Friday, July 29, 2005


Dan McKay of North Dakota whose lyrical entry compares a woman’s breasts to the carburetors of a Triumph Spitfire. He’s a quantitative analyst at Microsoft and one can only say - don’t give up your dayjob, Dan!

“As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual."

The prize was named after Victorian writer Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel, Paul Clifford began with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. The line was plagiarized by Snoopy and it inspired the San Jose State University English Department to sponsor a prize for the worst opening line of the worst novel ever. Simply being mediocre is not enough, a little talent and zero judgment or taste is what the judges are looking for. It must not only be bad, but toe-curlingly, excruciatingly, mind-numbingly bad.

Bulwer-Lytton will go down in history as the man responsible for the phrases “the pen is mightier than the sword” and “the great unwashed”, and trivia buffs will be interested to know that his ancestral mansion was used in the filming of the movie Batman Returns. He’s a veritable genius compared to this year’s 2005 winners.

Here’s my favourite, written by Eric Winter of Minneapolis :

"It was high noon in the jungles of South India when I began to recognize that if we didn't find water for our emus soon, it wouldn't be long before we would be traveling by foot; and with the guerilla warriors fast on our heals (sic), I was starting to regret my decision to use poultry for transportation.”

The really terrifying prize for bad writing is that awarded for Bad Sex in Fiction by the Literary Review in December. This one is given for the most “crude, tasteless, often perfunctory” description of the sexual act. Our own Andre Brink was shortlisted with this passage from his novel, Before I Forget ...

"[It was] like a large exotic mushroom in the fork of a tree, a little pleasure dome if ever I've seen one, where Alph the sacred river ran down to a tideless sea. No, not tideless. Her tides were convulsive, an ebb and flow that could take you very far, far back, before hurling you out, wildly and triumphantly, on a ribbed and windswept beach without end" and “I would plunge into her from above like a diver in search of abalone.”

Last year’s winner was Tom Wolfe for I am Charlotte Simmons, and unlike most previous winners, he declined to accept the award in person.

This one is my favourite, from the 2000 list, Sean Thomas in Kissing England …

"It is time, time ... Now. Yes. She is so small and compact and yet she has all the necessary features ... Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman. She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa ... Aiwa".

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