Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

So bad it’s beyond good

EB-L‘It was a dark and stormy night … ‘. Thus spake Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) in the opening lines of his novel Paul Clifford (1830). Snoopy admired the phrase so much that he began his own novels, with the same phrase, lots of times. But did you know that the rest of the quotation runs like this?

“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.”

Fine writing? No. A good opening sentence for a novel? Not really. Think you could do better? There’s a competition for folk like you. The 2012 Lyttoniad is open for entries all year round, but the official closing date is April 15. Write an opening sentence of up to around 60 words, and make it as tangential as possible. Here are some recent winners, to give you a flavour of the thing:

“As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.” (2012 winner, Cathy Bryant from Manchester, UK)

“As an ornithologist, George was fascinated by the fact that urine and feces mix in birds’ rectums to form a unified, homogeneous slurry that is expelled through defecation, although eying Greta’s face, and sensing the reaction of the congregation, he immediately realized he should have used a different analogy to describe their relationship in his wedding vows.” (special award winner David Pepper, Hermosa Beach CA)

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.” (winner of the crime category, Sue Fondrie, Appleton, WI)

For all information on where to send entries, and the glorious history of the prize, go to the site of The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher, and publisher (, in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

2 comments on “So bad it’s beyond good

  1. Liliana
    March 26, 2013

    Thanks. A really good way to start my day.

  2. Jackie
    March 27, 2013

    I’ve heard about that contest before, my local newspaper does an article on it every few years, but I’ve never read any of the winning entries before. Oh my goodness! Words almost fail me.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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