The Development of The Crow Folk

How long did The Crow Folk take to develop? A lot longer than you might think. In this second part of the highlights of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, I talk about false starts, rewrites, junking old versions, nearly self-publishing, and how some notes from my agent changed my mind.


Hello, folks, welcome to the second part of the highlights from the episode of the Bestseller experiment, we talked about all about this thing.

And in this one, we talk about the development of the book, how long it’s been swishing around in my mind, versions that I got rid of, how it was nearly self published. And we feature notes from my editor. All of this in about eight, nine minutes. It’s jam packed. So do please enjoy…

That’s really what I wanted to ask as well. Mark, a bit about this come up a lot, actually. And people are very curious about how the book was developed. And and Mike Revell,
thanks for your question. Mike, he said, I’d love to know more about your writing process for the book. Now, if I’m if I’m not mistaken, this book was written with the two
hundred word a day challenge, wasn’t it?

No, that’s book two.

That’s book two.

Yes, yes.
Way ahead.

Yeah. But this this was well, the thing is, I had as I said, I had entire drafts of scripts and novels dating back over 10 years and I just got sick of rewriting the same thing over and over again.

So I got rid of it all.

You just what you just chucked it all away?

You just said, well, it’s filed away.


Yeah, very little of those… The village is the same, the name of the village, some of the magical background, but essentially most of it’s gone. Did you actually go through a process as you as you were archiving those notes of saying, what am I going to keep from this? Or was it just..

Yes, yeah. But you kind of think, OK, what’s evergreen? What’s what’s going to… What’s the good stuff? And there wasn’t a lot of it, although one of…The story might come back for book four or five if I get there, you know, because that there’s something about that story that I do want to come back to. But it will be told from Faye’s point of view, not the creature’s point of view. So because I was going for kind of a Swamp Thing vibe with with the original and it just didn’t work. And anyway, so so I had I had all these old drafts and pretty much all of it was jettisoned.

So interesting. And so how did you how did you kind of go through the process from initial notes to outline and draft? Mike asks.

Well, it was because it’s the first in a series, I kind of saw it as a bit of a superhero origin story. Faye finds magic, learns how to use it against a terrible foe, her first real test as a character. And I spent a little time making sure I had the main characters right. I kind of discovered where I wanted her to be by the end of the book, and I did pretty much jump into it. So it wasn’t… I didn’t outline very much. I’d outlined The End of Magic heavily, as you know, Back to Reality. We outlined heavily because we were working together. This was this was much lighter. Now, I was… I’ve been prepping this all afternoon, so I did try and find notes and it’s been quite hard to find where I made the switch. I basically started this in December 2018. That was the point where I think I jettisoned all the other stuff, looking at the different old Scrivener files, you know, so and that draft, that, that first draft I found is pretty similar to what’s been published. And also the other thing is I had planned to self publish, inspired by our own Ian W Sainsbury, friend of the podcast, award winning author. I was going to do a quick release, three novellas, Boom, boom, boom, because and I think what helped was mentally, I was thinking, okay, these are going to be short about forty five, fifty thousand words,
so just jump in and have fun. And I did. I had loads of fun.

So that was, that was the thinking behind that one.

It’s just.

Go for it.

And how many words in the book One? you remember how it turned out.

There’s a little story behind that. And Rhoda asks a question later on about how… Because I got to about forty five in the end it ended up at about sixty five. So still quite short.

But actually Rhoda asks she says, I heard the book started out as a novella and ended up being a full book. Is that right.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

So how did you go about extending it.

Good question. And I did dig out my notes. I’ve got my email from Ed. So let me let me read you…

Ed being your agent, correct?

Yes. Yes.

Ed Wilson, the lovely Ed Wilson. And this is great. So I and I said to him up front, I want to self publish this, but have a look at it and see what you think. And I got his email. He said nothing too major, but all ties into my big point. Why is this book only forty five thousand words? Woodville is completely effing brilliant. And he has, bless him, starred out out the “uck” there. He says tonally, tonally spot on.

Just in case it ever got read out on a podcast.


He’s always thinking ahead.

Yes, he’s a smart man, is Ed.

Yeah, he says tonally spot on, perfectly realised, structured and paced, deliciously readable. This is cozy fantasy. The genre mash up we didn’t know we needed the characters zing off the page. You develop a real emotional connection in such a short space of time. I was in pieces at the end, you bastard, which is great.

He’s just written the blurb right there.

