Sunday, July 29, 2012

Writing lessons from the Worlds Worst Novelist

I would like to start with a brain teaser.  See if you can read the following sentence:
"Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?"
If the following statement made any sense, you may be insane.  Either that or you recently smoked something illegal.  For most of us, it’s run-on sentence that lost any meaning long before the first comma saved us from passing out on the floor.  It is a masterwork of the English language by sheer virtue of the fact that so many meaningless words were put together.   It is the first sentence to the long-forgotten novel Delina Delaney by Amanda McKittrick Ros, widely regarded as the worst novelist in English literature.

I won’t go into too much into her life or writing due to space and the fact that I would be more or less ripping off writers who actually had to wade through her work, a  Herculean task because they just don’t make shit-wading boots tall enough and it’s bound to soak through your socks.    Instead, I will offer the following link:

And, as always, there is wikipedia.

But, to give you an idea of exactly who we are dealing with,  imagine if you were to lock an infant in a room with nothing but the worst romance novels you could dig up.  The child grows up with her only knowledge of the world based on pages and pages of heaving shoulders, torn bodices and men with tortured souls who are also pirate captains.  Wait until that girl grows up and ask her to write a novel.  That was McKittrick Ros, and yes, it really is that bad. 

She embellishes strange details, for example.  Characters don’t clear their throat they clear it, “of any little mucus that perchance would serve to obstruct the tone of her resolute explanation.”

She alliterates like it’s a competitive sport:
“...frivolous, frittery fraternity of fragiles flitting round and about.”

And sometimes... well... its’ just bizarre.
"Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!"

By the way, if you feel the need to laugh, don’t fight it.  That’s your brain trying to save itself from leaking out of your ears.

So what can we learn from McKitrick except to, as the Great Lady herself put it, “disturb the bowels of millions?”  I’ve come up with three points. 

1: Be your own biggest fan: There is obviously a line between self assurance and outright delusion and McKittrick Ros cleared that line in street shoes.  Still, it takes a level of self-esteem bordering on sociopathy to pen words like she did, receive that kind of criticism and keep writing.  (Although it is not impossible that she kept going *because* of  the criticism.  She was Irish after all and stubbornness to the point of insanity is well-documented within the Irish tradition.)  It was frankly charming how she honestly believed in her heart that she was a great writer destined to “be talked about at the end of 1,000 years.” 

2: There’s no ‘right way’:  What makes a writer successful?  In my own humble opinion, it’s being able to write something that people enjoy and want to read.  Perhaps a bit simplistic, but there you go.  By that measure, she was successful. Among her fans were names like J.R Tolken, C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain.  They mostly read her novels to see how far they could get before falling off the bar stool in laughter, but still...  As we learn and grow as writers we are bombarded by people telling us how good writing should look, and sometimes they are even correct.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other paths. 

3.  Finally, it can always be worse:  I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to know that if I became completely insane and started writing short stories in a corn field with a bottle of whiskey and a riding lawnmower, they would still be infinitely more readable.  And yet, as I said before, she was still a success.... in her own way. That one simple fact gives me a bit of hope.  She was published and became a famous author writing in a style that’s so incredibly bad I couldn’t replicate it if I tried.

Although, it is perversely fun to try:

If mayhap you find the muscle filled with liquid fire screaming out like a woman deep in saddness’ cold embrace for want of the literary doppleganger of foul smelling disks laid out on a field populated by mankind’s dairy domestications.  You may find the foul, fetid, formations of fictional frivolity floundering forthwith:  (Translation: If you want more, you can find it here:)
Go to and search for McKittrick Ros.  Her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh is available for free and thank the gods because who would ever pay for this nonsense?

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