A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE. An Interview with Yvonne Payne

Posted in on 19 February, 2016 in News

Author Interview with Yvonne Payne

Yvonne, main photo

Today’s guest on A Literary World: Greece is the delightful Yvonne Payne, an author who shares my love of Ottoman Greece, in particular, Crete.

Welcome Yvonne

1. Where do you live? 

In 2001, my husband and I bought a renovated house in Kritsa, a village on the Greek island of Crete. This proved an excellent decision as we now split our lives between Swindon, UK and Kritsa

From a distance Kritsa takes a scorpion shape

From a distance Kritsa takes a scorpion shape

2. Can you tell us what your novel is about and what inspired you to write it?

9781781322659-PerfectCoverFINAL.inddKritsa has a legendary heroine, Rodanthe, who fought against Ottoman oppression in 1823, disguised as a young man.  The seeds of my novel were two nagging questions:

  1. How did she manage to pass as a man?
  2. What equipped her to maintain her disguise?

My answer to these questions, together with descriptions of her bravery in an epic poem handed down the generations, formed the basis of my adventure novel.

Locally Rodanthe has the honorific title, Kritsotopoula, meaning Girl of Kritsa.  The village cultural association organises an annual Kritsotopoula memorial service at the site of her last battle and this, along with sculptures, paintings, and a road named Kritsotopoula Street, keeps her memory alive.   However, I felt it was a shame there was no written information about Rodanthe for coach loads of summer visitors. With this in mind, I started research with the intention of creating a leaflet…

 I’ve now realised books set in Greece are a genre in themselves, so in a packed market place, I’ll keep my stories based in and around Kritsa to make best use of my accumulated knowledge of local customs, geography, food, and folklore.

3. What is it about Greece that inspires you?

The early attractions of hot summers, warm seas and Mediterranean foods are still big influences, although I now appreciate the cooler seasons for walking and exploring. Living in Crete has allowed me to experience the legendary generosity of local people first hand. For example, a recent knock at our door resulted in a huge bag of tangerines.

4. How did you come up with the title?

The working title for Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa was Rebel to Legend. Then, I created a marketing plan and realised my chief aim was to sell books as a tourist souvenir via a bookshop in the middle of Kritsotopoula Street. In light of this, it seemed sensible to use my heroine’s local name, with the meaning in English as a sub title.

The title of my draft sequel, Rodanthe’s Gift, is named in recognition of her continuing influence in the village. I’m also researching a third novel, set in wartime, when Crete was held by the Axis Alliance of Italy and Germany, this has the working title Kritsa at War. However, I quite expect draft titles to change before publication.

5. How long did it take you to write Kritsotpoula?

This is hard to say as Kritsotopoula evolved over seven years while I was working at a ‘day job’, and I rewrote it several times, as I learnt more about writing. So far, I’ve worked on the sequel for two years; it is set in particularly brutal times and for a while, it made me too sad to continue. Throughout history’s darkest times, there were always survivors, so I introduced an impish child to grow alongside another young character to bring a lighter feel to the developing novel.

6. The Greeks believed that ‘inspiration’ came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Where do you believe inspiration comes from?

Without doubt, my inspiration comes from my experience, even if I have to create the experience to write about it. I have walked every walk I attribute to a character in Kritsotopoula. I witnessed amazing sun and moonrises, and the affects of great gusts of wind that rush down Kritsa high street, and then captured them in words.  I guess it is a bit like method acting, I even went donkey trekking to gain insight to the correct mode of transport. I had real trouble with those scenes I couldn’t experience firsthand, like murder! In those instances I sought autobiographical accounts from people who had fought battles, suffered post-traumatic stress, or been tried for violent crimes.

7. The ancient Greeks created masterpieces in literature of such brilliance – poetry, tragedy, comedy and history – that have inspired, influenced and challenged writers and readers to the present day. Do you agree with this and if so, why do you think they remain an inspiration for later writers?

I had no insight to the classics until I researched local mythology and customs, even so I’ve only dabbled. Recently I read up on the structure of Greek tragedies to gain inspiration for Rodanthe’s Gift. Another British resident of Kritsa is Nigel Ratcliffe, sculptor of the beautiful Kritsotopoula memorial, and I’ve enjoyed hearing how his understanding of classical Greek, myths and legends inspire and guide his work.

8. Visitors to Greece and Greeks themselves make mention of its physical beauty – the light, the wine-dark sea of Homer and a diverse landscape. Would you agree with this?

High in the Dikti Mountains

High in the Dikti Mountains

Donkey Heaven

Donkey Heaven

I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with you here, Kathryn! For ten years, we drove to Crete from the UK, and part of the journey from Patras to Piraeus passes Corinth. This coastal drive is, for the most part, like inhabiting a beautiful painting. I can’t hide my bias though, with its breathtaking views, rugged mountains, tranquil beaches, hair-raising mountain roads and coastal drives, Crete really does deliver.

Pastoral Crete

Pastoral Crete

9. Apart from the world of the gods, the Christian Orthodox religion played a significant role in shaping Greece’s culture. Do you believe that religion still plays an important role in Greek life? Photo – Midsummer festival shows lad jumping the flames from burning May Day garlands. It’s a fertility rite so it should really be the young married women.

