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News & views

Heroin goes dirty dancing

[30 Sept 2011] The Guardian reports that romantic novelist Susan Andersen’s hero became altogether filthier after an unfortunate editing error:  ‘I apologise to anyone who bought my on-sale ebook of “Baby, I’m Yours” and read on page 293: ‘He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground.’ Shifted – he SHIFTED! I just cringe when I think of the readers who have read this.’

Had this been an opening sentence, it might have won the Bulwer-Lytton award, a ‘whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels’. Run since 1982 by the English Department at San Jose State University, the contest includes categories for different literary genres. Here’s the overall winner for 2011:

‘Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.’ (Sue Fondrie)

As the website ( notes, at 26 words, this ‘is the shortest grand prize winner in Contest history, proving that bad writing need not be prolix, or even very wordy’ – and of course that short sentences are not necessarily good sentences. Not that short sentences is something the runner-up – with this 77-word wonder – has to worry about:

‘As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this ... and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.’ (Rodney Reed)

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