And we’ve talked about the praise sandwich on here before. You know how you give criticism. You start with this is good. You know, there’s a but coming thundering over the horizon. OK, so he says but there is sooooooo… I think there’s seven O’s in that so and it’s all in caps. So that’s more you can do because you’ve limited the work and you don’t have time to properly establish the setting before you get stuck into the plot. We need to see more normal village life, more Dad’s Army war preparations, more vicars and oversized veg and tongue in cheek Archer’s style village politics before the talking pumpkins appear, or rather before the villagers see the talking pumpkins. The way you’ve written it, we have the big reveal and the fantastical events go above ground within the first third of the book. And in a book this length that’s too soon, you’re giving up too easy and losing the fundamental tension of what is and isn’t real. Who is and isn’t barmy. When you have more twists and turns, more tension around who and what Faye, Charlotte and Mrs Teach … Those are the witches… Are. You can keep structure and tone the same. Fundamentally, that doesn’t have to change. Just add more tension, intrigue, spooky goings on. Sow seeds for future books. And then once you’ve established the series, you can do pretty much what you want. This first book is vital to establish the series. You’ve got to properly establish it. Book one is too important to have it dismissed as just a novella. So this was great. And I had a manuscript from him marked up all the way through with notes all the way through. So that was my jumping off point to answer Rhoda’s question. It was, you know, the the tension, the questions. I was kind of giving it all away too quickly and just dig a little deeper as a result.

So I’ve got a I’ve got to say, you know, that is the reason why you try and get an agent, because so many people think so many think agents are just, you know, you give given the book and then they go and flog it. You know, they go off and they have a beer or a glass of wine with with their connections. And then they try and sell the book over lunch. But people don’t realize that good agents are your best friends and your best, you know, constructive critics as well. And it sounds like, Ed, at that point in the journey really gave you the crossroads to say, look, these are all the things you can do without. I mean, if somebody is self publishing without an agent, for example they wouldn’t have known where to go at that point. They may have just put it out as a forty five thousand word self published and missed out on what potentially could have been the most incredible ride of their life. So that’s absolutely fantastic. And what a great insight as well to hear that stage of the journey at that point. Absolutely brilliant.

Thank you, folks. Really hope you enjoyed that. All sorts of fun stuff coming up in future episodes, including how I worked with historical language. Writing a book without any swear words. That’s a first for me. I’m comparing my different publishing experiences. So that’s know working in crowd funding and self publishing and traditional publishing, looking at how those all work and all sorts of other good fun stuff. So do please subscribe and I’ll see you next time.

The Crow Folk Audiobook – An Exclusive Clip

I can’t being to tell you how much I love the audiobook of The Crow Folk as read by the wonderful Candida Gubbins. Here’s an exclusive clip… The audiobook is available from all the usual audiobook retailers and libraries.


Hello. I’m out for a walk in some slightly inclement weather. Anyway, The Crow Folk is out. Thank you to everyone who’ s bought a copy, has read it, and said nice things, and came to the launch parpy… party! It’s your book now. So thank you so much. Available in eBook, paperback and audio! Which I suspect is probably the best way to enjoy the book. It’s read by the wonderful Candida Gubbins. We’re gonna listen to an exclusive clip of it right now. It comes from in the middle of the book.
They’ve all just seen The Crow Folk and And no one can quite agree what they’ve just seen. I’d like to remind you, the book is set in the summer. In an English summer. Not like this. So do please enjoy!

Chapter 14, The Heart of the Village.

