Anastasya Shepherd home page Anastasya Shepherd home page Anastasya Shepherd home page

[Home]->[Books]->[The Four Little Pigs]

This book has not been released yet. Here are five sample chapters with scaled-down illustrations.

Chapter One

In which we meet Sunny, who lives in the ship under an octopus. And the octopus.

Once upon a place and twice upon a time - once when I wrote it and once now, when you read it - there was a little fish called Sunny. She was not a sun-fish; if anything, she looked more like a moon, but she had such a sunny disposition that the name fitted perfectly. The sun looks different under water, not as bright, but more magical, with the water surface making a sinuous pattern of light and dark, incessantly moving, playing with shades and lines, making even the dullest surfaces dance... but I digress.

Sunny lived in a sunken ship under an octopus. Everyone in Reeftown knew it. If anyone ever asked her where she lived, she would say, 'Straight and second dune on the right, in the ship under an octopus. You can't miss it.' And you couldn't. Not if you were looking for it, anyway.

Sunny's ship was the only ship under an octopus she knew about and she was rather proud of it. The octopus’ name was Emmanuel and she even wrote a ditty about him. When Sunny was in a good mood, silly little verses spilled out of her, dancing like sunlight on the sea floor.

We did just talk about it, pay attention!

Anyway, here is the ditty,

'Emmanuel does not play sports.
He has eight-holéd spotty shorts.
He sits and thinks up in the rigging
and finds the universe intrig'ing.'

Sunny sung it to Emmanuel, who 'hmm'd in appreciation and even tapped out the beat with a tentacle. This was unusually animated behaviour for the octopus, who normally spent his time in the rigging, quietly pondering and occasionally dropping crumbs or (if he was concentrating really hard) even whole slices. Sunny thought of posting a sign under him, warning visitors to beware of being bombarded by fully baked bread products and half-baked ideas, both potentially leading to headaches. However, after a bit of pondering of her own, she decided against it because not many of their visitors could read, especially very complicated words.

For example, do you know what “potentially” means? It means “It could, but it wouldn't if you don't, so don't!” or, if you want it to, “ do!”. I hope that makes it clear.

Sunny did draw a sign explaining the danger pictorially and saying “Beware of the Octopus” just in case. Sunny liked making things and making things funny. Emmanuel, whose permission she asked in advance (an important point here: if you are going to warn people about your nearest and dearest, ask first to prevent misunderstandings) approved of the idea – he did think it was quite funny - and even gave Sunny some of his ink for the sign. He made lots of ink for writing things down. He was a very strange octopus, you know: most octopi make ink to hide behind, but he made it to make himself clearer.

Are you still stuck on “pictorial”? Yes, of course it means in pictures! See, here it is:

'Pondering, you know... Hmm... Err... Yes, indeed... Pondering...' is what Emmanuel told people when they asked him what he was doing. Sometimes he even said, 'Pondering the imponderables,' which did not make any sense to Sunny. She strongly suspected that he was simply showing off.

Emmanuel lived there for as long as Sunny could remember, 'hmmm'ing to himself, giving cryptic answers to perfectly straightforward questions. He didn't speak much and was generally considered to be a wise old octopus, with a mystery in his past. General considering was mostly done by Molly and Polly – two scallops who spent their lives gossiping on the next dune. They thought that the mystery was unrequited love.

Another long word here: “unrequited”. It means that the object of your affection remains unaffected by you. It seems to be a frequent affectation for people who read romance novels. Affectation is pretending to feel something to appear more interesting. It is very important to know the difference. Here is a picture to make it clear:

When Sunny asked Emmanuel about all that, he replied, 'All my loves were very much requited, thank you. And, anyway, I am not that old. Hmmm... In a none-too-distant past I used to be a cowboy, driving herds of ravenous cuttlefish across the ocean wastes to the West, riding my faithful porpoise, with the current tugging at my 10-gallon hat... I had to tie it on with a string – the blooming thing kept falling off.

'We were happy – my porpoise Buttercup and I – wandering free through the endless ocean, stopping at rare settlements for food and water and at frequent settlements for traffic lights... until I found that Buttercup was not as faithful as all that. One day I forgot to tie her up properly and she wandered off after some flying fish. Maybe she wanted to learn how to fly, or maybe she was just hungry... That's how I was separated from my porpoise.

