Monday, 9 January 2012

It could only happen in America

As the darkling skies fled before the deepening dusk, and the sun went to its slumbering sleep behind the cityscape of sheer and vivid rectanguloid outlines, glimmering in the gloom, and the sodium lights began to shine with sulphurous yellow, I decided to post this piece from the 1984 edition of "Thinks", here's a lighter piece from the editor, Ken Webb.

My American friends should take note that it was followed by other "It could only happen..." shorts on other countries which will be inflicted on the readers of this blog tomorrow. So they don't need to feel singled out!

The worst opening of a novel has been suggested as "It was a dark and stormy night" by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton at the beginning of his 1830 book "Paul Clifford". The rest goes on:

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.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest named after the aforementioned opening was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice, Professor of English at San Jose State University. The first year got only three entries, but when it went public in 1983, it got  10,000 entries. Here is Ken's report of that year:


A professor of English from the State University of San Jose, California, organised a competition for the worst opening sentence of a novel.

Strange to relate, there was world wide interest and no fewer than 10,000 entries flooded in. (Editor of "THINKS" please take note!)

An American (who else) won the first prize for this abysmal effort:-

"The Camel died suddenly on the Second Day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails - not for the first time since the journey began - pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil."

My personal preference was for the entry of the winner of the second prize, an Englishman, who commenced a spy novel as follows:-

"It came to him in a cocaine rush as he took the Langley exit that if Aldrich had told Filipov about Hancock only Tulfengian could have known that the photograph which Wagner had shown to Maximov on the jolting S-Bahn was not the photograph of Kessler that Bradford had found at the dark, sinister house in the Sehillerstrasse the. day that Straub told Percival that the man on the bridge had not been Aksakov ..." .

He managed to keep going for a few more score words before coming - mercifully - to the all important full stop.

Such was the international flavour of this competition the third prize winner hailed from West Germany. How's this for a snappy start to a romantic novel?

"She flung her feverishly disquieted body onto the cool camnbrie of the Waldorf Astoria bed and knew, oh yes, sobbingly knew, that her love was lost, that her pearly teeth absent heartedly , in a sense, began gnawing the silky pillow her golden dreams had so recently lavishly blossomed on."

There's hope for the Editor yet.

1 comment:

alane said...

Loved it all but disclaimer, Tony!