A pub full of alcoholic psychics, an apprentice witch who prefers vacuum cleaners to broomsticks and a ghostly black dog that houses the spirit of an eleventh century monk called Eilmer, who history states once built himself wings and flew from the roof of the Abbey, and who has been trying to recreate the feat ever since because nobody believes he did it the first time…
…is just the start of the weirdness a young American woman finds when she arrives in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. She’s there to find the truth about the real parents she only just discovered she had, but what she finds is even weirder than all that, including but not limited to the fact that her father is an ancient pagan spirit with a fondness for water meadows.
But she also finds love. So that’s nice.
This is the official blurb – “The Flying Monk is a comedy/fantasy novel by the writer responsible for the Bafta-nominated BBC animated Christmas Special ‘The Tale of Jack Frost’, ITV’s ‘The Baskervilles’ (an animated sitcom set in Hell), and Lego Bionicle.”
Yes, that Lego Bionicle.
However, with its single very loosely described comedy sex scene, the occasional rude word and a lot of references to alcohol (let’s face it, it’s kind of everywhere in this book), The Flying Monk probably isn’t really for children, although I’m sure they’d enjoy it. I know I would have done.
Most of the mythology and all but one of the places in the book are real, with the exception of The Flying Monk pub, which is based on a real Malmesbury Pub called The Smoking Dog. Or rather, on my first visit to Malmesbury, I discovered that the pub that I’d invented in my head for the book was freakishly similar to The Smoking Dog. The pub has been updated since then, and there are no longer beer barrels on the back of the bar, but it is still a wonderful pub, and I highly recommend a visit.
There once was a Flying Monk pub in Malmesbury, on the Gloucester Road, but it was demolished a long time ago, and a Co-op now sits on the site. Recently, however, another Flying Monk pub has sprung up, and a Flying Monk brewery, but that’s in… (takes a deep breath)… Chippenham…
The Flying Monk is available as an eBook from Amazon. I’ll sort out the paperback soon, I promise.
(Note: Edie is the young American heroine of the novel, while Sam is the slightly chubby barman of The Flying Monk who is deeply and sadly for him unrequitedly in love with her, and JB is the local genealogist with a secret past trying to help Edie find the truth about her parents. If you want to know who all the others are, you’ll just have to buy the book, although it is safe to assume that the God Neptune, who comes in at the end of the excerpt, is actually the God Neptune.)
The Old Court House was brimming over. The previous night’s pyrotechnic activities, not to mention all the other attempts on life, limb and private property since the death of Old Lord Twatley, had ensured that this highly irregular extraordinary meeting was well attended, not least by JB Westbury.
“Fabulous building,” whispered Edie, who was sitting next to JB on one of the rear benches. “Mediaeval, I guess?”
“Parts of it are twelfth century,” replied JB, “although it mostly dates from the late Elizabethan. The Corporation have met here since 1616, and apart from a few new benches it hasn’t changed since.
“These are new?” said Edie, shuffling uncomfortably.
“Well, they were in 1842.”
“Right,” said Edie. “So that’s where the Mayor sits, huh?”
“Not exactly,” said JB. “Thanks to a long list of laws issued by everyone from King Athelstan to the House of Commons Municipal Reform Committee, Malmesbury is fortunate in having two councils, or Corporations as we call them. The New Corporation is like any other in England, with Mayor and Councillors, whereas the Old Corporation has a High Steward, an Alderman, or Warden, and twelve Capital Burgesses, or Freemen, not to mention numerous Assistant Burgesses, Landholders and Commoners.”
“I see,” said Edie, not doing anything of the sort. “And this is, what, the Old Corporation?”
“Yes,” said JB.
“So what do they do?” said Edie.
“Very little,” said Sam, who was sitting as close as he could to Edie without actually being on her lap.
Edie smiled at him – her trip to Stonehenge had given her time to think, and she had come to the conclusion that he was after all a nice guy, and fortunately for Sam she was one of those girls that actually goes out with nice guys. They’d been out for a drink the night before, and he’d walked her home, and then walked himself home, or rather grumbled himself home. Just because she liked him didn’t mean she was going to make it easy for him.
“Right then,” said Lenny the Lend, well known contract hire supremo and, since two weeks ago, Deputy Alderman, “I suppose we’d better start then. Still no sign of Alderman Miller?”
