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Spectator competition: the best opening paragraphs to the worst of all novels (plus: a thriller in three text messages)

3 August 2015

1:10 PM

3 August 2015

1:10 PM

The latest challenge was a shameless rip-off of the annual Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest which asks for ‘the opening sentence to the worst of all novels’ (Edward Bulwer-Lytton is often described as ‘the worst writer in history’).

What a joy it was to wade through the morass of florid, convoluted prose, over-elaborate metaphors and inconsequential tangents. Dishonourable mentions all round, but especially to Bill Greenwell for an opening composed entirely of hashtags and to C.J. Gleed. The best of the worst earn their authors £25 each. The bonus fiver is Edward Gilbert’s.

Edward Gilbert

Inspector Falcon Foot was an experienced murder investigator. He had seen it all in his long and distinguished career. This case felt very familiar. A body lay cold on the beach, barely a world-class javelin throw from the morning tides, which foamed softly like partially flat, inferior lemonade. Foot examined the corpse carefully. He could see that the man had not died peacefully in his sleep. Aside from the compression marks on the neck, the irises of the victim were like those of a Pacific chinook salmon that had swum up the Sacramento river, made it beyond Red Bluff but had expired from exhaustion before Battle Creek after numerous near-misses with natural predators (excluding the now-extinct Californian grizzly bear).

Foot lifted his handset and spoke to his colleague. Dead body,he said, laconically. He clicked the receiver off. He raised his eyebrows resignedly, reflecting on the banality of evil.

Gerda Roper

In the globular archipelago that is trans-substantial love, there is always a provocative intifada. Had Sirenius the Spartan centurion realised how the fragments decoalesced, he might not have avoided the high road to Thermopylae, where all absolutes wilt like elderly brassica under ultraviolet. As the poetaster figured, θάνατοςοὐδὲνδιαφέρειτοῦζῆν. And then some. His emotional parsimony, a concatenation of parental influence and heliological dysfunction, left him as rutted as a semi-granular highway after the visitation of locusts that have been deprived of their favourite channel for months, and slaver like ferns. He was as weak as Lady Grey. Now, marching along the tedium of the B1756, as it later became, he was conscious only of gristle in his testicles, the way Life with a capital L had dealt him the seven of spades. And then, like a shaft of moonlight entering a Mexican silver mine, he saw her.


Adrian Fry

To the town of Y in the province of P in the country of K there came, on a night darker than the decades-locked interior of a subterranean Welsh dresser, a certain man Z, the lastborn son of G and (oddly) Marjorie, whose sole purpose it was to establish, in the name of the Tyrant of that era, the truth of rumours then circulating in the capital, Q, to the effect that the people of Y always as underwhelmed by political initiatives as were literary critics upon reading Kazuo Ishiguros The Unconsoled   had become able, by means of a combination of an infusion of herbs rarer than exhibitionism in dormice and the repeated ostentatious bellowing of the word dreikaiserbund, to render themselves temporarily ineligible for jury service.   

Brian Murdoch

It was a dark night, though not really any darker than is normal in the Northern hemisphere in winter, with some light drizzle but no hint of anything more inclement, and the clock had just struck midnight at the turn of the millennium, although it could, and indeed often had been argued that the millennium started, or would start, a year before or after this point, and the clock did not as a matter of fact strike midnight because clocks are unable to indicate whether it is midday or midnight, but just strike 12 times, besides which midnight had already passed an hour or two earlier in places like Bucharest or Tbilisi. Rodney, whose name was the most interesting thing about him, lay awake, letting his thoughts run, or rather, because he was very sleepy, walk slowly over the past day, which had in fact been more than usually uneventful. 

Rob Stuart

The fiery orb of the Sun rose over the savannah like an enormous spherical object that had been painted orange, assuming that it wasnt orange to begin with, on the end of an invisible stick. Not invisible in the sense of light beams actually bending around it, just hidden from view by the horizon. God it was dry there. Really dry. Really, really dry. Youve never seen anywhere as dry as this was. Dry as a play on Radio 4. Dry as a bone nestling in a bed of silica gel (a common desiccant) and then placed in a low oven for a month. And thats pretty dry, let me tell you.

The lone gazelle that graced the promontory, looking for all the world like a dog with antlers and elongated legs, and a differently shaped face, and body, sniffed at the new dawn and farted majestically.      

Alanna Blake

It was a morning of fiercely falling snow, of an indescribable coldness somewhat below freezing point, and of a whiteness which felt like blackness so deep and depressing was it. The stealthy night, that had taken so much longer to pass than the hours which the sluggardly timepiece attempted to make us believe, had, during those hostile hours, emptied the waste-bin of the heavens and left a white detritus littering the once verdant landscape and reducing all transport to a sorry state of standstill on the now albescent streets and roadways. Almador, the corrupt and dwarfish Government Minister for it is he who is to be the admirable hero of this tale limped nimbly towards the window of his chamber and scratched the talons of his nails down the icy filigree on the panes, cursing under his stale breath in his incomprehensible, tasteless native tongue.

@JonnyGeller shared this ‘Thriller Pitch in Three Texts’on his Twitter feed:

‘Hi Babe, what are you doing?’

‘Nothing much, ’em really tired. Just going to sleep now babe. And you?’

‘In the club standing behind you’.

Your next challenge is to submit a thriller in three text messages. Email entries (50 words max.) to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 12 August.


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