Woodville had a perfectly good village hall. Rebuilt after a fire in 1932, it served as a venue for village council business, the Woodville Amateur Dramatics Society, wedding receptions and children’s parties. It had electric throughout, parking spaces for two motor cars and even one of those fancy indoor lavvies. For the big emergencies, though, the good villagers of Woodville knew there was only one place they could gather for a rational debate.
The Green Man pub was the real heart of the village and most of Woodville’s residents had squeezed themselves inside to harrumph and rhubarb about the bizarre events they had just witnessed. It was the noon-till-two lunchtime session and the pub hadn’t been this busy since New Year’s Eve. Faye held the fort at the bar while Terrence popped down to the cellar to change a couple of barrels.
‘Travelling folk, I reckon. Passing through,’ Bertie Butterworth said and got a flutter of uhms and aahs in vague agreement from the gathered throng. He had dried out since this morning’s little adventure in the river.
‘Do not disappoint us, they said.’ Faye folded her arms. ‘That sounds like a threat to me, and we don’t take kindly to threats, do we folks?’ This got a rousing chorus of Yuuuurrrsss from the Local Defence Volunteers, who had also dried out. They could only recall a slight altercation between Mr Marshall and Mr Baxter when asked how this morning’s training had gone. Bertie was the same. Faye brought it up when he ordered his pint and he scrunched his nose and frowned, half-remembering that something odd happened, though he wasn’t quite sure what. Why was she the only one who remembered the way the starlings put out the fire? Faye could understand the older men forgetting. At the forefront of their minds were Dunkirk and the war. They had been champing at the bit for a scrap since the retreat, and if they couldn’t fight Nazis, then a bunch of strangers dressed like scarecrows making threats would do for the time being thank you very much. But Bertie should have remembered. 
‘Ignore ’em,’ Bertie said, a voice of reason. He got a few boos from his LDV comrades. ‘Why pick a fight? They’ll be gone soon enough.’
‘I don’t think they’re going anywhere, Bertie.’ Faye fixed him with a slightly miffed stare and the boy wavered, slurping his cider, unsure why she was suddenly so cross with him. ‘And I don’t think they’re travellers,’ Faye continued, wanting to scream that they were clearly scarecrows, but also remembering what Mrs Teach had told her about folk only seeing and hearing what they wanted to. She caught Mrs Teach’s eye. The older woman was watching her from the end of the bar where she nursed a sherry. ‘And that name. Suky. I’m sure I’ve heard it before. Anyone here know a Suky?’ The villagers all looked to one another and in moments the pub was hosting a shrugging contest. ‘They called themselves crow folk. What does that mean?’ More shrugs.
‘A circus, I reckon,’ Terrence said as he emerged from the cellar. ‘I almost ran off with the circus when I was a lad, y’know?’
‘The circus?’ Faye squinted at her dad through her specs. ‘Since when?’
‘They came here when I was a little older than you. Had a bit of a fling with a woman who could put her ankles right behind her ears—’
There was a splutter as Bertie choked on his cider, followed by a raucous jeer from the men in the bar. Mrs Teach, who had been uncharacteristically silent since the departure of the crow folk, raised an appreciative eyebrow and sipped at her sherry.
Faye raised her voice. ‘Can we get back to the subject: a marauding band of scarecrows just demanded we hand over poor Mr Craddock.’
‘Gypsy folk, Faye,’ Terrence said with a stern voice. ‘It ain’t nice to call ’em scarecrows.’
‘Poor Mr Craddock?’ Mrs Teach spluttered, breaking her silence. ‘Let me tell you, young lady, he’s not poor, and he doesn’t deserve our sympathy. He is a brute. A cruel brute. He’s a proper scoundrel, and there isn’t a person here who’s not had an unpleasant altercation with the man.’
‘That’s right,’ Miss Burgess said. ‘When my Matilda was sick, he said I should wring her neck and be done with her.’
‘Bloody hell,’ Terrence said as the rest of the pub gasped along in disgust. ‘Hang on, who’s Matilda?’
‘One of my chickens.’
‘He kicked my Mr Tinkles,’ Miss Gordon cried. ‘Called him a flea-bitten moggy.’ This got some murmurs of sympathy, though there were few in attendance who hadn’t been gifted something short, brown and smelly by Miss Gordon’s cat. 
‘He started a salacious rumour,’ Mr Hodgson began, and the pub’s patrons held their breath in anticipation of the punchline, ‘about my knees.’
‘He let the tyres down on my brand-new Austin hearse,’ Mr Loaf, the usually jolly funeral director declared. ‘Said it was in his way, so quite what he hoped to achieve by making sure it couldn’t move, I don’t know. Delayed old Mr Gregg’s funeral by an hour. Most distressing.’
‘I once saw him tip over Kenny Finch’s milk cart in an argument about clotted cream,’ Mr Paine said, idly sucking on a humbug. ‘Two miserable sods at each other. Hate to say it, but that was quite enjoyable to observe, actually.’
‘He was always mocking my Ernie’s height,’ Mrs Teach said, a faraway look in her eyes. ‘Shorty, titch, half-pint. Every time he saw my Ernie there was a new insult, but my Ernie took it all in his stride and with a smile. I can assure you that while my Ernie may have been lacking stature, he was a big, big man.’
No one knew quite where to look. They had heard the rumours about Ernie, too.
‘Another sherry, Mrs Teach?’ Terrence offered.
Mrs Teach slid her glass to him.
‘I like to think the best of folks,’ Bertie said from behind the dregs of his cider, ‘but if being a miserable bugger was an Olympic sport, then Mr Craddock would get gold, silver and bronze.’
‘And he was going to thump me one last night, but that’s no reason we should hand over one of our neighbours to these . . .’ Faye looked over to her dad, ‘Gypsies.’
‘It’s simply none of our business,’ Mrs Teach said. ‘If they’ve had a contretemps with Mr Craddock then let them have it out. We should, like the Swiss, remain neutral.’
‘Like that Mr Hitler had a contretemps with Poland? And France? Like that?’ Faye could sense her father’s disapproving glare – never disagree with a customer – but she couldn’t let this stand. ‘And what if they decide to have a little disagreement with you, Mrs Teach, hmm? Should I turn a blind eye then, too? We’ve never taken kindly to threats round here and I don’t see why we should start now. Especially with these scarecrows.’
‘Gypsies,’ Terrence corrected.
‘Scarecrows, Dad. One of them had a bloomin’ great pumpkin for an ’ead. I saw it, like you all did. I don’t care if it’s real or what, but if they dress up like scarecrows and act like scarecrows, I’m callin’ ’em scarecrows. So what are we going to do about it?’
‘I don’t see what we can do,’ Terrence said with a forced chuckle. Faye couldn’t fathom why he was laughing at first, then she recalled seeing him do this with unhappy customers in the past. He had always told her that if anyone got a bit tasty then first try distracting them by changing the subject and having a laugh. Just pretend you hadn’t heard the insult or threat and no one would feel they had to deliver on any angry promises of fisticuffs. It was an old trick, but he had never tried it on his own daughter. He was attempting to shut her up like she was some common saloon bar brawler. ‘But I can see young Bertie needs another half o’ cider.’ Terrence slid Bertie’s empty glass towards Faye.
‘Ooh, thank you very much.’ Bertie grinned.
‘Good health.’
Faye scowled at her father, but he gave her a jolly wink and raised his head to address the whole pub.
‘Mrs Teach is right. There ain’t a person in this room who’s not had a run-in with Archibald Craddock,’ Terrence said. ‘And who’s to say they don’t have him already? Anyone here seen him today? No, me neither. And if he’s got some sort of beef with these Gypsy folk . . .’
Faye sighed, surrendered and poured Bertie’s half.
‘. . . then knowing Craddock, he’s prob’ly having a scrap with ’em now in a barn somewhere. That’s how he settles things. Queensberry Rules. Let them have it out fair and square and not stick our noses in.’
‘Hear, hear,’ Mrs Teach said. ‘One shouldn’t go poking one’s nose into other people’s business, Faye. It’s not ladylike.’
Faye spluttered at the hypocrisy of the nosiest woman in the village. ‘Well, I wonder why you of all people, Mrs Teach, wouldn’t want anyone digging deeper?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘I saw that fella with the pumpkin for a head tip his hat at you as he wandered off,’ Faye said. ‘Looked like he knows you well enough.’
‘I cannot account for the behaviour of others.’
‘There must be some reason why he singled you out.’
‘Perhaps he knows a lady when he sees one.’
‘P’raps he—’
‘All right, that’s enough, Faye.’ Terrence’s voice boomed as he took his daughter by the shoulders and steered her away from Mrs Teach. ‘Collect the empties and wash them up, please. I think we all need to—’
A heavy thud came from the roof of the pub.
Everyone froze and glanced at each other to make sure they had all heard it, too.
Everyone looked up.
It became an avalanche of impacts, all piling on top of one another, each one making Faye’s heart jolt. People murmured and clustered together, and then from outside came a scream. Faye hurried around the bar, wriggled through the crowd, pulled the doors open and dashed outside.
She found the elderly Mrs Pritchett out walking her two Yorkshire Terriers. The dogs whined and the old lady was trembling, her eyes wide in terror.
All around her, and littering the whole cobbled street, were starlings. Dozens of them, lying still with their little legs stiff. Some twitched in their death throes, their wings broken.
Mrs Pritchett found her voice. ‘They just . . . fell out of the sky.’

