The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Where WWW stands for World's Worst Writers.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Where WWW stands for World's Worst Writers.


Seeing how the victim's body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer "Dirk" Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase "sandwiched" to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt. Joel Phillips, West Trenton, NJ

The winner of the 33rd edition of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Joel Phillips of West Trenton, New Jersey. An Alabama native, Joel teaches music theory and composition at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. He lives in West Trenton with his wife and their three cats, gardens with gusto, and enjoys listening to his rock-star bassist son's original songs. He can tell you when René Magritte painted The Castle of the Pyrenees but not when someone is off sides in soccer. Phillips is the person who purposefully viewed the film Ishtar more than once.

Image of a lightning strike

Conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write books, the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Bulwer was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel "Paul Clifford" (1830) with the immortal words, "It was a dark and stormy night." Lyttons sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he originated the line "The pen is mightier than the sword," and the expression "the great unwashed." His best known work is "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), an historical novel that has been adapted for film multiple times.

As has happened every year since the contest went public in 1983, thousands of entries poured in not just from the United States and Canada but from such countries as England, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Ireland, and Indonesia.


We cant let the dastards win, said Piper Bogdonovich to her fellow gardener, Mr. Sidney Beckworth Hammerstein, as she clenched her gloved hands into gnarly, fuzzed fists, because if I have to endure another year after which my Royal Puffin buttercups come in second place to Marsha Engelstroms Fainting Dove Tear Drop peonies, I will find a machine gun and leave my humanity card in the Volvo. Grey Harlowe, Salem, OR

Grand Panjandrums Special Award

Ozymandias looked upon his mighty statue and despaired, amazed that the sculptors could have gotten his nose so wrong and wishing the darned thing would just crumble into pieces and blow across the lone and level sands, but leaving his legs since they were actually rather flattering. Margaret Stein, Omaha, NE

Winner, Adventure

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

Runner-Up, Adventure

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

A thousand miles from the coast a cheer went up from the burned, ragged survivors of the Cortez party as they descended upon the hapless prairie dog devouring skin, fur, blood, everything in their ravenous quest for sustenance since their expulsion, two months previously, from the Reno Holiday Inn without the concomitant expulsion from the safe of their wallets and passports. Dave Hurt, Leicester, UK

If old Elijahs warning about the North Korean cruise ship of Liberian registry, crewed by Thai slaves wasnt enough, dinner at the Somali Captains table in a lifeboat near confirmed it. Paul Ross, Santa Fe, NM

Walking through the northernmost souk of Marrakech, that storied and cosmopolitan city so beloved of voyagers wishing to shake the desert dust off their feet, Peter bought a French-language newspaper and realized, with dizzying dismay, that Camille can be a mans name. Myriam Nys, Mechelen, Belgium