A feisty young Greek girl defies the ruling Ottoman Pasha by refusing to marry him. She flees his capture, escaping into the rugged mountains of Crete where dressed as a man she joins with rebels to overthrow Ottoman rule.

This is the historical back drop to Kritsotopoula a novel by Yvonne Payne, telling the story of the young girl Rodanthe, a local herione and local legend, who is still celebrated in the village of Kritsa today.

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From the Press Release:

Infused with myths and local flavour this historical adventure gives insight to customs that still shape many lives in Kritsa today.
Here’s what two of the Five Star Amazon reviews say about this book:

‘This novel, based on the true story of Rodanthe, known as Kritsotopoula, the girl of Kritsa, catches the breath with its authenticity. ‘

‘All the components are there: a feisty heroine, passion, love, suspense, glorious landscapes, history, violent battles, struggles for survival and pathos.’

I wanted to find out more about the story of this mountain girl in Crete and the writer behind it

Yvonne Payne

Yvonne Payne

Interview with Yvonne Payne

Rodanthe is your inspiration but how did you learn about her story?

These days people know Rodanthe as Kritsotopoula, bear with me and I’ll explain her name change.

Back in 2001 when Kritsa shopkeepers and cafe owners started to recognise my husband and I were around more than usual tourists, our conversations often led to the fact we’d bought a house in the village. When we tried to explain where we lived, in a mass of alleyways without road access, the eventual response usually included a comment, ‘Near Kritsotopoula’. Of course, I didn’t know who or what Kritsotopoula was.

Before long, we joined a tour of the village guided by local British woman and found ourselves outside Kritsotopoula’s house. What a shock, after all the hype it was a locked ruin. A peek through the barred window showed a few ancient enamel utensils hanging haphazardly on a wall. Our guide then told the captivating story of Ottoman times when a Pasha (ruler) fell in love with Rodanthe’s singing and ordered her kidnap, intending to marry her. Our girl was having none of that and managed to escape to join the mountain rebels, disguised as a young man. The sad ending was the ‘youth’ fell in battle at a place called Lato, just 3 km from Kritsa, where grave injuries revealed her secret. The fact a woman fought so bravely became an inspirational legend, and Rodanthe became known as Kritsotopoula, meaning Girl of Kritsa.

This story would probably have remained a snippet of local information for me, except the local cultural association commissioned the Kritsotopoula Memorial now standing on the battleground. British sculptor and Kritsa resident, Nigel Ratcliff carved the amazing monument and I was fortunate to watch it progress from lump of limestone to exquisite sculpture. Realising the importance of Kritsotopoula, I set out to learn more, but due to the tradition of passing the story orally via an epic poem, there was nothing available to read. This set me off to create a leaflet about Kritsotopoula for the local cafes to share with tourists. However, the nagging question of just how a woman passed herself off as a male caught my imagination, and before I knew it, I was writing a novel.

There isn’t much written in English about the history of these islands how did you do your research?

Around the time Nigel was carving the monument, a descendant of Rodanthe’s family, captured the poem in print to ensure its survival. My rough translation of the poem wouldn’t have provided me sufficient detail, so I’m grateful to Nigel who shared his much finer translation. I made sure to include the key points of the poem in my novel and a few I omitted will find their way in the sequel.

My research fell under two headings, academic via the internet and books while in the UK and ‘fieldwork’ conducted over many visits to Crete. I can’t imagine how anyone can write historical fiction these days without extensive use of the internet and I loved the way one line of investigation led to another. Most monasteries and museums have excellent guidebooks, and Cretan recipe books contain great insight to the when, why and how of different foods.

My husband joined me on trips to museums, churches and monasteries, and we enjoyed extensive walks to follow in the footsteps of Rodanthe and her comrades. Local people in the various locations also provided insight to their history.

People loved our interest in their skill or local history and were keen to share information. For example, I visited the Historical Museum in Heraklion only to find their recent refit was incomplete and the Ottoman section closed. A proud curator asked how I liked the museum and on hearing my disappointment, she lifted the barrier to allow me access. While at the museum, I bought a paperback copy of History of Crete, 1994 by Theocharis, and this was a great help to get the facts of the time straight. Of greater value for insight to life and grisly death under Ottoman rule, I referred to Travels in Crete by Robert Pashley a 19th century English traveller. Incredibly these volumes are available to download free of charge via Google Books.

How easy was it to turn back the clock and describe the areas as they were when Rodanthe was walking the paths?

So much of Kritsa and the surrounding area is unchanged I virtually described what is available to see these days. A cafe in Kritsa used to display a very old black and white photo of Kritsa. This allowed me to see what areas were free of buildings circa 1910, and then I ‘took away’ buildings I knew for sure were not in Kritsa in the early 1800’s to give me a good idea of Kritsa’s shape in Rodanthe’s time.

The old cobbled track from Kritsa up to the mountains still exists and by walking it, I learned how long the journey would have taken. The same is true of Kritsa Gorge and the track up to the monastery where Rodanthe went to school. As for the alleyways around Kritsotopoula’s house with black clad women sat on doorsteps preparing vegetables, all I needed to do was take away a parked moped, imagine a donkey and I was in 1822.