Chilled to the bone and encrusted with dried mud, the fugitive Craddock crawled along the edge of the marsh stream. He hadn’t seen hide nor hair of those scarecrows for hours and he would be home soon. His shack stood at the edge of the wood on the other side of Therfield Abbey. When he got there, the first thing he would do was feed the stove, change into dry clothes and finish off the bottle of rum he had stashed away in a box under the bed. He would try and forget whatever the blazes he had witnessed this last night and if that meant more rum, then so be it. He would forget and never speak of it again.
As Craddock clambered up the slippy bank, there came a heavy splash from the stream. Craddock looked back, only to see rings of water spreading out from the impact. A kingfisher, perhaps, or a carp coming up for air. He resumed his climbing when he heard another splash. Then something bounced off his head and he cursed.
It fell to the ground before him. A crow. Its blue-black feathers spread out in flight, frozen in death.
Birds began to fall all around him, tumbling from the sky, bouncing off branches and rolling dead to the ground. There was only so much strangeness a man like Craddock could cope with and so he ran, fuelled by fear. Scrabbling from the stream, he dodged through the wood, dead birds still falling all round him, thumping down on his head, crunching under his boots. He came to the winding path, then up uneven stone steps to the arches of Therfield Abbey, a Norman ruin with broken stone walls that rose around him.
The birds no longer fell, though the ground was littered with their bodies. Hands on his thighs, he leaned forwards to catch his breath, then dropped to his knees. His fingers trembled, his head pounded and his breath scratched at his throat. A moment here would do.
Through the cloisters came the scarecrows.

Charlotte was chopping wood and her bonfire was burning nicely when it happened. Birds bounced off branches before spiralling lifelessly to the woodland floor around her.
She swung the axe and buried its head in the chopping block before striding to her cottage and digging out a book she had hoped she might never need to open again. A book of signs and warnings, handed down from one generation to another. She flicked through it, her eyes darting as she scanned the pages.
And there it was.
She stood back from the book as if it were infectious.
Charlotte found her pipe on the dining table, stuffed it with tobacco and puffed as she lit it. Her nerves were soothed, but what she saw still troubled her. She glanced sidelong at the book, as if she didn’t want it to notice her curiosity.
Flames from the bonfire outside threw shapes and shadows around the room. On the pages of the book, the shifting light gave the illusion of movement to an old woodcut illustration of birds falling from the sky in droves. Below them danced a grinning scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head.

