Category Archives: Researching next book

Beryl Darby Meets Kazanis

STOP PRESS: Less than one hour before scheduled publication of this post I was shocked and saddened to learn Nikos Massaros, a generous man to the people of Kritsa, died today. My first instinct was to delete this post as it features a meeting with him. I decided to continue with it as a personal thank you to a special man. May your memory be eternal, Nikos. You will certainly be missed. X

wp-1448437265394.jpegAs Christmas is almost here, I wanted to write a special post. It is ten years since I’ve been in Kritsa for Christmas, and although I love this village nativity scene, I’ve used it before.  In the end, I steered away from traditional Christmas greetings to share the warmth of a fabulous day spent with Beryl Darby, author of Yannis, a novel set in Crete on the leper island of Spinalonga.

143725467Over the past few years, Beryl and I have enjoyed a day out in and around Kritsa. As a prolific writer of novels set in Crete, Beryl is always keen to absorb local folklore, and visit  places that might be useful in a future novel.

First stop with Beryl was a visit to the house where Rodanthe, (heroine of my novel Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa) lived in the early 1800’s. Now the house is a museum I’ve a sneaky feeling a future character of Beryl’s will pay a visit to this iconic corner of Kritsa.

If you want to visit the museum take the main road through Kritsa, it is called Kritsotopoula Street, follow this until it becomes a pedestrian alley, then continue to the end to reach the museum.

 

 

Nikos Massaros, a descendent of Rodanthe’s family, led a group of dedicated people to bring the museum to life, and this was our lucky day as he was inside to answer questions. Close to this house is the small church of Afentis Christos where Rodanthe’s father used to be the pappas (priest). The church doesn’t look much from the outside, but the new roof and plaster protect wonderful remains of frescos.

DSCN1303.jpgIn this photo, Nikos and Beryl view the information board placed outside of the church. To see the frescos you’ll need to attend one of only two church services per year on the evening of 5th October, or the morning of 6th October...perhaps I’ll see you there. To read about my first visit to the church in 2015, post renovations CLICK HERE.

 

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Beryl is a keen admirer of our local sculptor, Nigel Ratcliffe, and on a previous visit enjoyed seeing his amazing carving of Kritstsotopoula. Nigel now has another exquisite piece of work showing Captain Kazanis and his rebels, including ‘my’ Rodanthe situated high in the mountains. If you’d like more details, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, my husband kindly drove Beryl and I up to the mountains.

After the Katharo Plateau we stopped to admire the hazy view of Lassithi below, and soon had the company of many inquisitive goats.

 

 

Parking near Nigel’s fabulous sculpture I was mesmerised by two men sat under a nearby walnut tree. I had written a similar scene in my draft novel, Rodanthe’s Gift.

 

Petros, my fictional son of Captain Kazanis, sat in this very spot with his special friend:

Leaving their donkey to graze, the youngsters rested against the skeletal remains of a walnut tree.
‘Did Turks burn this tree, Petros?’
‘No, it was a lightning strike.’
Did nothing last? He remembered the thick trunk, with long guns resting against it, while Pa lolled in welcome shade with his men, all guffawing as they drank raki, plotted and schemed. A lump in his throat prompted him to change the subject. ‘Today we’ll reach my home and I can’t wait to see Zacharias.’

DSCN1343.jpgBack in the present day… The men under the tree beckoned us to join them and proffered plastic cups of raki. Well, it would be rude not to!  This photo shows one of our hosts lobbing a rock at walnuts to provide a fresh snack to nibble with the raki – delicious and thought provoking. As a result my novel now has the following scene.

 

‘What are you doing, Petros?’
‘It’s a walnut. I’m planting it in the ground.’
‘You’re crying. Why are you sad?’
‘Kazanis Spring must have a walnut tree. It will be a memorial for Pa.’ He dabbed his wet cheeks, chuckling at a sudden memory. ‘I almost killed him once when I lobbed a rock to bring walnuts down. I missed the nuts and hit his head.’ He gave his backside a subconscious pat at the memory of a thrashing. ‘Such a long time ago. I’ll just water this before we leave.’

DSCN1349.jpgHere’s Beryl mingling with Kazanis, Rodanthe in disguise, and the rest of the rebels. Beryl’s mind was racing too as she made a mental note of a story line where a visitor’s car broke down at this remote spot.

Next we drove further along the dirt track as there was another key scene in my story I wanted to share with Beryl.

A magnificent weather sculptured head looks out across a ravine towards Zinia. Through a gap in trees you can glimpse the church where Rodanthe cut off her hair to improve her disguise as a young man. I found out about this head too late to mention it in Kritstopoula, Girl of Kritsa, but it is in the sequel. While looking around, sharp eyed Beryl noticed another ‘face’ on the back of the rock. I was more interested in watching one of the hunters we’d seen earlier descend a path to the ravine. Now I knew how Petros could get from the church at Zinia to this rock head. I love it when story lines fall in place.

 

Christmas is always such a rush, so I hope reading this blog post has given you a short break. Whatever you do to celebrate the season, have fun.  I shall use spare time to continue tidying up Rodanthe’s Gift ready for publication in 2018. If you’d like me to let you know the date of publication send me your details via the contact form below.

