I am a huge fan of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The contest is a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. If you are not acquainted with Edward Bulwer-Lytton, he was the English novelist who in 1830 penned the classic first phrase to the first sentence of the novel Paul Clifford which begins: “It was a dark and stormy night …” In all fairness, Bulwer-Lytton gets a bad rap. He also coined other memorable phrases including “the great unwashed“, “pursuit of the almighty dollar“, and “the pen is mightier than the sword.” All the same, the contest is great fun.
Every year contestants attempt to pen opening sentences that are so bad that they are good, or if not good, at least amusing. Here are the winners with a nautical focus from this year’s contest.
After weeks at sea, Captain Fetherstonhaugh and his hardy crew had at last crossed the halfway point, and he mused that the closest dry land now lay in the Americas, assuming of course that it was not raining there. David Laatsch, Baton Rouge, LA
Certainly most people in Morris’ place would have had certain misgivings about being stranded aboard a life raft, facing the unrelenting hunger and the possibility of having to eat the weaker members of the crew just to eke out the chance of survival for a few more days, but as Morris was an Asiatic black bear he had absolutely no qualms about it whatsoever. Charlie Hill, Auckland, New Zealand
Dishonorable Mentions, Adventure:
If old Elijah’s warning about the North Korean cruise ship of Liberian registry, crewed by Thai slaves wasn’t enough, dinner at the Somali Captain’s table in a lifeboat near confirmed it. Paul Ross, Santa Fe, NM
She was a mermaid equally at home on land and water because of her dual-membrane lungs, and she had everything I needed tucked under one beautiful big scale, and her glistening, wriggling, flopping body and melodious Siren’s voice had me in love from day one when I hauled her up along with 600 pounds of Point Judith #3 calamari. David S Nelson, Falls Church VA
Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions:
He was an old man who fished alone on a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish, but in the meantime had perfected his killer mojito and opened a beachside bar where patrons now stood three deep waiting to taste his magic at four U.S. bucks a pop. Ray Clarke, Concord CA