'Hmm... yes... hmm... As I could not follow the herd without a steed, I abandoned my trade and my hat (You see, there are positives even in the most tragic of circumstances - the hat string used to chafe like nobody's business!) and started wandering aimlessly, lonely as a cloud... Hmm... And then I wondered, “why do people say that? Clouds are almost never lonely – they form into cloud banks – or is it schools? and, anyway, why are they called banks? Or schools? Why is a crowd of fish called a school? Nobody ever learns anything in a crowd – apart from why it's important to get out...”

'Hmm... yes, indeed... from then on I wandered, still lonely, as an octopus wandering by himself, but no longer without a purpose. I was now trying to figure things out. And one of the first things I figured out is that I can wonder much more comfortably if I stop wandering and settle down. Preferably somewhere in the warm with a library nearby. That was a good piece of thinking, even if I say so myself! Hmm...

'Once my purpose was clear, finding the right place was just a matter of time – and some money. Hmm... You know, there is a theory that there is no such thing as time and money, there is only a time-money continuum... the more you have of one the less you get of the other... Hmm... yes... Anyway, I found this shipwreck and settled down in the rigging. Or up, relative to you, of course. And that's the story of my wild youth – more of a romance than a mystery, don't you think?'

'Wow! Yes! Is it all true?' sputtered Sunny in wonder, after shutting her mouth with a blurp (this is what you get underwater instead if a snap).

'If you like,' winked Emmanuel, 'or I may have been a lumberjack.'

Sunny, whose mind was spinning from trying to imagine Emmanuel as a cowboy, let alone a lumberjack, gave up at this point and went to her room to think.

Chapter Two

Which, as we find out later, is even more necessary to the story than an umbrella is to a fish.

Every morning on her way out Sunny called, 'Hi, Em'. Emmanuel is such a long name to say every day that she usually called him "Em" for short. To herself, she thought of "Em" as his real name and of "Emmanuel" as his Sunday best (at his Sunday best she always thought of him as wearing a top hat, a tie and a jacket with a few crumbs down the front, which made her giggle).

'How is your pondering today?'

'Very well, thank you,' answered Emmanuel, for he was a very polite octopus. He said 'very well' even when it wasn’t – that’s what polite octopi do.

On this particular day Emmanuel added excitedly, 'Hmm... hmm... yes, indeed... hmm... (you can tell how excited he was by the number of "hmm's") I may go so far as to say very well indeed! Today I discovered the meaning of life for amoebae. Tomorrow I am planning to move on to multicellular organisms.'

Do you understand anything he said? Neither did Sunny. Let me help you out. Amoebae are very, very, very, very small animals. They are so small that you cannot see them without a microscope. What, you don’t know what a microscope is either? It is a tool for looking at extraordinarily small things. Like a telescope, only the opposite.

And amoebae are very simple. Anyway, we think they are very simple. They probably think they are very complex and interestingly pale. Amoebae are made up of only one cell. Multicellular organisms are living things made of lots and lots of cells, like a beehive or a prison. What the meaning of life is I don’t know either. I asked others, and nobody coherent seemed certain, while nobody certain seemed coherent. You’ll have to ask Emmanuel about that if he ever gets as far as humans - or, indeed, fish.

'Good luck!' laughed Sunny and was about to swim on, when a loud "hmm" stopped her. 'What is it, Em?' she asked.

'Hmm... I am afraid the bread box has been somewhat semantically misleading since yesterday,' said Emmanuel.

"What?" seemed the only sensible response and Sunny made it, 'What?'

'There is no bread in it. It would be more accurate to call it an empty box.'

'I see!' Sunny brightened. 'I am going to town to buy an umbrella, I will get some bread as well.' Sunny had seen Molly and Polly sporting their new blue and pink umbrellas the day before. They looked so bright and cheerful in the shimmering sunlight, that she simply could not get them out of her mind. She even came up with two umbrella-ish verses, though she wasn't quite happy with either of them.

The first one,

'Pink parasols
don't have soles,
they don't wear shoes,
they grow on poles,'

seemed too silly and the second one,

'Umbrellas are
acute and sunny.
They make me cute
and cost me money,'
seemed too mundane.

What do you think?

Anyway, Sunny decided to get one too. She was of the opinion that some of the most important things in life are beautiful things that make one happy. She once asked Em about whether he thought beauty was the most important thing in life, but he replied that other people's value systems are none of his business, they are the business of politicians and priests – and a particularly profitable one.

'And even if they were,' Em continued thoughtfully, 'discussing them honestly rarely results in changing other people's opinions. It usually results in increasingly loud arguments, headaches and – in the worst case scenarios – broken bones. I tend to confine myself to nodding and smiling when values are discussed. It's the wisest thing to do, in my opinion. Hmm...'

