If you’ve read my Witches of Woodville books, you’ll have no doubt been blown away by the incredible cover art by Harry Goldhawk. Indeed, in my recent reader survey, the love for Harry’s work was overwhelming.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when Harry sent me two illustrations he’s done of the Crow Folk and Faye. Just take a moment to enjoy these, please…
I had a great time chatting with Neil McRobert of the Talking Scared Podcast about how my writing has been influenced by a warped childhood of Bagpuss, Camberwick Green, Chorlton and the Wheelies, Dennis Potter and more. You can listen on all the usual podcast providers here.
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. Yeah.
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?
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.
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.
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!
With days to go until the launch of ‘The Crow Folk’ (published by Simon & Schuster), author and screenwriter Mark Stay and video marketer & creator Jeremy Mason deep dive into the writing process.
In this 13th outing of the ‘Book Marketing Challenge’, we offer writing advice for new writers, as well as insights into freelance writing and the whole process of writing books. If you’re looking for writing advice from authors, and tips on how to write your first book – you should watch this. In fact – anyone with even a vague interest in writing books, should, really, IMHO.
What are the odds, eh? I answer our wonderful listener questions on choosing and developing ideas, working with agents and editors, writing non-sweary period dialogue, and I compare my experiences in traditional publishing, indie publishing, crowdfunding and now with Simon & Schuster… Have a listen here: https://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep303-mark-stay-and-the-crow-folk/
And here’s a quick look behind the scenes before we started recording…