 

Finally, thank you for visiting my blog, it means so much.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2018.

New Missolonghi Hero

Many museums and monuments in Greece close on a Monday, a fact I’d totally overlooked when planning my Missolonghi research day. Not only that, it was May Day, a public holiday. My husband, Alan tried to cheer me up suggesting we go to the museum anyway, perhaps there’d be useful information outside.

To my amazement the door was open and my hopes rose when a man stepped forward proffering a guidebook for €8. With my camera around my neck he had me sussed. ‘Sorry, no photographs!’

I couldn’t help telling him I was excited to visit the museum as I’m writing a book.

‘About Lord Byron?’

‘Yes, but especially the final siege.’

He stared for a moment, digesting my answer. Then his demeanour changed. ‘Really? You know about the siege? Come, bring your camera. I’ll show you.’

We enjoyed a private tour resulting in loads of photos to digest at leisure. My new hero, Dimitris has worked at the museum for thirty years, his passion tangible.

I’d previously seen some of the key exhibits and paintings via the internet, you’ll not find me complaining about Wikipedia! However, most value came from paintings, and memorabilia not seen unless you visit the museum. A glass cabinet containing the silver chalice used for the last communion had me entranced, shame the rebounding camera flash rendered the photo useless…but I saw it and it’s lodged for later use.

A renowned dandy, Byron (below left) loved to dress up in different uniforms and his portrait painter was a permanent member of his entourage.  My favourite portrait (below right) was of leader of the Souliot force, General Nótis Bótsaris.

The most valuable insights came from paintings showing the city’s topography. Over 9,000 people were besieged in Missolonghi. My original thoughts that they’d all be crammed together changed once I saw these paintings. The area behind the walls was free of houses, a big clue to how the residents managed to survive nightly bombardment.

I’d previously read about an attack by 2, 000 Ottoman troops against the off shore island of Klisova, on 6 April 1826. Now I’ve seen the museum’s painting of the attack and read the information provided I’ll certainly include the grisly episode in my novel.

Just a few days later, on the eve of Palm Sunday, the Christians realised they had to break out, come what may.

On a more lighthearted note, here are some photos taken at our guide’s insistence:

When Dimitris unfurled these flags with a flourish he announced, ‘The flag of Spetses.’ I earned another brownie point when I replied, ‘Ah, home of Bouboulina.’ As a remarkable shipping captain Bouboulina ferried goods and arms across the Mediterranean to support rebels. She has a cameo appearance in Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and she’ll pop up in book two.

RICOH IMAGING

Finally, Dimitris ushered us inside this formal office, previously used by Missolonghi mayors. It was an effective breeding ground for higher office as six former mayors became Greek President. Perhaps Dimitris saw presidential potential when he insisted Alan take a seat.

Thank you for your hospitality Dimitris, I’m indebted to you.

Come back next week for the scenic journey to Delphi, with hidden gems on the way.

Missolonghi Heroes

Missolonghi is a walled city, towards the Corinth Gulf, where British poet and philhellene, Lord Byron died in April 1824. A year later the city was besieged a third time by combined Turk and Arab forces. After holding out for twelve months, starved and desperate citizens followed their beleaguered fighting force in the now famous exit  on the eve of Palm Sunday, April 1826. Although circa 7,000 people attempted escape less than 1,000 made it to safety. Hundreds of women and girls became slaves, and a macabre display of severed heads adorned the city walls.

Many of those who could not flee, including children and elderly, gathered in the home of Christos Kapsalis, who ignited powder kegs to prevent them being captured alive.

RICOH IMAGINGThe ‘Sacred City of Missolonghi‘ has a wonderful Garden of Heroes. Once a battle site it now forms a tranquil space to stroll and contemplate. Among the plaques and marble memorials I found this simple stack of kegs a very moving tribute. These heroic acts are commemorated annually with a parade through the town culminating in a re-enactment in the Garden of Heroes.

These dreadful events inspired poet, Dionysios Solomos  to write his poem Free Besieged, the foundation of the Greek national anthem.

Research for a sequel to Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, sparked my interest in Missolonghi when I discovered that one of my characters, Cretan rebel leader, Captain Kazanis played a part in the siege. I soon realised fact was better than any plot I could dream up, now all I need to do is find a way to get him there…

Missolonghi sits on the edge of a huge lagoon – an amazing geographical feature.

Walking within Missolonghi’s walls gave shape and scale to a city far larger than I’d imagined from academic research. I even looked down cannon barrels to see where Ottomans camped . When Ibrahim Pasha demanded the city surrender their famous response was, ‘The keys to the gates dangle from the tips of our canons’.

In a garden full of memorials I was delighted to find the pillar dedicated to Notis Botsaris; in my version of events he and Kazanis become brothers in arms.

RICOH IMAGING

Next stop, the Museum of the History and the Art of the Sacred City of Missolonghi. Lord Byron had a club foot, and thanks to the museum I’ve seen his shoes – I’ll certainly use this fabulous detail.

It’s no good, I can’t do Missolonghi justice in a single blog post. Come back next week when I’ll take you inside the museum to meet my new hero…