How have the villagers of Kritsa responded to your novel?

Now this was a point that bothered me. I worried people would be affronted by me taking their story as the basis of a novel. Some months before publication I had the opportunity to chat to a local newspaper journalist; I took the plunge and told him. A week later, as I walked down the main street, I realised he’d published the story as various people beckoned me over to show me my photo in the paper. Some business owners even left customers to shake my hand! I was very fortunate that the journalist wrote a piece that was supportive and emphasised how much I loved ‘their’ story.

Now I am proud that Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa is for sale on Kritsotopoula Street.

The culture here is very different from the UK, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt from living on Crete?

Ha ha, people who know Greece probably expect me to recount stressful times waiting for workman who didn’t turn up on time, or at all. I think I’d rather focus on the spontaneous generosity to ‘strangers’. We are still amazed at gifts of home cooking and produce, or an invitation to take a drink if we pass a remote home. The few times we’ve had urgent or hard to resolve problems such as a tyre puncture or loss of water supply, people have gone out of their way to help us.

The people of Crete have a reputation for being fierce and independent in nature how have you experienced this?

Don’t tell a Cretan what they must do… they won’t. Painted lines for parking bays are ignored, traffic bollards squashed, speed cameras spray-painted, and the list goes on. Every Easter Sunday evening about 7.00 p.m. brings loud, illegal, dynamite blasts high above the village. Police try to stop it so the exact site changes. This year arrests prevented the explosions. Of course, blasts awakened folk in the wee small hours! As I found no conclusive reason for the dynamite blasts during my research I made up a scenario for the novel that is as believable as anything else I heard.

You’re currently working on a follow up to Kritsotopoula tell us about it?

Without a poem for a framework, I floundered for a while, uncertain of the direction for a sequel, especially as the dark and turbulent period after the Kritsa battle brought dreadful atrocities from both sides. Eventually I realised I wanted to answer three questions.

  1. Why did Rodanthe’s father, the local pappas (priest) hold himself ultimately responsible for her premature death?
  2. What part did Rodanthe’s young friend Petros and his father, Captain Kazanis have in the continuing rebellion.
  3. What caused the mysterious death of Hassan Pasha, leader of the oppressors soon after the Kritsa battle? Check any history book of the time and they have no answer as to why he fell from his horse…, but I do

There’s still an unladylike amount of blood and gore, and another unusual love story.

How did you get your novel published and what advice would give on the process?

After contact with other authors and investigation into the likelihood of getting a traditional publishing deal, I decided to go independent. This means taking control of the process, not necessarily doing everything yourself, and that’s good as I’d not have known where to start. I soon realised there were companies I could work with to get a professional quality book on sale in Kritsa, and after considering many different options, I chose to work with SilverWood Books, an industry leader based in Bristol, UK.

I’ll pass on advice I benefitted from… use a professional editor, very few people can effectively edit their own work.

You currently split your time between Crete and Wiltshire would you ever consider moving permanently to Greece?

When we first bought our holiday home, we thought at some distant time we’d move to Crete. Then altered work circumstances enabled us to spend three months a year in Kritsa and we experienced the benefits of a dual lifestyle. Three years ago we decided to split our time more evenly, and this meant downsizing to a small flat in the UK to enjoy the best of both worlds. We intend to continue this as long as health and finances permit.

Where is your favourite place on Crete?

Although the obvious answer is Kritsa, I’ll say the Dikti Mountains around the Katharo and Lassithi Plateaus. Thanks to my husband’s willingness to drive rough roads and walk remote paths, we have seen a great deal of this area with barren, rugged, and fertile areas presenting breathtaking, far-reaching, and beautiful views.

If you could visit anywhere else in Greece where would you choose?

I’ve a long list! As we used to drive to Crete, and alter routes slightly each time, I’ve been lucky to see many fabulous places. However, the one place I really want to see is Meteora. I’ve seen photos of the area and I’d love to see the amazing geology first hand. Rhodes is also high on my must visit list as I’ve read much of its history, so I’d love to see it for myself…and have coffee with you of course, Amanda.

What’s your favourite Greek food?

Greek vegetable recipes are so tasty, I love them all, especially those with fresh or dried beans.

Finally what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I’d say, treat writing and publishing a novel as a hobby, while aiming to make the end result the best you can, then if you gain commercial success it’s a bonus.

Yvonne Payne and her husband bought a house in the back street of kritsa, a village that nestles in the foothills of the Kiti Mountains in the east of Crete in 2001. from their small balcony their breath-taking view looks out across cluttered rooftops, a huge church, olive groves, and the distant sea, all framed by the Thripti Mountains. Yvonne now retired splits her time between the UK and Crete.

The book is available from Amazon and other online retailers, plus shops in Kritsa, Elounda and Sissi on Crete.

You can find out more about Yvonne and follow more of her writing on her blog.

Have you read a good Greek book recently? Would you like to know more about the author? If you enjoyed this post and found it useful please comment and share. Thank you

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