Therefore, in Sunny's opinion she was a fish in an acute need of an umbrella.

You thought I would never get to that explanation, didn't you? But I did!

Chapter Three

Where the umbrella verse problem is solved and some extraneous characters are discussed at length.

Sunny passed Molly and Polly, who were discussing what colour shells are being worn this season. Mr. Crabby – an old crab who lived nearby – was sidling away from them as fast as he could, muttering under his breath. All Sunny could hear, as she was passing, was, "…silly chatterboxes…" She pursed her lips, since she knew that one is not supposed to talk badly about others. Incidentally, it also helped Sunny to hide a smile, for she secretly agreed with Mr. Crabby. Molly and Polly really were too much!

Sunny first met Mr. Crabby at the funeral of an old hagfish nobody liked. An officious lungfish was limping through a traditional litany of laudatory platitudes about the deceased. It doesn't really matter what all of this means – it just sounds nice. This, funnily enough, also applies to most official speeches. If you have to attend one (you can't just go to one – maybe because you wouldn't want to go – you have to “attend”; and attending a speech doesn't mean “paying attention” at all – it just means going there -oh, boy!)… anyway, it's best to bring a hankie to speeches – they are brilliant for hiding yawns.

Back to the story. The audience looked appropriately bored. Mr. Crabby was muttering then as well, something to the effect of, 'Dying doesn't actually change the old hag into having been nice up to this point... it might make her more tolerable from now on…' Sunny had to purse her lips then as well.

Mr. Crabby's muttering was always worth listening to, which was rather odd, since aloud he was an extremely serious-minded gentleman who never chatted about trivial matters. He discussed serious subjects, such as politics and the price of air. Sunny heard him once explaining to Mrs. Crabby that, while he did not actually breathe air, he heard that it was becoming quite expensive underwater. He believed that it was because of sea lions swallowing the lion’s share of it – what else do you expect if you let mammals live in the ocean?

Sunny wasn't quite sure why the price of air was considered to be a more serious subject than the colours of umbrellas. She asked Em once and he explained that the seriousness of a topic of conversation was determined by everyone agreeing that it was serious.

Sunny remembered this explanation and imagined a hall full of crabs voting for the seriousness of various topics.

A chaircrab at the podium announced the topics, such as “PRICE OF AIR” in a solemn, booming voice and all the crabs who agreed that it was serious raised their claws in dignified silence. The next topic, “MAMMALS – ARE THEY GOOD FOR YOU?” was passed as serious almost unanimously. However, when the topic of “CRAB SHELL COLOURS” was raised, it became impossible to decide who voted for its importance. A few general remarks about the obvious advantages of one colour or the other from various parts of that august body caused so much shouting, spitting, claw-waving and, regrettably, hitting of neighbours with hats and briefcases, that the chaircrab lost his voice, his patience and the end of his gavel while trying to call for silence. After that incident, the topic was declared to be trivial, unimportant and not worthy of a general discussion. The crabs picked up their briefcases and hats, while avoiding each other's eyes (quite difficult, when your eyes are on stalks waving all over the place), and sidled from the hall of Sunny's imagination in a straight line and dignified silence, almost none of them limping.

Sunny giggled to herself and returned to reality. She waved to the shellfish, pausing to admire their umbrellas. And then it came to her – not too silly, not too boring, but just right,

'Pink shellfish called Molly
liked pretty blue brolly.
Blue shellfish called Polly
liked pretty pink brolly.
Both Molly and Polly,
they each got a brolly.
Pink Molly -
blue brolly;
blue Polly -
pink brolly.
Now isn't it jolly
For Molly and Polly?'

a perfect umbrella song, don't you agree? Sunny did have to swap the colours of the umbrellas for the song. Molly actually had a pink umbrella and Polly – a blue one, but Sunny thought it was a bit dull that way. Poetry only really has to have a modicum of truth at the core – the frilly bits around the edge are quite often a big fat lie.

Right next to the main road Sunny was stopped by Willy and Nilly – two anemones living on the next dune. They were brothers and constantly bickered about something. Actually, that's wrong: they constantly bickered about everything. Sunny was amazed by their ability to create arguments out of the thin air at first, it was almost like magic. But then she reasoned that, since the brothers were rooted to the spot (anemones usually are), this was their version of a competitive sport. If bickering was an event in the annual Seabottom Olympic Games, they would come top. Or not come at all, because they wouldn't be able to agree on the topic for their argument. This time, the quarrel was about who had longer tentacles.

'Hey, Sunny! Tell this dimensionally challenged brother of mine that my tentacles are longer than his!' yelled Willy.

