Prize for mangled prose

San Francisco:

A 47-year-old Wisconsin man whose blend of awkward syntax, imminent disaster and bathroom humor offends both good taste and the English language won an annual contest Monday that salutes bad writing.

Jim Gleeson beat out thousands of other prose manglers who entered San Jose State University’s 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with this convoluted opening sentence to a nonexistent novel: “Gerald began — but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him 10 per cent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a 10-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them ‘permanently’ meant the next 10 minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash — to pee,” Gleeson wrote.

Gleeson works at a hospital in Madison setting up computer networks. He said he submitted about 20 entries, and gave a little insight into what it takes to win the bad writing title that comes along with a $250 prize.

“It’s like you take two thoughts that are not anything like each other and you cram them together by any means necessary,” Gleeson said.

Gleeson also thanked his time in college for preparing him well.

“There’s a certain degree to which academia prepares you to write badly,” Gleeson said.

Scott Rice, an English professor at San Jose State, called Gleeson’s entry a “syntactic atrocity” that displays “a peculiar set of standards or values.”

“If you think about it, unless it’s a flashback, there’s not very far you could get with that story,” said Rice, who has organised the contest since founding it in 1982.

Gleeson claimed he took time off from his current project, a self-help book for slackers entitled Self-Improvement Through Total Inactivity, to pen his winning entry.

The contest takes its name from Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford famously begins “It was a dark and stormy night.” Entrants are asked to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Citations are handed out for several categories, including “dishonorable mention” awards for “purple prose” and “vile puns.”