The Raven and the Pipe: New book from lawyer and market manager Simon Catterall
IMAGINE the scene. This is York station at the end of 1914. The war is a few months old. Soldiers leave for the front or return on leave, and through all the hubbub of moving farewells and joyous reunions walks university student Edmund Bullick. He is in his own emotional turmoil as he and his younger brother have been called home to County Durham because their father died mysteriously on the moors with the hunt.
Let lawyer Simon Catterall sketch the scene for you in a passage from his new novel, The Crow and the Pipe…
“The station was absolutely packed. It was so crowded we couldn’t even see the trail. It was like the streets near Roker Park on Boxing Day, only instead of a sea of red and white we were in a sea of khaki with hundreds of soldiers swarming like ants, climbing in and out of cars , hung on the walls, some running alongside the trains as they came and went while others wandered aimlessly or gathered in large mounds beside their bags.
“There were to be battalions from all over the country, hordes and hordes of Scottish and Irish Guards while on the airbridge a detachment of Welsh riflemen gave an impromptu choral recital.
“On the cold gray docks, mothers and fathers, siblings and lovers swayed and wept against the backdrop of magazine vendors, porters and wagons, a Salvation Army soup kitchen and, at the back of the station, of a lone porter trying desperately to make his way through the chaos for a small horse and a trap.
SA Catterall’s The Raven and The Pipe is £2.99 from YPS Publishing
“Above all was the deafening discord of noise; the creaking and screeching of locomotives, the heavy sigh of steam, the slamming of doors and the whistles of guards constantly mingling with the cries of newspaper deliverers, the calls and songs from the multitude car keys and the soft cries of women.
“Every nook and cranny, every dig and hide in and around those sooty brick walls was the roost of mankind in rapture or distress, and while I expected the war to have impacted on the rail network, I was completely unprepared for the Tower of Babel which greeted us at York station that morning…”
In the book, Simon weaves “a study of love, greed, death, religion, addictions to alcohol and gambling against a backdrop of corruption in the legal profession” and against a backdrop of local history. . For example, at the station, Edmund falls into conversation with a member of the Durham Light Infantry who turns out to be Alix Liddle.
Is it just a made up name, or could it be the same Alix Liddle of the DLI who, weeks after the imagined encounter, would become one of the first British soldiers to be killed on home soil in 200 years, and the first Darlingtonian to die during the war, when four German warships bombarded Hartlepool on December 16, 1914?
“I did a lot of research, and there’s more than a grain of truth behind the names and places throughout the book,” said Simon, manager of Darlington Farmers’ Auction Mart.
Author of The Raven and The Pipe Simon Catterall Photo: SARAH CALDECOTT
They come from both local history and local courtrooms. “I have been associated with the Jacksons law firm in Stockton for 35 years, and the people I have met are the basis of certain characters – the judges, the lawyers and the witnesses.
“You meet some real villains in my work and I couldn’t leave them all out.
“Lord Justice Horridge in the book was a real person, and the caustic retorts and the various squabbles between the lawyers are authentic, much like the conditions in Durham Prison at the turn of the 20th century.
“I’ve attended hundreds of tryouts in my time, so I’ve only picked the best bits.”
From the age of ten, Simon keeps a diary. “I always wanted to be a writer,” he says. “I always take statements from other people or give instructions to a lawyer, so I wanted to write myself.
“I began by enjoying the long hours hanging around Crown Court awaiting jury verdicts.”
The first fruits of his labors, Hob Hole, was published in 2016 and quickly sold out. Then he took advantage of the lockdown to complete the sequel, The Raven and the Pipe. However, he published both novels, all over 500 pages, under one cover for just £2.99.
Its text is replete with beautifully observed detail, as the York station excerpt hopefully demonstrates, and the plot unfolds at an absorbing pace. Along with getting caught up in the twists and turns of the characters’ lives, there’s the fun of trying to untangle people and places.
For example, Edmund’s father was a horse trainer at Craven Castle, which is largely based on Witton Castle, near Hamsterley, above which is a mysterious drop zone called Monksmoor which, it is said that even to this day is haunted by the ghost of a monk. Could this have been involved in the death of Edmund’s father or was there a more down to earth explanation?
- Simon Catterall signs copies of his book, The Raven and The Pipe, at the National Beef Association’s 2022 Beef Expo at Darlington Auction Market on May 28. Alternatively, the book is available for £2.99 from the publisher’s website, yps-publishing.co. UK