The Big Over Easy
Special Edition postcard that was given out at the 2005 Fforde Ffiesta, held at Swindon. That wall no longer exists; I had to dismantle it to gain access to extend the house in 2010. I kept all the stone to rebuild it, lower, at a later date. I've just made a start. This is 1700 pixels high. You can download and share non commercially.
This was an early opener I wrote for The Big Over Easy, centring on the three pigs and their court case, and thus inverting the traditional narrative of the porcine builders. It explains the world, but was probably a little obvious - I went for something a little slower in pace. This was about the fifth different opener I tried. A lot of effort for a novel with a silly concept and one that appears quite frivolous. Maybe the trick about fantasy is to make it all look effortless - that these are real worlds, to whom the author is merely lifting a curtain, or lending you the key to that door at the end of the corridor that you's always wanted to explore..
The Big Over Easy
Chapter 1: (1997)
Regina V. 3 Pigs
-controversy in court six
'I'll Huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down...'
- Comment allegedly made by Mr Wolf prior to his death by scalding, July 1989
The crowd outside court six shifted expectantly as an excited whisper ran through the assembled multitude. It seemed that the jury, after a week of careful deliberations had finally decided to deliver a verdict. The case had dragged on for a lot longer than it should have and indeed no-one had initially thought that the Three Pigs would stand trail at all.
On the steps outside of Reading's Central Criminal Courts stood Josh Hatchett, senior reporter for The Mole TV News, one of Britain's premier television news networks and affiliated to The Mole newspaper group. He had reported three times daily since the trial began and his probity and clarity over the issues that the trial had raised allowed him good access to key players in the proceedings.
'This is Josh Hatchett of The Mole,' he began, taking the cue from his cameraman who had counted him in, 'on day 54 of The Crown Versus Three Pigs, a trial that has been the most expensive and possibly the most controversial in British Law.'
He paused for effect and then continued:
'The Three Pigs. Innocent victims or brutal murderers? Ever since Mr Wolf died of his burns at St Septyck's hospital in March last year, controversy has been an uneasy bedfellow to anyone connected with the case. Were the Pigs merely acting in self defence or was it, as the Crown allege, "A violent and premeditated murder by three individuals who, far from being the innocent victims of crime actually sought confrontation and then acted quite beyond what might be described as reasonable self defence."?
Josh Hatchett stopped for a moment and sighed. To be truthful he was fed up with the trial. Three reports a day had been less of reporting and more repeating allegations made sporadically in court; as far as he was concerned he was little more than a very highly paid parrot. Despite outward appearances the case had not been clear-cut in the least: It was true that Mr Wolf did possess a bad temper and drank heavily. He had been convicted of assault but it was in truth little more than a brawl. It was true also that he was known to harbour severe anti-porcine feelings and had once belonged to the Lupine Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to more traditional wolfish pursuits such as the outlawed Midnight Howling. From here on in the facts become less evenly spaced. It was alleged he had subjected the defendants to a considerable amount of verbal harassment for at least two months before the murder and Mr Wolf had not only been served with a restraining order demanding he remain at least 300 yards from the defendants but he was also, at the time of his death, been under police bail to answer various charges of criminal damage arising from the destruction of two dwellings built by the two younger Pigs - something he vehemently denied. The prosecution did not deny that he had threatened 'To eat them all up" but maintained that this was only an empty threat - witnesses had been called to show that Mr Wolf was a vegetarian of many year's standing. The prosecution also alleged that boiling Mr Wolf alive was quite outside the realm of acceptable behaviour and the fact that the large pan of water would have taken at least six hours to reach boiling point indicated a strong possibility of premeditation.
Josh Hatchett carried on:
'We are waiting here for a verdict in a case that will demonstrate clearly to Pigs and Wolves everywhere as to how the law regards acts of blatant and extreme violence between these two marginalised groups in today's society.'