“He’s busy,” said Sam. “He had a tough night, if you know what I mean.”
“Ah, right,” said Lenny, knowing exactly what Sam meant. “Well then, better get down to business then.”
The assembled throng hushed, as far as their anxiety allowed, and the atmosphere in the old oak panelled room calmed down to a level equitable with an out of season bull-fight. Lenny the Lend, or Capital Burgess Coxfoot to give him his correct name, took his place in the Alderman’s chair, an ornately carved oak seat at the rear of the Old Court Room. To one side of him, on high-backed oak benches of similar age sat the remaining eleven Capital Burgesses, beneath them the well of the court, from where petitioners and other speakers addressed the Council. All twelve bore the sort of expressions common to all men wearing ermine-trimmed velvet robes in public.
“Pretty snooty,” whispered Edie, while still marvelling at the pomp of the surroundings.
“True,” said JB. “Although you might care to reflect upon the fact that up on that dais are some of the very few people in the world who can trace their family directly back to the Saxons. Their ancestors were in Malmesbury nearly eleven hundred years ago.
“Wow,” said Edie, and fell silent.
“Still pretty snooty though,” said Sam, at which Edie giggled, at which Sam giggled, at which JB groaned, but inwardly smiled.
“Now then,” said the Deputy Alderman, “seeing this is an extraordinary meeting, we’ll dispense with the minutes of Last Day Court and get straight on with it. Clerk, are the accused here present?”
The Clerk, a retired plumber and part-time Lay Preacher at the Abbey Church, stood up from his stool. Sitting before him, occupying the whole front bench were, from left to right, Colonel Lyttleton-Drew, Margot Twatley, Johnny Twatley, Lady Ida Twatley, and finally, giving the alleged fifteenth Lord Twatley his afternoon bottle, Piers Galveston. They all said ‘Aye’, with the exception of the infant Lord, who burped.
“Yes, Sir,” said the Clerk officiously, “they are present.”
“Good,” said the robed car-hirer. “Now maybe we can sort this mess out.”
At that, the respective claimants to the title of Twatley all began to shout at once, each presenting his or her respective case.
“All right, all right,” said Lenny, but with little effect.
Looking around for something to bang, but finding nothing, the stand-in official first tried hitting the rail in front of him with his fist, then, as this brought no result other than a large bruise, threw a glass of water over the offending claimants. This did the trick.
“Right you lot,” he said, his mood now obviously heading towards the black area. “We will do this in an orderly manner, or I’ll put you all in the stocks!”
“Erm, we don’t have any stocks,” said the Clerk Out of the corner of his mouth.
“Then I’ll make some!” growled Lenny. “Right, now, you, Constable Turville, what’s all this about exploding antiques shops?”
The Constables Turville both stood up, and tried unsuccessfully to approach the well of the court simultaneously.
“No, not you Mike – just Pat,” said Burgess Coxfoot, already starting to tire of the whole thing.
The elder and fatter Turville squeezed through the tightly packed throng and approached the bench.
“Right,” he said, taking out his notebook. “Ahem.”
After a little prolonged page-flicking, he found his place.
“Oh get a move on Turville,” said Lenny, drumming his fingers on the rail in front of him. “I’ve got three carpet cleaners to rent out before early doors.”
“Yes Sir,” said Pat. “Right Sir – got it now. Right, on the evening of the twenty seventh, at eleven thirty-two, I was preceding in a southerly direction in the vicinity of…”
“Oh for God’s sake Pat, skip all that stuff will you?” said the fuming Burgess. “Anyway, we all know that at eleven thirty-two on any given evening you’re safely tucked up in the Rat and Stumpe’s back bar.”
A loud boo came from the back.
“Yes, all right Proctor, that’ll do. Right Pat, just get to the bit where you saw Twatley Antiques hit by the missile, will you?”
“Right Sir, yes Sir,” said the Constable. “I was walking past the Market Cross, when I heard a whooshing sound in the vicinity of The Triangle. As I arrived, there was something of an explosion…”
“Something of an explosion!” exclaimed Johnny Twatley. “The bastard used a bazooka!”
“It wasn’t a bazooka you cretin,” said the Colonel, before realising his mistake.
“Ha!” yelled the ex-antiques shop owner in triumph. “So you admit it!”
