The Friday Fillip

Well the results are in and the winners have been announced for this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, that annual dark and stormy nightmare1 in honour of poor Lord Lytton, the one time Secretary of State for the Colonies (Canada, I’m looking at you) and novelist of less than wretched quality. (After all, folks, it was Himself who coined “the pen is mightier than the sword” which in full is “beneath the rule of men entirely great the pen is mightier than the sword” — but that’s another story.)

The contest now has numerous categories, because we just can’t get enough of the duff. So without further ado, let me give you some samples of excellent bad prose.

Winner, David McKenzie

  • “Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin’ off Nantucket Sound from the nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May,” a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.”

Now while I think that is a strong entry, it didn’t exactly knock me off my chair. What did make me spray my coffee, though, was the next entry.

Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award, Marguerite Ahl

  • “Fleur looked down her nose at Guilliame, something she was accomplished at, being six foot three in her stocking feet, and having one of those long French noses, not pert like Bridget Bardot’s, but more like the one that Charles De Gaulle had when he was still alive and President of France and he wore that cap that was shaped like a little hatbox with a bill in the front to offset his nose, but it didn’t work.”

Sigh. That is greatness.

You can see from above and from the winner of the detective category below how the aim is to mimic Lord Lytton’s descriptive dribble that, like many movies I’ve seen, just doesn’t know when to quit.

Detective, Eric Rice

  • “She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida – the pink ones, not the white ones – except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn’t wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren’t.”

This is enough to whet your appetite, I think. Go to the winners’ page for scads more of the bads. And then mull over whether Slaw shouldn’t host a bad judgment opening contest…


1. “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” [back]

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