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—’ ‘Dad!’ 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.’ ‘Cheers.’ 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. Thud! Everyone looked up. Thud-thud-thud! 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.