'Oh, no, they are not... you... challenged yourself! Tell him, Sunny!' retorted Nilly.

Sunny paused to give the question some thought, but was interrupted almost immediately by Willy, 'Come on, Sunny, what do you think?'

'I don't know yet, you wouldn't give me a chance to think! About the same length, I suppose...' replied Sunny. She thought that they would both like that answer and besides, it was probably true. Boy, was she wrong! Both Willy and Nilly snorted in unison.

'You have no idea what you are talking about, do you?' said Nilly.

'Shouldn't have asked a girl anyway,' jeered Willy, 'girls are stupid - sitting around thinking all the time!'

Sunny shrugged her fins and swam on, thinking that there is no way to please everyone – or, sometimes, even anyone. She rhymed somewhat vindictively, as she swam,

'I do not want
a little brother,
I want a sister
or an other.'

Chapter Four

In which Sunny meets Simon and the adventure begins in earnest, in Reeftown and beyond.

Sunny forgot about the anemone brothers almost immediately. Do you still remember them? Willy and Nilly, we met them in the last chapter, along with Polly, Molly, and Mr. Crabby. She was swimming along happily, saying "Hello!" to everyone she passed, and singing a silly little tune,

Sunny went to the shop;
Sunny went to the ship;
it's a skip, jump and hop!'

when suddenly, upon turning around a corner of the road, she was transfixed with wonder. Wonder is probably the best thing to be transfixed with, if you have a choice, but you don't really expect it to happen on an ordinary morning.

However, on that particular ordinary morning Sunny saw something extraordinary. Funny things, words. “Extraordinary” doesn't actually mean “more ordinary”, like “extra sweet” means “more sweet”, “extra long” means “longer” and “extra virgin” means nothing at all, in spite of being used quite frequently. “Extraordinary” actually means “not ordinary at all”.

Do you still remember what we were talking about? Right, Sunny saw something extraordinary. There, in front of her was a bunch of... things – huge, round, perfectly formed, the colours of the brightest coral, straining at their strings as if they were alive, focusing stray shafts of sunlight and scattering them haphazardly as colourful sunspots on the sea floor!

Sunny had never seen balloons before - they are quite rare at the bottom of the sea. She thought them amazingly beautiful. A slithery little fish that looked like a small dragon was carrying the bunch in one fin. He was concentrating on propelling himself along the sea floor with another fin and failed to notice a sharp piece of coral ahead. As he approached an overhanging branch, it touched one of the balloons. It exploded with a loud “BOOM” and broke into a shower of bits. And broke the spell. A little rag of coloured rubber sank slowly and sadly to the seabed.

After tracing its progress, as if hypnotised, all the way to the bottom, Sunny pointed at the remaining balloons and asked, 'May I have one of those? They are so bright and beautiful and I would very much like one.'

'Balloons. And no,' replied the strange fish rather abruptly. 'I need them to learn how to swim.'

Sunny was so surprised, she almost forgot about the balloons. 'What do you mean – to learn how to swim? You are a fish. Fish know how to swim.'

'Well, I don’t,' said the strange fish crossly. 'If I hold my balloons, they pull me up and help me float. I am doing rather well with them, though I still need to work out the controls. Turning is going quite well if I use my tail, but going up and down is a problem...'

'I see,' said Sunny, though she didn’t see at all. Did you ever notice how people often say 'I see,' while waiting for others to finish speaking if they think they themselves have something interesting to say? They never say 'I hear,' which, I suppose, proves that people are fundamentally honest. 'How about this - if I help you learn how to swim, would you give me a balloon?'

'Sure,' answered the strange fish. 'If you do that, you can have them all. I had plenty of balloons in my game. By the way, my name is Simon. What is yours?'

'Sunny,' replied Sunny and blushed. She was embarrassed about forgetting to introduce herself. She knew that polite fishes always introduced themselves, but she was so busy looking at the balloons and then being amazed about a fish that cannot swim, that she totally forgot about it. 'So, how come you don’t know how to swim?' asked Sunny, to cover up her embarrassment, satisfy her curiosity, and maintain the conversation which might, just might, result in her getting a balloon. It is amazing how much one sentence can reveal – or cover – or achieve – or all of the above, isn't it?

Well, you see, I escaped from a game. You know the game of Simon says? People often play it at parties. Well, I am Simon.'

'I don't,' interrupted Sunny, who was getting more and more confused, 'I also don't know what a party is.'

