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'It was a dark and stormy night'

30 August 2004

With many people in the northern hemisphere just coming to the end of the summer holidays, it seemed a good week to feature some less than serious news. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Coming from the University of San Jose, this entertaining competition challenges the writer to compose the opening sentence of the worst of all possible novels. Follow its 'childishly simple' rules, 'wretched writers welcome'.

exactly fitted the bill. Set up in 1982 by some wags in the English Department at the San Jose University, this challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence in the worst of all possible novels.

It is named in honour of the Victorian writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (who in fact penned the following passage some years before Victoria ascended the throne, as the opening of his novel Paul Clifford):

'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 latest winner of the 2004 Contest is Dave Zobel, a 42-year-old software developer from Manhattan Beach, California. His immortal opening passage was:

'She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.'

The runner-up, who gave Dave Zobel a good run for his money, was Pamela Hatchet Hamilton of Quebec with this passage:

'The notion that they would no longer be a couple dashed Helen's hopes and scrambled her thoughts not unlike the time her sleeve caught the edge of the open egg carton and the contents hit the floor like fragile things hitting cold tiles, more pitiable because they were the expensive organic brown eggs from free-range chickens, and one of them clearly had double yolks entwined in one sac just the way Helen and Richard used to be.'

For other awards, see the website.