My idea, then, was plausible. I was off to the races.

I was nearing the end of my first draft and stopped to research a bit about the city of Worcester when I stumbled across a letter written by the Venetian Ambassador of Paris to the Doge relating how Charles finally arrived in Paris. The ambassador wrote,

“He [Charles] relates that after the battle, he escaped with a gentleman and a soldier, who had spent most of his days in highway robbery and had a great experience of hidden paths.”

I was completely blown away by this little tidbit, especially since none of the accounts of Charles’s escape (and there were many and written years later during the Restoration) mention that a highwayman had accompanied him. Any doubts I had about inserting my fictional character into a well-documented event evaporated after finding this.

Which scene was the hardest to write, and which was the most fun?

The last batch of scenes I wrote for the final draft fall into both categories. The hardest one to write was one scene in the opening. After being cut off from his men at the Battle of Naseby, James Hart manages to escape and tries to skirt around the enemy position. He ends up finding a contingent of Roundheads who had just attacked the King’s baggage train. While James is debating whether to take them on or quietly continue on his way to rejoin his regiment, the majority of the Parliamentarians leave with the goods, leaving one small group struggling to move the wagons. After James dispatches them, he discovers what had happened to the baggage women. This was a controversial event of the war when, in the heat of battle-lust, the Parliamentarians attacked the camp followers (women) left behind with the baggage train. War is never civil, but there were conventions. This went beyond any acceptable rules of warfare at that time.

What was extremely hard in writing that scene was getting across the depth of James’s horror and shock without making it melodramatic. I really had to put myself in his shoes and imagine what he would have seen. In the end, I focused on the juxtaposition of the (benign) everyday domestic utensils and the horror of the dead women.

At first, he only registered the clothes strewn on the ground—cloaks, skirts, and aprons trampled into the mud—and he wondered at the rebels for scattering them. Then, with a slow, creeping horror, the truth set in. These weren’t just clothes—these were women—at least a hundred. Their camp followers—all massacred.

On a lighter note, one of my favorite chapters (also born during the final draft), was where James escorts Elizabeth to the home of an impoverished Royalist family to treat a widow for gallstones. The family has been barely managing since the father (and breadwinner) was killed during the war, leaving the widow to raise their five children. Though her oldest son is nearly a man, the mother is the glue that holds things together, and being laid up has set the family back even farther. Elizabeth comes from a long line of healers and has been sent by her aunt to tend the woman, who has been unwell herself. James is a former Royalist officer, and prior to this scene, you see his frustration against the new Parliamentarian regime and how he strikes out against them on the highway. Leading up to this chapter, Elizabeth has been trying to keep a respectful distance from James. He is not the man for her, she believes, given his dangerous lifestyle. She wants to move forward, not look back, and build a new life after the war.

What I love about this chapter is that it is a quiet moment when Elizabeth and James really get to know each other while they work together to help this family. James works out in the fields to get the plowing done, while Elizabeth tends the widow and takes the younger children in hand. Elizabeth gets to know a different side to James and starts to open her heart to him. This time is also a badly needed healing balm for James as well, and he is drawn to her warmth and caring.

James slipped outside alone and sat on the doorstep. The first stars were coming out, and a sliver of a moon rose in the evening sky. He was tired after a long day in the fields, but he felt more at peace than he could ever remember.

Elizabeth’s voice drifted from the second floor as she readied the Norton children for bed. Already she had made a difference. It wasn’t lost on him how the Nortons hung on her every word—he couldn’t blame them; he did too.

On the morrow, he would take Elizabeth back to Ellendale. He’d have to return to the Chequer, and his normal life wouldn’t have the same flavour it once did. She had a soothing way about her, and he didn’t realize how much he craved this serenity until now.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the next book in the series where I take one of the minor characters in Traitor’s Knot, the Scottish moss-trooper Iain Johnstone, and follow where he ends up after the Battle of Worcester (where we last saw him).

After the battle, thousands of Scottish soldiers were captured and thousands more died. Many of those who were imprisoned were given the choice of rotting where they were or being shipped to one of the colonies as indentured servants. The likelihood of surviving imprisonment was slim at best, so the colonies, backbreaking labor though it was, represented some chance for survival. I decided that I could have sent Johnstone to Massachusetts or Virginia, but I instead shipped the poor man to Barbados to work in the sugar fields.

In a similar vein, I’ve created a new character, a young Irish woman who is rounded up during Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland and also shipped to Barbados. The exotic setting appealed to me, and there was an opportunity to rekindle the fight against Parliament in the Caribbean (not so much in the northern colonies), which serves the series very well. I’m looking forward to exploring themes about slavery and freedom in this novel.

And if you’re wondering if we see James and Elizabeth in this next novel, I certainly intend so.

Traitor’s Knot is available in eBook & Paperback at Amazon

About the Author:

Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). She blogs about English history and storytelling at her blog, the 17th Century Enthusiast, and is an editor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog site.

Cryssa’s debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, a romantic tale of adventure set during the English Civil War. Traitor’s Knot is the first in a series of adventures spanning from the ECW to the Restoration and is now available from Endeavour Press.

For more information visit Cryssa’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed paperback copy of Traitor’s Knot! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on August 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US & Canada only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Traitor's Knot

Traitor's Knot is on a blog tour


  1. Thank you for a very interesting interview.

  2. I loved, loved, loved this interview! Thank you, Jenny & Cryssa!

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