Live Show – The Aftermath

A huge thank you to everyone who came to last night’s online launch for The Crow Folk! I think a splendid time was had by all. If you missed out, or want to relive the giddy joy of it all over again, it’s here in its entirely for your viewing pleasure…

Thanks also to Caimh McDonnell for compering magnificently, to Ian W Sainsbury for the joyful sing-a-long-a-pub-knees-up at the end, to Emily and Kai for tech support, Dominic King for bringing us to the world via the BBC, to Sara Cox for her sage advice in the run-up to launch, to Claire for her lovely veg, and to George for once more reprising the role of Pumpkinhead.

The Crow Folk is now out there and belongs to you lovely readers. I sincerely hope you really enjoy it… and if you do, there’s more on the way. Not only will book two be coming in October, but I’ll also be releasing a quartet of short stories featuring the mysterious Miss Charlotte. Watch this space for more news on that soon!

You Are Cordially Invited To The Launch Of THE CROW FOLK

We’re launching my new novel THE CROW FOLK with a special party and you’re all invited!

The launch will be happening online on Facebook and Youtube on Thursday 4th February, 7-8pm GMT (11-noon PST, 12-1pm MST, 2-3pm EST, 6am next AEDT, 5am next day AEST).



The dress code is 1940s Home Front and our Master of Ceremonies for the evening will the wonderful Mr Caimh McDonnell — author and stand-up comedian of some repute. There will be revelations, merriment and a splendid time for all.

If you have any questions for me, then simply pop it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it on the evening.

If you cannot make the launch party, then fear not: it shall be recorded and distributed across all the usual social media channels.

We look forward to seeing you on the evening in your best bib and tucker. Until then, don’t forget to order The Crow Folk at all the usual stockists here.

The Crow Folk Unboxing Video

We did one of those author unboxing videos… We might have got a bit carried away.

Camera, sound and edit: Kai Newton

Production Assistant: Emily Stay

Pumpkinhead: George Stay

Music: Dom Currie

Kai is keeping a video diary and you can see behind the scenes here…

Where Can You Buy Books During The UK Lockdown?

My book The Crow Folk is out on 4th February. How can you buy it and support indie bookstores?

Here are some links…

Coles Books for a signed copy and signed exclusive art print


Book Depository for free world wide P&P

Support your local bookshop at The Hive and



WH Smith

Oh, all right then… Amazon


Hello folks, Mark, Stay here. It’s January 6th and the UK has gone into lockdown for the third time, third time’s a charm and that means all bookshops are closed. So if you want to buy books… In particular, if you’re going to buy this book. Where can you go? Now, uh…

All sorts of options. All sorts of options. Number one, I would suggest you go to Coles Bookshop in Bicester because they’re selling signed copies of the book with a free signed art print, signed by myself and the artist Harry Goldhawk. Look at that. Marvellous. Look at it. Ooh. That’s port of call number one.

If you’re a if you’re a Waterstones fan or if you never used Waterstones before, try them because they have a wonderful thing. Every time you buy – spend ten pounds – you get a stamp and if you buy books as much as I do, then in no time at all. You get a free book or ten pounds credit. Fantastic. So get it from Waterstones.

If you live overseas, well, The best place… When I say overseas, outside the UK, obviously go to The Book Depository. They have free postage and packing worldwide, which is a wonderful thing. And very often you get free bookmark. Not my bookmark, but you know, a bookmark. Just get it for the bookmark.
And then apparently there’s some online start up called Ammaz? Amzz? It’ll come to me… Anyway you can… Look it up online. Just Google it.
But, yeah, if you’re working in a bookshop, and they’re on furlough now and, you know, help them support them as much as you can. We’re going to need them more than ever.

We interrupt this video to bring you an update on behalf of UK bookshops.
Many still operate on a click and collect or mail order basis during lockdown.
And we’ll be able to get you all the books you can eat.
Also, check the Hive and, an easy way to shop online and support local bookshops.
You’ll find links to these below.
Now back to your regular broadcast from somewhere in Kent

So yeah. I put some links for all this gubbins below.
Where you can get not just my book…
They do all sorts of books, but yes, support your local bookshops.
And, you know, if you can’t get out much, use Amazon.
I know it’s fashionable to hate them, but, you know, if you are housebound or whatever, they’re bloody good at what they do.
So, yes, anyway,
Oh here we go…
Out of the woods.
It’s a metaphor for something, innit
What a wonderful day to go for a walk.
Happy reading. See you again soon.

Book Cover Illustration With Harry Goldhawk

Artist and illustrator Harry Goldhawk tells me how a book cover goes from a few words on a brief, through different rough concepts, to a final finished book cover.

You can pre-order The Crow Folk and get a free art print signed by myself and Harry here.

You can buy Harry’s art at:


Hello, folks, Book covers, let’s talk about book covers. If you’ve ever wondered how a book cover comes about, the process of it, all the ins and outs, how it goes from just a few words in a brief to something like this… Ooh! This is the video for you. I’m going to be talking to Harry Goldhawk, the artist who did the front cover for my book, The Crow Folk, about the process that he goes through. Absolutely fascinating stuff. But before that, I want to say a big thank you to anyone who’s watched these videos, liked, commented, spread the word, told their friends. Thank you for that. We’re coming to the end of a very strange year. I’m recording this on Christmas Eve Eve, if that’s a thing. And a couple of days after the solstice, the dark days are behind us. There are brighter days ahead. If you’re in the northern hemisphere,that is anyway. So, yes. Thank you and Merry Christmas. A happy and prosperous New Year. But before that, here’s my chat
with Harry Goldhawk.

