How Research Gave Me the Home I Didn’t Want and the World I Needed in Baddesley Clinton Manor
All I needed was a place for my magical family in This Crumbling Pageant to live. I knew it was a manor house of some sort, that they were wealthy, that they didn’t live in London. I’d never heard of Baddesley Clinton.
The Fury family is known for its extraordinary music, its powerful magic, and its historic role as kingmakers. But the Furys have their secrets as well, none so dangerous as Persephone—the daughter whose Shadow magic spills from her, unchecked. Unless her powers are concealed, she’s not only ruined in Society, but marked as a target for those who would use and abuse her magic.
I knew they would need to live somewhere that she could be hidden.
I happen to love Tudor/Elizabethan architecture so decided arbitrarily that their manor house at least existed that far back, and had those influences.
That was the last arbitrary choice I made.
I googled ‘Tudor manor houses’ and found several that were lovely, just the kind of place I imagined for the Furys. But I couldn’t imagine—nor could I find adequate floor plans to imagine—how they would actually live inside. Sleeping chambers, public rooms vs family, etc. Since several were also National Trust properties with guidebooks, I sent off for six of them. And I found that most of them didn’t actually have multiple bedrooms. They still had much the same structure they’d had when built, before children had their own bedrooms.
There was one notable exception: Baddesley Clinton. It had a nice floor plan that showed three, possibly four bedrooms upstairs. There was also a problem. It was a big, square hulk of a building without the wonderful Tudor touches I saw in my mind’s eye. This was not my magical Fury home.
At this point a couple of friends asked, what difference does it make? You’re making this up, Pooks. You can make up bedrooms. You can make it look like you want. You can take the outside you like and the floor plan you like and put them together. Why do you need a floor plan, anyway?
Yes, one of the very first books I ever bought when I decided to be a writer was The English Medieval House by Margaret E. Wood. Mind you, I never expected to use it, because I couldn’t imagine myself writing something set in historical times or in England, but it was something I loved and something that made me feel “writerly” and I bought it. So I had been filling my head with research bits for a couple of decades. Yes, technically, I could wing it.
My problem is, I actually can’t do that when world-building. My brain doesn’t work that way. I have enough problems trying to move people through a space I can see in my head. I can’t write about a place that is fuzzy in my head, or isn’t in my head at all. I need some walls to guide me, some visuals, some significant details to make the place come to life, something to hang an emotion on.
What’s more—making it up, winging it, makes thin fiction.
And here, with Baddesley Clinton, is one of the best examples why.
Baddesley Clinton wouldn’t let me go. It kept telling me, “I am everything you need and more. I have a moat. A library. Enough bedrooms. A coffin room!” And I finally sighed, gave up on my romanticized Tudor manor house and accepted the grim reality of Baddesley Clinton.
I chose it because it had been refashioned to hold a family, with three bedrooms and a chapel upstairs. Voilá! The chapel became the fourth bedroom, the room shared by Persephone and her older sister Electra. In my world, it still had an altar shoved up against a wall. It still had stained glass and an image of the ‘Christian virgin’ though Persephone prefers to think of it as an image of Aphrodite, since the Magi in my magical world worship the Greco-Roman pantheon of deities they brought with them first in the Roman occupation, and later with the Norman invasion.
Because it intrigued me more as a former chapel. It was more interesting. It had history to be plumbed.
Baddesley Clinton was a Catholic home, complete with three priest holes in which to hide their clergy and Catholic friends from persecution. How could I not use priest holes? And even though at first glance, Henry VIII’s issues with the Catholic church had little to do with my story, it ultimately had everything to do with my world.
All because of Baddesley Clinton and its chapel, its priest holes, its Catholic history.
That is where the foundation of my Magi world was born.
Prior to Henry VIII, the magical people of England lived amongst the Ordinary people in the Ordinary world. Bardán Fury, a rogue of an Irishman (and don’t ask the Irish about him, unless you want to have your ears blistered!) served in Henry VIII’s court, and later in Elizabeth I’s.
When Henry destroyed a Catholic lord who wouldn’t give up the Catholic faith and accept the Church of England, Henry confiscated his estate, and gave it to Bardán Fury as a boon for his loyalty and services rendered.
If Christians turned on Christians, killed them, confiscated their properties and destroyed their families over what Bardán considered more politics than religion, what would they do to him and the Magi once they realized there were magical people amongst them? Oh, the irony, that had Henry known the truth about his loyal servant, he would have had him burned at the stake for witchcraft, instead!
Bardán was nobody’s fool. So he used his considerable charm and diplomatic skills to convince the Magi to withdraw, to erase their footprint from the Ordinary world, to live separately with their own king.
An entire history of my magical world began spinning onto the page, all because I needed a house for my Fury family to live in, a place where they could hide my heroine, Persephone Fury, and keep their family’s shame a secret. And that’s why I love research. Because the awkward facts, the ones that don’t fit, often make the author work harder, be more creative, find a less obvious and more exciting plot twist or emotion.
In April of 2011 I actually visited Baddesley Clinton. I’d already completed the book, so this was more for sentiment than research. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d imagined. Walking across the moat, through the gatehouse and into the inner courtyard was a revelation. The exterior was a big hulking square of a castle. The interior was as rich with with Tudor detail as any house of my dreams.
Is it exactly like the Erinyes Manor of This Crumbling Pageant? No. My imagination and my research did take over and Erinyes Manor is definitely its own place. For one thing, Erinyes Manor still has the medieval wing that no longer exists at Baddesley Clinton, leaving one side of its structure with nothing but a high wall separating it from its moat.
But to be walking in the place where it all started, to see the library where Persephone began her education, to see the moat that generations of Fury sons (and one particularly intrepid daughter) crossed at night to go on adventures?
That was magic.
Originally published Day One of my blog tour,
May 4, 2014, on Word Wenches
who have been blogging together since 2006 ,
making them one of the longest-running group
author blogs on the internet.