The call for the comically appalling first or final paragraph of the memoir of a well-known figure was one of those challenges where we raise a glass in memory of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian novelist and patron saint of purple prose. The oft-cited example of his florid style is the opening to the 1830 novel Paul Clifford — ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ — which was used by Charles Schulz as the first line of Snoopy’s novel, and by Brian Murdoch in his winning entry below.
You didn’t quite hit the spot this week and the standard was patchy. Some creditable entries were disqualified because they didn’t strike me as plausible beginnings or endings. Still, I enjoyed Frank Upton’s portrait of a young Jeremy Corbyn soaking up the ideological wisdom of Noggin the Nog and The Woodentops; he earns an honourable mention. Other highlights include D.A. Prince’s Richard Branson, Paul Freeman’s Jacob-Rees Mogg (‘I well remember my emergence from mater’s womb, or Wexit as I call it…) and George Wright’s John Bercow.
The prizewinners are printed below and earn £30 each.
Adrian Fry/Jeremy Corbyn
Born with a congenitally weak chin in Kington Saint Michael near Chippenham on the wrong side of the Cold War, it was inevitable I should be aware of injustice at every level of British society. That society had levels and was not arranged as a communitarian bungalow inspired me to fight, pacifically, for radical change. At home, I freed toys unjustly depend-ent upon me for animation, expressing solidarity for their silent dignity by refusing to participate in the wasteful and exploitative charade of capitalist play. At school, I challenged an education system which rewarded only achievement, demanding recognition that numbers other than four could be the product of two plus two. Always I was acutely aware of the suffering of others: the milkman compelled to rise before dawn, the paperboy struggling to bear the weight of Sunday supplements. Then, as now, I sensed revolution could not be far away.
Brian Murdoch/Edward Bulwer-Lytton
It was a dark and stormy night when I was born, presaging symbolically enough the great and never to be forgotten works of literature that I would produce later on, although to be strictly truthful, as behoves the Bulwer-Lyttons, it was a dark and stormy night in Wollongong and in other part of Australia, but quite a warm and sunny late Spring morning in Norfolk, where I actually came into the world. I can say, however, with at least probable accuracy, that it will have been a dark and stormy night in Norfolk with the rain coming down in torrents except during the intervals when it wasn’t, at a slightly later time in my in-fancy, when I was nearly seven months old, but sad to say I have no recollection of this, nor indeed of anything else until I was about six, when someone gave me a picture-book about Pompeii…
She was a moaner and a busybody. When I told her we’d have to leave Sodom she replied in her usual catty way: ‘That’s my Lot!’ I told her a dozen times to mind her own business, but would she? We’d hardly gone a mile from the city when there was an almighty bang and she turned round. Next thing I knew she was a pillar of salt. I bent down to give her a final kiss and I exclaimed: ‘God, she tastes better now than she ever did.’ I got the girls to bring sacks. ‘Shovel your mother up,’ I said. ‘She’ll fetch a good price in the next town.’ Then I cautioned them: ‘Tell it not in Gath lest the daughters of the Philistines refuse to buy her.’ My heart was singing psalms, for the Lord had taken away and the Lord had provided.
David Silverman/Bruno Tonioli
What are my abiding memories of Strictly? It would have to be jumping around like a demented Jack-in-the-box, wheeling my arms about like an out-of-control windmill, like an over-caffeinated Kate Bush on steroids, like a hyperactive, hypo-manic, bipolar Italian with ADHD, demonstrating a crazy avant-garde fusion of flamenco and semaphore! I looked like a loved-up March hare overdosed on aphrodisiac magic mushrooms! I was a metaphor ma-chine, a symphony of simile, a demon-possessed whirling dervish spitting out sizzling, scintillating, supercharged, souped-up superlatives and surreal alliterative streams of conscious-ness! I was Kermit the Frog on crack meets Dylan Thomas meets André Breton and Jean Genet after a few too many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, as I heaped high-octane hymns of hyperbole and poetic paeans of praise on hitherto unknown celebrities attempting to exe-cute a perfect, passionate Paso Doble or a ridiculously raunchy rumba, and failing miserably. It was heaven, darling!
Alan Millard/William MacGonagall
I dare, with both hindsight and foresight, boldly proclaim that I, notwithstanding my humble beginnings, have not only reaped richly deserved approbation but shall, after my tragic passing when all shall weep inconsolably, be remembered and revered for a very long time to come. For it was in those humble beginnings spent at the loom that I did learn how to hone the weave and weft of beautiful words. Oft did I astonish the spellbound crowds with my recitations, so much so that they, lacking provision of bouquets, cast whatever they could on the stage to shower me with adulation. Revered by royalty and ruffians alike, I bequeath you a legacy unsurpassed and plead with you not to grieve over my grave. Rather rejoice that the angels will greet me at heaven’s portal and not for a brief time but time immortal, delight to hear me recite my sublime rhyme.
Your next challenge is to submit a letter to Father Christmas written in the style of a well-known author, living or dead. Please email entries of up to 150 words or 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 4 December.