Good Reading : February 2006
FEBRUARY 2006 ı goodreading 23 writing life able mentions every year. In the 2005 results, Shelby Leung of NSW won the Children’s Literature category with a nod to the modern realities of fairytales: ‘The woods were all a-twitter with rumours that the Seven Dwarves were planning a live reunion after their attempted solo careers had dismally sputtered into Z-list oblivion and it was all just a matter of meeting a ten-page list of outlandish demands (including 700-threadcount Egyptian cotton bedsheets, lots of white lilies and a separate trailer for the magic talking mirror) to get the Princess For merly Known As Snow White on board.’ The Bulwer-Lytton is not the only contest where readers can mercilessly lampoon the writing styles of their least-liked or, more fondly, favoured authors and genres. For example, the annual Purple Prose Parody Contest run by romance novel website All About Romance (www.likesbooks.com) lovingly celebrates the excesses of the romance genre. It began with parodies of clichéd love scenes and has developed into author homages, sub-genre send-ups, Chick Lit pastiches (with Bridget Jones a prime target – the 2004 winning entry, set in Regency times, begins: ‘Erotic encounters with earls 0, Flowers ar ranged 175, Glasses of cooking sherry drunk 16, Brandies drunk 1, Pinches of snuff taken 24’), and even making fun of the romance writing process itself. Other parody writing contests include spoofs of very distinctive writ- ers, such as the Imitation Hemingway Contest (begun even earlier than the Bulwer-Lytton, in 1978) and the Faux Faulkner Contest, both sponsored by United Airlines and published in its Hemispheres in-flight magazine (www.hemi- spheresmagazine.com). Sadly, United Airlines has decided to end its spon- sorship this year, though it is likely other sponsors will be found. While such con- tests are usually meant purely as benevolent fun, they can have a more serious side. The Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest, supported by Winning Writers (www.winningwriters.com), is named after the pseudonym of British poet David Taub. Writing as ‘Wergle’, he submitted the poem ‘Flubblehop’ to the International Library of Poetry, a regular producer of vanity anthologies. Not even lines like ‘Reqi stoobery bup dinhhk / yibberdy yobberdy hif twizzum moshlap’ could dissuade the publishers from offer- ing Wergle the chance to pay to be in an anthology of love poems. The epony- mous contest encourages participants to write deliberately awful humour poems for submission to those vanity poetry publishers that accept all entries and ask exorbitant fees for the resulting antholo- gies and other merchandise. It aims to both publicise the tactics of these vanity publishers and waste a little of their time and resources with mocking entries. There are also bad fiction contests which pass judgement on actual pub- lished writing; these serve the same function as the Razzies, the flipside of the Oscars, by warning readers what to avoid while also reliev- ng the feelings of those who wish they had had hat warning. One such ward is the Guardian’s nnual Literary Review ad Sex prize for the ost inept description of x, won in 2004 by Tom olfe for three passages in m Charlotte Simmons that cluded the words ‘slither her slither slither went the tongue . Unsurprisingly, All About Romance also awards reader-voted gongs for the worst romances of the year in addition to its parody contest. Even the Bulwer- Lytton website panders to those who want to avoid real-life bad writing by listing dire opening lines from real pub- lished books (Danielle Steel has a place of honour). As for its hugely popular bad first lines fiction contest, while other Australians have taken out honours, I cannot rise beyond my own mediocrity and be bad enough to win the coveted prize. I’ve tried puns, purple prose, liter- ary naval-gazing, and the ever-popular literal-minded and long-winded over- explanation, but I have yet to rate even a (dishonourable) mention. For the 2006 contest (deadline 15 April, so get cracking), I’m tempted to flout the rules about plagiarism and single sentences and submit this opener to the 1950 book Sleep Till Noon by Max Shulman: ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin, and I was off on the big- gest adventure of my life.’ More deathless lines from the Great McGonagall’s ‘Tay Bridge Disaster’ (see also page 5). So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay, Until it was about midway, Then the central girders with a crash gave way, And down went the train and passengers into the Tay! The Storm Fiend did loudly bray, Because ninety lives had been taken away, On the last Sabbath day of 1879, Which will be remember’d for a very long time. As soon as the catastrophe came to be known The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown, And the cry rang out all o’er the town, Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down, And a passenger train from Edinburgh, Which fill’d all the peoples hearts with sorrow, And made them for to turn pale, Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879, Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
December January 2006