Harry Goldhawk, How are you, sir.
How are you? How do we find you on this lovely day?

I’m very good, thank you. How are you?

I’m tickety boo. Thank you for asking. What we’re going to do today, We’re going to talk through the whole process from soup to nuts. From the first brief of cover art, through the rough compositions, to the finished artwork. So how does it start for you? I presume you get you get a brief from the designer. Who is Matt Johnson at Simon & Schuster. Is that your first contact?

Yes, my first contact was from Matt Johnson. He sent a brief over to me just with an outline, asked me if I was interested. So I got a synopsis of the book itself, what they would like me to illustrate and whether I was keen, really, along with the timeline, whether I could fit that and the budget.

Excellent stuff. And the synopsis. I mean, how much does that sway you? And I’m not I’m not fishing for compliments here. I’m just wondering what kind of book… because you may think, it’s not my kind of book I might not get this. Does that have any bearing on whether or not you take on a project?

It definitely does sway me. If it’s something along the lines of fantasy and with magical elements. I’m definitely a lot more interested in that. So as soon as I got this through, I was very keen. I mean, as you can see from all the roughs that I’ve done, I just wanted to make sure I explored all the options. So I was I was very excited about the project overall. Yeah, wonderful.

And what’s the first… Once you’ve got this brief, which I presume is essentially is it a one page document? So you’ve got that synopsis. You’ve got an idea of who the lead character is and some of the situations in the story. What’s your process and do you start sketching ideas immediately?

I’m not really one for sketching. My tutors hated it at college, but I, I definitely do struggle with sketching ideas down. Initially, I start writing. I write down the themes, I write down the elements that I think I think of the colours that I might use. And then I usually start with a few thumbnails, just rough compositions that kind of thing. And then I have a bad habit of jumping straight into final artwork because it’s quite nice for things to look polished. It’s a terrible habit and one I’m working on, as you can see from the roughs that they are a little finalized, but I just enjoy seeing a final product.

Let’s, uh, let’s have a look at these “roughs”, let’s put that in air quotes, because brace yourself, viewers, because these are these are anything but rough. And so let’s let’s just bring up the first one here. So and this, as you can see, very, very different to the well, the colour the colours are there, aren’t they? But we’re seeing Faye’s face here. We’ve got the moon in her glasses, there where her eyes would be. Where did where did this come from and how long would something like that take you to put together?

So this was the the initial brief. The initial brief was to illustrate the outline of a girl say, and within that silhouette of the illustration of rural Kent. So, rolling hills, the woods, possibly the Scarecrow and the Spitfires and then the the other note that they added was that they wanted it, at first glance, to appear normal. And, although that magic is a theme throughout the book, to not show anything physically magical and to instead convey that feeling of magic through the colours or another way. So for me, that feeling of golden hour, the hour where the sun is setting or rising is such a magical time of the day. And that is something that I was trying to capture in this. Just that gorgeous light. And in terms of the timeline. I’m not sure. A few hours, I would say.

Wow, that is just amazing. OK, well that’s that’s that’s terrific. So that was your first “rough”. And then with that with this and the colours. What was interesting is the colours have stayed all the way through. So this is a slightly updated rough version where we see more birds around the edges here.

Yes. That was the one that was presented at the final cover meeting. So before that, the notes were maybe remove some of the stars from the outside and switch them with crows, which aesthetically I thought was a very good note. That helped definitely. But once they presented the at the meeting, it was deemed too Young as it’s a book for adults, which at the time I was a little disappointed with, but I was ecstatic to be given another shot with it. And Matt came back to me and just said, it’s the silhouette that’s making it look a bit too young. So how about we scrap the silhouette, make the illustration full bleed, and bring it out edge-to-edge and we’ll see how that looks instead.

There are some other ideas here, which I’m going to I’m going to run through. I’d like to know where they came in the process as well.

Yeah, sure.

We’ve got this version here, which is which shows sort of a full length illustration of Faye with a crow.

Was that something you worked with before you showed it to Simon & Schuster or is that something that came out of conversations that you had with them?

No, no, no conversations. So bear in mind, I hadn’t read the book, so I was just going by the the synopsis that I had. I did at the same time that I did the profile of Faye’s face. And I just wanted to make sure it explored a few of the different silhouettes that we could do. But as you can see, with a full body silhouette, there’s only so much detail you can fit within it. It is sort of lost a bit, which is why I don’t think any of those got used.

And this… There’s another one here. Let me bring this up. You say you’ve not read the book, but there is a scene in the book almost exactly like this, which is just uncanny. And again, you’ve got the placing of the…

Really?! I was guessing

Crescent moon right where her heart is as well. So, again, that’s just that’s just uncanny. But this idea. That the silhouette, that the character made it too young, is that something you find helps make a distinction between adult and children’s novels because adult novels tend to be more design led, whereas children’s novels, you tend to like to see the characters on the cover, don’t you?

