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Pix & notes: Coughton Court

I visited Coughton Court in 2009, on the first trip I made purely for book research. It was June Coughton Courtand every rose in England was blooming. I was staying in Stratford-upon-Avon and eccentrically insisted on using public transportation to get around. The bus driver on the A435 seemed surprised and disgruntled at having to stop at this unusual place to let me off and rigorously refused to understand my English. Luckily, some of the passengers — old folks with shopping baskets — leapt to my assistance. You don’t get that kind of fun when you drive!

The Throckmortons

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Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, from the National Portrait Gallery

Members of this illustrious family have been living in this spectacular house since the mid-sixteenth century, which makes them ancient in our day, but newly feathered in Francis Bacon’s. The gatehouse was built by Sir George Throckmorton, who found time between sessions of Parliament and opposing King Henry VIII’s break with Rome to father 8 sons and 9 daughters. A busy man!

And a long-suffering wife, Katherine Vaux, daughter of the first Baron Vaux of Harrowden and Elizabeth FitzHugh, descendant of Edward III. Sir George spent some harrowing months in the Tower for his pro-Catholic words and deeds, but he managed to escape hanging, probably thanks to his wife’s excellent connections.

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The irresistible Sir Walter. Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, from the National Portrait Gallery.

 

His successor at Coughton Court, eldest son Robert, was equally committed to the Catholic cause. His Wikipedia page has obviously been edited by a Catholic — the word ‘persecution’ appears repeatedly. Watch out for those loaded words, boys and girls! ‘Prosecute’ is a neutral term describing a legal action. ‘Persecute’ is a drama word, identifying a villain and a martyr. Since two of Sir Robert’s grandchildren and one of his sons-in-law were actually convicted of conspiring to assassinate the queen, I would suggest the phrase “justifiably suspicious of” to describe the attitude of the government toward the Throckmortons of Coughton Court.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was the fourth of Sir George’s sons. He was brought up in the household of Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife and a committed Protestant. (This was undoubtedly one of those child-rearing exchange programs the upper class engaged in back then.) He thus had the advantage of being on board with the new religion from the get-go. He became one of Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted diplomats. His daughter Elizabeth married Sir Walter Raleigh in 1591, getting both her and Sir Walter in hot water with the queen.

The National Trust has owned the house since 1946, although Throckmortons continue to live there today and manage the nursery.

The gatehouse

dining room Coughton CourtI scanned these photos from the National Trust souvenir book. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house ourselves. The exterior pix are all mine. That’s the gatehouse from the front at the top of this post.

The house has a priest hole, but those things are deuced difficult to take pictures of. There is also a winding stone staircase leading up to the roof, whence you’ll find a magnificent view. Apparently this was a popular destination for dinner guests in the eighteenth century. I can imagine women in Regency dresses climbing that stair, or women wearing bum rolls to bell their skirts, but I don’t see how Georgian panniers could possibly fit.

The dining room, like most of the gatehouse, was extensively repaired and remodeled in 1956, bedroom coughton_courtpresumably by the National Trust. The lovely oak paneling and the marble chimney-piece date from the time of Charles I, who was James I’s second son. Bacon must have known him.

This room, called the Tapestry Bedroom, is a composition of Victorian elements. In earlier centuries, that tester would have been the real thing, covering the whole bed to keep rats and other things from falling on you while you sleep. It would support full curtains too, to keep out those dangerous drafts.

The gardens

The house is interesting, but it’s far from the main draw. Coughton Court has extensive grounds and several connected walled gardens, all of which are breathtakingly beautiful, especially in late June, when I was there. The grounds are 25 acres and every inch is beautifully landscaped. There isn’t a view on the property, any way you might turn, that isn’t stunning. I’d love to visit again in a different season.

References

National Trust. 2002. Coughton Court Warwickshire: House and Gardens. Norwich: Jarrold Publishing.

 

It's shorts month!

July, 2017 is the first annual Short Story Writing Month, an exciting new event devised by yours shorts1truly, with the full collaboration of the Austin-based Indie Author Society. It’s a short story writing festival! A short-a-thon! A frenzy of shorts!

We’re challenging each other to write a story a week. Nobody’s coming around to check up, so suit your own pace, but give it a whirl.

We kicked the month off yesterday with a short craft workshop taught by Benjamin Reed, a creative writing professor at Southwestern University. That was for Indie Author Society members only.

If you missed it, be comforted by the wealth of resources online and in bookstores. I’m reading James Scott Bell’s How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career on my Kindle this week. I won’t try to link to the multitude of online how-tos and classes, although I will put in a pitch for Dean Wesley Smith’s course on writing short stories. Expensive, but it shattered three misconceptions I had about myself as a writer, so — worth it.

Myth #1: I can’t write short

fishMy old idea of short fiction was getting my Texas cozy under 80,000 words. Ha! Turns out, short stories are not tightly compressed novels. They’re a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Actually, just one engaging fish, having a singular day or week. Or month. Singular, that’s the key. A short story revolves around a single emotional turning point for the protagonist. Subplots just get waved at, or skipped altogether. Same with series character arcs. A touch; a note. That’s all.

Myth #2: I can’t write fast

This has as much to do with experience as with the length of the work. The more you write, the more you gain skill and confidence. More importantly, the more you get wise to your silly self, so you can cut out the time-consuming agonizing and screwing around. You just sit (or stand) at your desk, put your fingers on the keyboard, and write the dang story. 2K/day is comfortable for me now, and a short story only has 3-8,000 words. Think about it for a day or two, write for a day or three, forget about it for a day, then revise it. A week’s work, with time for many other things.

Myth #3: I can’t write to someone else’s theme

I have a long list of stories wanting to be written. I don’t want other people’s dumb ideas! Also, I believed my imagination couldn’t dance to someone else’s tune. Well, I was wrong. I grumbled about how dumb DWS’s assigned theme was for half a day before forcing myself to think about it, because it was homework and I always do my homework. When I stopped resisting the idea, I found a story to fit that I love so much, I’m going to have to write more stories set in that universe. The river of creativity will provide, if you tear down the blockades.

The moral? Don’t be stubborn about your creative capacity. Challenge yourself from time to time and let it surprise you.

Shorts have many uses

Especially for us indies. We can sell them to magazines, especially science fiction and fantasy, which have an abundance of zines. We make a few bucks, but more importantly, we get our work in front of another audience. It’s like advertising for which they pay you.shorts2

We can offer them to newsletter subscribers as a freebie, which we keep refreshing, because we can write a short in a week.

Shorts make great palate cleansers between drafts of a book. They get your mind into a different world so you stop believing what you wrote in the book is true and can’t be altered, so you can revise the thing the way it needs to be revised. Revenge is not the only dish that’s best served cold.

Shorts are great catalog builders. You can sell them for $0.99, which nets you almost $0.34 a story. That’s riches for ya! Once you have enough shorts to add up to 60,000 words or so, you can collect them into an anthology. You can make a neat little paperback out of three good-sized shorts to sell at local events for $5, giving people get a taste of your writing an an irresistible price. You can even make a booklet out of one short story to put on swag tables at conferences.

You can wear them on your head, you can read them in your bed. You can offer them for free, you can write them up with glee. Go for it and write yourself some shorts this month!