The crowd murmured anxiously as discussions parried this way and that over the fate of the three Pigs. Banners were held high and riot police stood sullenly by, awaiting trouble that they all felt sure was to ignite whatever the verdict. In most opinion polls the Pigs were generally thought of as the victims and should never have stood trial at all. Had it not been for some inspired police work by Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, they would have walked free the same morning. It was Jack who refused to accept the popular myth that somehow wolves were bad and small pigs were good - and he started to ask questions. Investigations into the actual building of the Pig's houses on Mr Wolf's land, the allegations by Mr Wolf's eldest son that the houses of straw and sticks were deliberately destroyed by the three pigs, that the pigs had been abusive when Mr Wolf had asked them to leave and the additional allegation that they spread untrue rumours that Mr Wolf serving time for aggravated biting when a teenager - all seemed to point to a degree of planning and premeditation on the pig's part. But it hadn't been easy. The fact that Mr Wolf had gained forcible entry to the Pig's dwelling by climbing down the chimney and was thus trespassing had been problematical for the prosecution, but the true facts about what really happened that evening, no-one was ever likely to know. The pigs never took the stand and Mr Wolf was buried at St Abstemious' on Galloway road.
Josh Hatchett finished his piece to camera.
'...but what is certain is that the verdict, whatever it is, will be deeply controversial.... and - CUT!'
Hatchett put down the microphone and shifted his weight.
'How was that?'
'Not bad,' replied his producer, 'I could do with some lunch. How about you?'
'Anything but ham. I'm as fed up as - hello, what's that?'
The cameraman shouldered the camera as one of Hatchett's associates ran up with a press release. Josh read it quickly and they rolled VT.
'It's not guilty on all counts,' said Hatchett without emotion. 'In a climatic ending to a difficult trail, the jury of seven men and five women have agreed unanimously that the three pigs are innocent of the murder of Mr Theophilus Marmaduke Wolf....'
As if on cue the three pigs appeared on the Law court's steps, waved to their many supporters and were hustled away by Hector Sleaze of The Daily Toad ; it was said that they had arranged a considerable fee for the exclusive rights to their story. They were hurriedly taken to a waiting limousine and driven off at high speed as a fight broke out in the crowd. The police waded in and separated the arguing factions. It was a fitting end to a gruelling trial.
Detective Inspector Jack Spratt had been standing at the back of the court awaiting the verdict and he sat down heavily on a bench as the verdict was read. He was still there, head in hands when the prosecution lawyer laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
'Sorry Jack,' he said, 'some you win, and some you lose. We did our best.'
'It wasn't good enough. I should have made a better case.' murmured Jack. It was his first major murder inquiry and he had pursued it despite the wildly different emotions that it had elicited in the public as well as in other officers - there were detectives in Reading who wouldn't have bothered nor troubled to take the case, and it was touch and go whether the Crown Prosecution Service was going to take it either. It was simple - Wolves didn't illicit a huge amount of public sympathy and small pigs did. Jack had to almost accuse the CPS of prejudicial interest before they agreed to back his case.
'They did it, you know.' said Jack sullenly, 'They killed Mr Wolf as clearly as I stand here.' The prosecution lawyer sat down next to him.
'That's irrelevant now, Jack. Due process of law has taken place and they were acquitted. I'm sorry.'
Jack stepped out into the Law court's car park and looked up at the sky, trying to remember the last sunny day. The weather hadn't improved since Autumn last year and grey clouds swept rapidly across the sky, borne on a chill wind that cut like a knife. Spring, it seemed, had forsaken Reading; the drab winter weather had clung onto the town like a heavy smog, refusing to let the clouds disperse and give the plants a signal to start growing again. He ignored a waiting Japanese film crew wanting to interview him and once settled behind the wheel of his car allowed himself to look at his pager which had beeped three times in the courtroom. He frowned at the message.
'Big egg down - Wyatt - urgent,' murmured Jack, 'what the hell does that mean?'