'There is no reason you should,' smiled Simon. 'A party is a part of the human mating ritual, usually an uncomfortable place where you talk to unfamiliar people about uninteresting things. The game is usually played by a small group of people. When one of them yells, "Simon says – do this!" they all do it. Whoever doesn't do it is out of the game. If the leader does not use the words "Simon says" and someone does it anyway, they are also out of the game... I didn't say it was a good game, did I? Anyway, I never needed to swim, just to tell people what to do. It was fun for a while, I guess. Playing by the rules makes games more interesting. But others went away after the party and I remained. I realized that I wasn't just playing by the rules, I was living by the rules. Even worse – I was living by other people's rules that I did not agree to or even like. That's when I ran away to sea. And, when I arrived here, I realized that I don’t know how to swim, which is rather embarrassing for a fish...' after a brief pause, Simon looked up at Sunny defiantly, as if challenging her to laugh.

Sunny felt quite sorry for him, though it was a little bit funny. She pursed her lips and decided to help the strange fish. The fact that there was a balloon in it for her did not hurt either. Sunny opened her mouth to explain how to swim, and realized that she had no idea. She always did it, but never knew how to do it. It is exactly like walking – if you attempt to explain it to someone you will see what I mean. After opening and closing her mouth a few times with a loud sound (try it, it sounds something like 'pa-pa-pa') she proposed that they go along the sea floor and see if they could find someone to explain swimming to Simon. And so they did.

As they moved, Sunny kept glancing up at the balloons. But even when she was not looking at them, they swam in her mind, round and perfect, forming into a song,

'I like balloons,
they look like moons;
they shine like spoons
in deep lagoons;
they smell like blooms
they taste like “BOOM”s;
they sing a tune
like carp in June!'

With so many “oos” in it, the song couldn't help but be round, see?

Chapter Five

In which Sunny and Simon meet a swordfish, who wants to teach them how to fly and promptly flies off the handle.

At the edge of town Sunny and Simon met a swordfish (See, I got to the point right at the beginning this time!). He was holding a flower in his mouth (I don't know where he found a flower in the sea either) and looked friendly. So, Sunny asked him, 'Excuse me, Sir, can you explain to my friend Simon how to swim, please?' She was sure that no one would be able to refuse such a polite request.

The swordfish turned to them enthusiastically. 'Who wants to swim!' he exclaimed. 'Anyone can swim! You want to learn how to fly!'

'Actually, we don't...' started Sunny, but she couldn't finish because the swordfish launched into an explanation at a speed sufficient to escape Earth's gravity and send him into a world of his own.

'First, you need to clear your mind. Your thoughts must be high and light and pure. I suggest ascendental meditation - invented especially for flying by the Mariana trench monkfish, you know! The most important thing, though, is that you have to believe in yourself and believe you can fly. Just like I believe I can fly. I never actually tried flying, so I am not sure how good I would be at that, but I am really good at believing that I can. You can do anything if you believe you can, you know! And then you need to go up to a mountain and launch yourself into the air...'

'Wait a minute, interrupted Sunny. Her common sense, which was, under normal circumstances, dozing peacefully in the comfortable warmth of the somewhat disused recesses of her mind, woke up with a start. It was feeling like it was being drowned in cloying pink syrup and feverishly started looking for a way out or, failing that, a slice of lemon. 'We cannot go to a mountain, we are fishes, we would die out of the water!'

'It is the mundane, heavy thinking of people like you that stops us from being able to fly!' snorted the swordfish.

Sunny was becoming annoyed. 'So, how many fish that went out of water and survived do you know? All the ones I heard about died very soon if not sooner!'

'Oh, those are just isolated incidents. You cannot generalize from them. They probably did not believe in themselves enough... Yes, that must be it!' brightened the swordfish.

'It's uncanny how those isolated incidents leading to unfair generalizations happen so regularly, then!' answered Sunny with uncharacteristic sarcasm. Her common sense was still screaming for help at the back of her mind and at the top of its lungs.

After a brief pause, during which the swordfish attempted and failed to come up with a response, he snorted loudly, turned around, looking as offended as he could manage at such a short notice, and swam away without looking back.

'That fish seemed rather silly,' said Sunny turning to Simon.

'Sillious,' replied Simon.


After looking at Sunny's uncomprehending expression, Simon explained, 'You know how most people look quite silly when they are being serious? It happens so often, I thought there ought to be a word for it. But there isn't - so I had to make one up. Sillious.'

'Oh, I see!' smiled Sunny, thinking to herself that this strange little fish is rather fun and probably smarter than he looks, 'Let's go on.' And on they went.

Home Photography Books Art Design About Me Contact Sitemap