“I admit nothing, Twatley,” said the Colonel, backtracking with all his might. “But I do want to know how my Beckstein came to be in my back garden. Tell me that, if you can!”
“Yeah well,” said the now-irate part-time gangster, “you should have read your lettuces more closely, shouldn’t you?!”
At that, the Colonel forgot his classical upbringing and brought forty years of military training to bear on Johnny Twatley’s left shin.
“You bastard!” screamed the aggrieved former retailer, and landed twenty years of street-training on the ex-officer’s lower jaw.
“Oi!” yelled the Constables Turville in unison, and waded in like gooduns with expressions that suggested they’d been hoping something like this might happen.
“Hey, calm down, right,” said Piers Galveston, trying to retain an air of dignity. But his poise was shattered by an inadvertent elbow to the face from the Colonel.
“Right!” screamed the ex-Harrow man. “Hold this,” he said, throwing the alleged fifteenth Lord Twatley at his mother and swiftly demonstrated a marked ignorance of the Marquis of Queensbury’s rules on the Colonel’s private parts.
This might well have gone on for hours – it normally did – but for the sudden last-minute arrival of the missing Alderman, Dennis Miller, looking like he’d just grabbed his velvet robes from the bottom of the laundry pile, which wasn’t far from the truth. However, even though he had the best part of a bottle of Glenfiddich’s finest inside him, this in no way prevented him from instantly assessing the situation, and, utilising thirty-five years of training in the emergency services, emptied the contents of a nearby fire extinguisher over the entangled protagonists.
“Thank you Mr. Alderman,” said his deputy, trying not to look like he’d just been about to leg it out of a side window.
“No worries,” said Alderman Miller, reclaiming his seat from his stand-in. “Now, if no-one has any objections, we’ll try and sort out just what the hell’s going on here.”
“If I might shed some light on the matter,” came a voice from the back.
All heads turned, to see a short, fat, balding but distinguished man clutching an old leather briefcase. There were murmurs of confusion for a moment, as the assembled townsfolk tried to discover if anyone knew the bloke, but judging by the continued murmuring, no-one did.
“Who’s he?” whispered Edie.
“Search me, old girl,” said JB, shrugging.
The elegantly dressed stranger moved silently through the crowded Court Room, finally reaching the well in front of Alderman Miller.
“So who the bloody hell are you?” said Miller, understandably.
“Cudlip,” said the man in a high, but nonetheless educated voice. “Sir Royston Cudlip, PRO.” The murmurs started up again. “Public Records Office,” he said, for the benefit of those who were trying to work out whether it was some sort of war decoration. “I think you might find this interesting.”
JB sat up straight and stared at the man.
“Royston Cudlip, did you say?” he said, with some astonishment. “Were you at Charterhouse in fifty-eight?”
“Er, yes,” said Sir Royston, peering back at JB.
“Porky!” exclaimed JB, moving to the front of the court. “It’s JB – JB Westbury.”
“Good God,” said Sir Royston, offering his hand. “JB? Is that really you?!”
“Absolutely old boy!” said JB, as the two men shook hands with much smiling. “What the devil are you doing here?”
“As I said, old man,” said he of the porcine sobriquet. “I’ve come down from the PRO to sort this Twatley thing out – looks a bit of a mess from where I’m standing.”
“You’re not wrong, old boy,” said JB. They were still shaking hands.
“When you’ve quite finished,” said Alderman Miller, drumming his fingers on the same place his deputy was earlier.
“Oh, sorry Dennis old chap,” said JB. “I mean, my apologies Alderman Miller. Old Porky, that is, Sir Royston and I, were in the same dorm at Charters. Blood brothers, you know.”
“No I didn’t,” said the Alderman shortly, “and frankly I couldn’t give a crap. Now Sir Royston, if you have some evidence to present, kindly do so, and quickly, before I throw the whole lot in the stocks.”
One look from Alderman Miller ensured that the Clerk just managed to bite his tongue in time. Sir Royston opened his briefcase, and pulled out a sheaf of official-looking papers.
“Now,” he said, addressing the crowd. “What I have here is a collection of Photostatted records from our place in Kew. I’ve studied them intensely over the last few days, and I have, I think, come to a conclusion.”
“So?” said the Alderman, “what is it? God, I hate all this official stuff.”