As I can see seventeen churches from our house, all used at least once per year, I see religion playing an important part in traditional village life. Our churches relay their services via loudspeakers to ensure all within hearing distance can enjoy them. Most Sundays we hear services from three churches at once! Central to village life is the agricultural and ecclesiastical year, and new villagers like me are welcome at festivals and services. I like what I see as religious pragmatism – there is a lovely pagan festival at midsummer, hosted by a different church each year and it starts with prayers led by the pappas (priest).

Midsummer Madness!

Midsummer Madness!

10. Greece’s history has been a turbulent one and it is often said that “a man is his ancestry”. To what extent do you think this history has shaped the Greeks?

It seems to me that if an element of Greek life is unbearable, be it foreign rule or EU rules, the answer is hunker down until it passes, but if extended family is threatened, fight with all means possible.

11. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?

In line with my above answer, I’d say fortitude, pragmatism, bravery, generosity and loyalty.

12. What part of the research process did you enjoy the most? 

Lassithi Folk Museum

Lassithi Folk Museum.

Absorbing information via books and on line resources was challenging, as it is not my preferred learning style. However, once I started it proved more enjoyable than I anticipated, and it was difficult to know when to stop! My favourite research activities are participative, visiting museums to bring the past alive, talking to villagers, and  walking in the footsteps of history. The crib above features in the book.

13. What are your typical working conditions? Do you have a special place to write and can you describe it for us?

Yvonne's Office!

Yvonne’s Office!

This is my favourite beach. The tamarisk trees along the beach provide welcome shade in the summer when the thought of snow on distant mountains seems impossible.

You won’t be surprised to learn I’m at my most creative in Crete. I’ve written on the back of menus in cafes, and in my notebook while out and about. I spent many enjoyable hours typing on a mini pc under the tamarisk trees on Karavavostasi Beach, Istron, just thirty minutes from home. When I got too hot, I just took a quick dip in the sea.  Other great times for writing are just after dawn on our balcony facing the Thripti Mountains.

One thing I’ve never had is routine, I’d hate to write to deadlines. When it comes to rewrites and editing, I can work on the sofa while others watch TV, or sit quietly in the study depending on how much I want to concentrate.


And a few quick questions:

14. What are your favourite books set in Greece?

I’ve read several books by Cretan author, Nikos Kazantzakis. Of these, I liked Zorba the Greek least and thought Christ Recrucified a fabulous tale taking a brilliant ‘poke’ at people who profess to be Christians as long as the ‘terms’ suit them. Even though I read his Freedom or Death years before I started writing, it acted as a key reference for me.

Other favourites are Ill Met By Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss, and Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres.

I’m a voracious reader of books set in Greece so my list could go on…

15. Favourite type of Greek music?

Stand by for a shock… I don’t really enjoy music! No, I don’t mean Greek music, I mean any music. I’ll hear something and think ‘Oh that’s nice’, but I’m never the one to put music on in the house.

16. Favourite Greek film?

Here’s shock number two… I’m more likely to listen to music than watch a film! The last film I went to see did actually have a Greek link, ‘Mamma Mia’ on a warm evening in the outdoor cinema in Agios Nikolaos.

17. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting? 

The Kritsotopoula Memorial standing on the site of my heroine’s last battle. It was watching sculptor Nigel Ratcliffe preparing to start work on his project that prompted my research for the leaflet destined to grow to a novel.

Kritsotopoula Memorial

Kritsotopoula Memorial

 18. Favourite Greek food?

Salad! There are many more variants than you’d imagine and I can’t make a salad as tasty as those served in local tavernas, even though I buy the ingredients in the local farmer’s market. I think it’s because I don’t allow myself the liberal sprinkling of salt and generous dousing of delicious olive oil.

 19. Favourite Greek drink?

I enjoy traditional raki, not so much for its fiery taste, but for the significance linked to it. For example ‘Thank you for eating here’, ‘Hello it’s good to see you again’, ‘Have a nightcap before you leave’, or best of all ‘So, you like this path by my house, well come in and have a raki’.

This is my mum and my husband, enjoying raki with a man who was pleased to have tourists in his remote home in 2002

This is my mum and my husband, enjoying raki with a man who was pleased to have tourists in his remote home in 2002

 Where can we buy the book?

If you are in Crete you can buy it from Nikos in Nikitakis Gift Shop, Kritsotopoula Street, Kritsa, or from Lynne in Eklektos Bookshop, Elounda. Check with Lynne and Nikos and if I’m in Crete, I’ll sign a copy for you and/or give you a tour of Rodanthe’s Kritsa.

Any good bookshop can order a paperback for you.

You can order a paperback from the UK publisher, SilverWood Books via http://tinyurl.com/kc5puo2

Paperback and eBooks are available from Amazon, and other on line retailers.

If you have any questions, or just want to say hello, you can visit:

Website and Blog http://kritsayvonne.com/

Twitter @KritsaYvonne

Facebook http://tinyurl.com/jsy2org

Thank you for joining us on A Literary World, Yvonne. It’s been a pleasure to have you with us and we look forward to the publication of Rodanthe’s Gift

Thank you so much for inviting me to chat on your blog, Kathryn. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.

Previously on A Literary World Greece:

A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE: An Interview with John Manuel


9781781322963-Perfect.indd“If one day you write my biography, please do not miss to state that I finally grew old by dreaming…”

Nikolaos Gyzis (1842-1901)



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