Is that…?

Yeah, they are they generally are a bit more character-led. Yeah. I mean, in honesty, I haven’t illustrated too many adult novels so as an area I’m looking to to do more of these.

Okay. And then we come to… Very, very close to the actual final image. Now this is… I don’t think I saw this version. I think I saw the version afterwards. But yeah. To talk us through this one.

Yes. So that was what I worked on immediately after getting the feedback to make it full bleed edge-to-edge. I was just thinking of alternative ways, you know, alternative ways of presenting it, essentially. And I felt like the creepy woods needed to be a bigger part of it. So to make that frame the illustration, rather than being in the middle distance at this point, this is my bad habit of things being finalized. So I sent this over to Matt, just to get his opinion of it before I took it any further and I said I think it needs something like a focal point, like a village or something else in the centre there, let me know what you think about that. And he responded. He showed it to his editor and they agreed, but they gave me the green light to go ahead and take that final.

This is almost final. But you’ve got a couple of things. And this is this is the version that I was first shown which was blew me away, which I absolutely loved. There’s a little bicycle highlighted down there because I said, wouldn’t it be great if we had Faye on her bicycle cycling either away or towards the village, which looks amazing. Also up here, we’ve got… Well, would you like to explain yourself, Harry? What’s going on here with this buttock?

Yes, that was something that I just didn’t see whilst I was drawing it. And when I read the note, I thought, what are you talking about? And then I came back to it and I showed my wife as well. And we were just howling because it does it does look very bum-like.

Well, we could talk about, the psychological factors behind this for hours, I suspect. But we haven’t got that much time. But yeah, that’s amazing. And what’s this little tick over here? We lost a crow on the left hand side as well.

No, I think there was a… Yeah, I think there was a crow there, which they removed and asked me to remove. So that was the third final tweak. So, yeah, that was a relatively easy tweak to make. Yeah.

Hi, folks. Just a quick note to say that if you’re loving Harry’s art as much as I am, you can get a signed print of The Crow Folk cover art just like this one signed by me in the top left hand corner and Harry signing it in the bottom there. When you preorder the book from Cole’s Books, there are only 200 of these signed by myself and Harry and they’re exclusive to Coles. I’ll pop a link in the description. Get yours while stocks last. Back to the show.

Let’s cut to the actual finished final cover art here and see what that looks like, because it has to has to roll over the spine. So this is the finished article. And folks, you can see the village there, which gives it that focal point. You can see Faye on her bicycle. So, yeah. And the framing. It’s only when you see it in that context that you see the framing and the way the wood kind of moves in from the edges. It’s just wonderful. And I’ve got to tell you, I guarantee this… I’ve had so many comments from people on the cover art. This is what’s selling the book. This is what’s making such a difference. I did hear that a certain high street retailer doubled their order after seeing the cover art.

Harry, I do owe you a drink at some point at least a drink or at least a lunch or something. So I…

I’ll have to take you up on that offer.

When the world gets back on its feet. But that’s amazing. How long did the process take from that first brief to to this
here? From start to finish.

So yeah, I designed this all on my iPad with an iPad Pro with the Apple pencil. And the app that I use tracks my time that I use. I checked the other night and in total it was around about thirty hours from start to finish.

And of course you’ll be working all sorts of–

Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s too much or too–

I mean I was going to say, is that kind of the average or is that, is that kind of, you know… Like you say you like to, you like to, to make stuff look finished, even your roughs look really, really finished. So I suspect you’re putting a lot of time in there, aren’t you?

I do.I do like to put a lot of time into it. Yeah. It depends on what kind of illustrator you are. I’m sure there are plenty of amazing illustrators that could do it in less time, but I definitely like to take my time with my illustrations.

Well, I for one am very, very grateful for it. What software are you using? So you’re doing this on an iPad? You’re using an Apple pencil. What’s the software that you’re using to create this?

An amazing piece of software called Procreate. It’s made by an amazing group in Australia who regularly update it its a serious competitor for Photoshop. At the moment, I think it is one of the most popular pieces of software for iPad users.

Wonderful. And if you’re talking, if you’re saying it’s like Photoshop, are you working in layers to allow you to add things in layers and compare before and after and that sort of thing?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It does work in layers, so there’s quite a few in this one and you can group all the layers together. So from a convenience perspective, it’s fantastic, really. It’s very convenient. And also having… Being at home with a toddler, it means I can draw I don’t just have to be at my desk, I can be anywhere.

That’s fantastic. What other stuff are you…? Because I’ve we just got our Christmas Radio Times and I’m looking at the Christmas Radio Times and there are banners across the top. I’m thinking that’s a familiar looking style. You’re doing the banners for the Christmas Radio Times! How did that come about?

That came about through my amazing agent, the Artworks. There are a few different illustrators that are also signed by the Artworks that did a few of the illustrations within this year’s Radio Times. So I was just… I’m just very fortunate to be represented by them and have them championing my artwork.