“So why did you want to be Alderman then?” said Lenny the Lend sneakily.
“Shut up,” came the unequivocal reply. “So go on then, Cudlip, get to the point will you?”
“Well,” said Cudlip, sucking his teeth, “I’m afraid you won’t like it very much.”
“I don’t care,” said Miller. “In fact, I wouldn’t care if the title went to Twatley’s dog.”
“Right, well, the thing is you see, the case isn’t as clear cut as I’d originally thought. You see, although this paper here,” he held up a certificate of some sort, “shows quite clearly that the late Lord Twatley didn’t in fact divorce his first wife Margot…”
There was a woop from the aforementioned pet shop owner.
“…a recent DNA fingerprint performed on the orders of Their Lordships at Westminster show without a doubt that the infant Wayne is his true son.”
Similar woops emitted from both the former Dowager Lady Ida and her exhausted gardener, while the newly-reinstated son and heir gave a celebratory belch.
“Unfortunately, as the infant Wayne was borne out of wedlock, the title would normally revert to the nearest blood relative.”
“Ha!” said Colonel Lyttleton-Drew, glaring at his alleged lettuce-burning rival.
“However,” continued Sir Royston, “this letter here, written by the Late Lord’s father to his lawyer in 1947, suggest that there is a possibility of a younger brother.”
“Yes!” Johnny cried, lobbing a charred lettuce brought in for just this occasion at the now-irate Colonel.
“But,” said the man from the PRO, “I have to say, even if Mr. Sharp’s parentage can be proved…”
“Twatley,” sneered Johnny, with an expression that suggested that his prowess with the flame thrower did not necessarily have to be restricted to lettuces.
“As I was saying,” said Sir Royston, giving the alleged arsonist a stare that to everyone’s amazement not only shut him up but made him sit down on his bench like a frightened puppy. “Even if he is the late Lord Twatley’s brother, he is, like the infant Wayne, illegitimate. Which, as I said, makes the case a little muddy, to say the least.”
“Hmm,” said the Alderman. “So, what should we do?”
“Well, I don’t really know – this sort of thing hasn’t happened since 1720, when the seventh Lord was discovered to have been switched at birth with a Tetbury chimney sweep.”
“So what did they do then?” asked the long-suffering Alderman. “I mean, not that I give a rat’s snot, but if it gets this over with then I’ll entertain any solution.”
“Quite,” said Sir Royston. “Well, on that occasion the respective claimants held a competition.”
“What sort of competition?” said Johnny Twatley, now very interested.
“Well,” said Sir Royston, “In actual fact…”
“Don’t say it,” said Alderman Dennis, nervously.
“…they fought for it.”
The Alderman ducked, but only just in time to avoid being hit with a flying retired Colonel.
“Here we go again,” said Lenny the Lend, joining his superior behind the ornate chair.
And so they did. But just as Piers Galveston, the up-until-recently Dowager Lady Twatley’s champion, was about to insert the empty fire extinguisher into a part of Johnny Twatley in which the sun rarely shone, the whole room went deathly quiet. Alderman Miller and his sidekick peered out from their refuge to see what had stopped the proceedings, and instantly wished they hadn’t.
“What the fuck is that?!” said the Alderman.
For before them, in the middle of Malmesbury’s ancient Court Room, was standing something that, had she been present, Daphne Turville could have easily identified.
“Right you lot,” said The Lord Neptune, his head, all of ten feet tall and covered in evil-smelling seaweed, now sticking out of the Court House’s floor. “Now just bloody well pack it in, or I’ll be forced to get nasty, and you wouldn’t like that, would you?”
There were a hundred and thirty-seven people in the room at the time, and all of them, including the infant Wayne, shook their heads like there was no tomorrow.
“Good. Bleedin’ ‘ell – just when I was nodding off too.”
And with that, the monstrous head slipped back down through the old stone floor and returned to the subterranean river from whence it came.
“I think I need a drink,” said the Colonel, now, like the other hundred and thirty-six there present, white as a sheet. “Would you like one, Twatley?”
His recent assailant nodded his head meekly, and they both stumbled out of the door at the back in the general direction of the nearest pub.
“Mine’s a pint,” said Stan Crudwell, one of the few men in the world who, when called to account at The End Of Time, would first have to be retrieved from the bar.