I mean, for me, that’s that must be that feels like an incredible honour. That’s that’s like up there with an exhibition at the National Gallery or something that is part of that as part of a British institution, isn’t it? You know, I think listeners outside of the UK might not understand this, but it’s fantastic. Huge. Congratulations on that. I’m telling everyone I know, you know, it’s so… I’m so delighted. Okay, so that’s cool. I’ve got two more books in this series. Could you kindly come back and do the other two as well, please? Harry, please. Please.

I think I might be able to squeeze them in.

Yeah, very much. Thank you very, very much.

And the other thing is you also you do all kinds of…

I’d be delighted.

Oh, thank you. You do all kinds of artwork that we can buy online. You even do hats. I got one of your hats for my daughter for her birthday, and she’s absolutely delighted with it. She wears it all the time, even indoors. Where can we where can we find all this stuff, Harry? Where can we track you down?

So I run a lifestyle brand with my wife called Papio Press. So we sell a lot of stationery and other illustrated goods, hats and art prints. And you can find that all on So that’s

Wonderful stuff, folks. I’ll put a link in the description below so you can find that nice and easily. And if you’re looking for a unique gift, absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful stuff. Harry, thank you so much for this. This has been it’s been absolutely fascinating because it’s… Speaking as someone who managed to fail A-level Art… I’m always fascinated by the the artistic process, particularly with new technology in the way it works and that sort of thing. So thank you for your amazing artwork. Like I said, it really has made all the difference to the book, and I think will continue to do so.

And I’m delighted to if you can come back for books two and three, maybe we can talk about those then.

That sounds amazing. I would love to come back for more. I really would. I was ecstatic to draw this cover. And I was so pleased when you mentioned that you signed on for two more books. So I’m excited to see how they turn up.

Thank you so much, Harry, and speak to you again soon.
So cool.
Thank you very much Mark, take care.

Get a FREE signed art print when you pre-order The Crow Folk

The splendid folk at Coles Books are offering a FREE art print, signed by myself and cover artist Harry Goldhawk, when you pre-order the paperback of THE CROW FOLK from them.

I’ll also be signing bookplates, so the books will be signed too!

This is completely exclusive to Coles Books and they ship worldwide, so get in fast (there are only 200 of these!) and pre-order here!

Why I’m Okay With Plot Holes

Writers live in fear of a leaky story, but I’m okay with plot holes. And here’s why…


Hello folks, Mark Stay here. I’m going to tell you why I’m completely okay with Plot Holes…

What is a plot hole exactly?
Well, in a story, it’s one of those little bits that doesn’t quite make logical sense, doesn’t really stand up to any scrutiny.

For example, in The Godfather, just how does Tom Hagen cut that horse’s head off without anyone noticing? So in the Ewok village, Princess Leia’s dress… Where did that come from? Just how did Andy’s poster stay on the wall in his prison cell after he broke out? Just what did Bruce Willis do when he wasn’t talking to the scary ghost kid? Who exactly heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud?” The entire final act of this, and every James Bond film ever made.

All of these films are bona fide classics, films that most of us love and adore.
And they get a pass.
We gloss over their plot holes.
And why is that?
Because we respond to stories on an emotional level.

As a writer, this doesn’t mean you now have license to write a story that’s full of plot holes and we all vary in our tolerance of plot holes. And you have to work hard to make sure that your story makes sense and not just, you know, paper over the cracks and hope we don’t notice.

Always write on the assumption that your readers are smarter than you are, you know, work as hard as you can to iron out all those little holes.
But the thing is, when you’re dealing with stuff that doesn’t exist, you know, fantastical stuff like time travel, magic, warp speed, that sort of thing, you’re not going to be able to… One or two will inevitably slip through.
However, ask yourself this: What’s more important to you? A watertight logic puzzle-style story, or something that’s going to have some emotional oomph? I know which end of the spectrum I veer towards, although none of my books have plot holes, none of them, if you doubt that you should buy them all, and read them from cover to cover and make copious notes and then drop me a line if you spot any. Anyway, hope that’s helpful. A little note on plot holes, and sleep tight in the knowledgethat when Dorothy wakes up from a trip to Oz, Toto will still be put down by Mrs. Gulch

How To Market Your Book On YouTube – Episode 5

Are you a debut author or seasoned writer needing to know HOW to market your book? Or HOW to promote your book on YouTube?

In this 5th episode author Mark Stay and video marketer Jeremy Mason reveal more book marketing strategies and tips for authors.

WHICH of their video marketing strategies have worked so far? WILL they hit their 1000 target for pre-sales before Feb 2021? WHICH digital marketing techniques will they enlist? WHICH book marketing strategy will be put to the test next on their ambitious (some may say foolhardy) quest?

In Episode 5 you will learn: Lots of book marketing strategies, finding the route to market for your book, insider hints and tips that will help you with marketing your book. We talk about: Tweetdeck, Canva, Goodreads, BookFunnel, Groovepages, book events, pre-orders, book signings, pitching yourself for publicity and more…