Awful author’s alliterative revival

If you thought that Mark Latham turned a good phrase of insult with things like “a conga line of suckholes”, then you’re going to like Amanda McKittrick Ros. However, while you may like her style of insult, you probably won’t like anything else she wrote. Ros was an Irish author who published her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh, in 1898. She subsequently wrote a number of novels and pieces of poetry and has since gained the rather unenviable title of the worst author in the world.

Amanda McKittrick Ros

She had a thing for alliteration. Her three romance novels, Irene Iddesleigh, Delina Delaney and Helen Huddleston, offering some of the best examples. She died in 1939 and before her death she predicted, rather ironically, “I expect I will be talked about at the end of a thousand years.” It would appear that she’s right, but people only talk about her to take the piss. Seriously, look at what you’re reading right now. But she does deserve it.

Her writing was so terrible that it made her more famous than many of the critics that she so despised. And this is where her talent for the surreal insult really shone. When humourist Barry Pain reviewed Irene Iddesleigh he sarcastically referred to it as “the book of the century”. Ros riposted by referring to him as a “clay crab of corruption”. It would seem that alliteration was, to Ros, more important than lucidity. Other barbs she was to sling at critics included “auctioneering agents of Satan” and the truly brilliant though utterly nonsensical “evil-minded snapshots of spleen”. I have to admit, that one is something of a personal favourite for me.

The Oxford literary discussion group, The Inklings, which included among its members such legends as C S Lewis and JRR Tolkein, once had a competition to stand up and read Ros’ work aloud. The winner was the member that could read the longest without cracking up. Incidentally, who wouldn’t give up a part of their anatomy to have been a part of that literary group?

But was the writing of Amanda McKittrick Ros really that bad? Well, yes. It was. Really. Here, judge for yourself. The opening lines of Delina Delaney:

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?

What in the name of all the gods does that mean? You want some more? (I’m reminded of the torture technique of Vogon poetry from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.) Here’s how Ros describes one of her heroines making a little extra cash from needlework:

She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father’s slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.

We want more of her famous alliteration, I hear you cry. How about this one from Irene Iddesleigh:

The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthy future and form to swell the retinue of retired rights, the righteous school of the invisible and the rebellious roar of the raging nothing.

Raging nothing indeed, Amanda. This is too much fun! One more quote from the literary behemoth that is Irene Iddesleigh. It is a novel of a doomed marriage and here poor John tirades against Irene for her aloofness in their relationship:

“Irene, if I may use such familiarity, I have summoned you hither, it may be to undergo a stricter examination than your present condition probably permits; but knowing, as you should, my life must be miserable under this growing cloud of unfathomed dislike, I became resolved to end, if within my power, such contentious and unlady-like conduct as that practised by you towards me of late. It is now six months – yea, weary months – since I shielded you from open penury and insult, which were bound to follow you, as well as your much-loved protectors, who sheltered you from the pangs of penniless orphanage; and during these six months, which naturally should have been the pet period of nuptial harmony, it has proved the hideous period of howling dislike!”

It goes on for several more paragraphs before ending with:

“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!”

A woodcut image of Irene Iddesleigh

Incredible, isn’t it? Talking of Vogon torture, let’s have a quick look at some of her poetry. It has to be better than her prose, right? Amanda disliked lawyers as much as critics and wrote a poem about one lawyer that included the verse:

Readers, did you ever hear
Of Mickey Monkeyface McBlear?
His snout is long with a flattish top,
Lined inside with a slimy crop:
His mouth like a slit in a money box,
Portrays his kindred to a fox.

Well, surely you didn’t hold out much hope, did you?

Anyway, you’re probably wondering why I’m rattling on about all this. Apart from the simple fact that it’s bloody good fun, dear old Amanda has been exhumed from her literary tomb again at the Belfast literary festival. The festival ended on Tuesday with a repeat of the great Inklings competition where fans met in a pub and read passages of Amanda’s work aloud. The winner of the competition was, of course, the person that could read the longest without laughing aloud. Their prize? A return ticket to Ros’ hometown of Larne, a copy of a writer’s “how to” book and a Barbara Cartland novel. Fantastic.

Who said the literary world is a dry and dusty place without humour?

Suckholes sounds good but should you read it

The former Opposition leader and all round bovver-boy Mark Latham has released another book. He proudly points out that this is his seventh book, which ranks him ninth according to the number of books Australian parliamentarians have produced. He must be so proud. Sadly, Latham has sunk to previously unplumbed depths of irrelevance these days. It’s a shame because he could have made a good Prime Minister with his tell it like it is attitude. Of course, I’m sure that would have given way to fawning and pandering to the wealthy vote anyway. But his desire to write about pretty much anything and his safety in irrelevance make for interesting releases.

Mark Latham

Latham’s latest book has to win a prize for one of the best book titles of recent times. Named A Conga Line of Suckholes after a particularly venomous outburst by the man himself, this book is the end result of “quotations collected and used by Mark Latham during his public life”. And afterwards, obviously, as he claims to still be collecting and using them. It’s published by Melbourne University Press, who obviously know how to turn a profit from the vitriolic tirades of a nobody. Hey, perhaps I should approach them.

In this book Latham laments the demise of the Aussie bloke and the rise of the “nervous wrecks, metrosexual knobs and tossbags”. He blames far-left feminists, neo-conservatives and “changes in the workplace and family unit”. Funny stuff coming from a house-husband. He’d obviously rather see more men follow in his own earlier footsteps and break the arms of taxi drivers and smash the cameras of paparazzi. Actually, when it comes to paparazzi, anybody should be allowed to smash anything they want, including the person behind the camera.

Latham laments in the book that the “anti-intellectual traditions of our public life remain strong”. Thank goodness people like him are writing books full of other people’s quotes, mixed with a peppering of his own “language of the Australian larrikin”. Good to know intellectualism is alive and strong in public life.

Latham’s latest

But should you read it? Well, fear not, here comes a remarkably feeble segue. Perhaps John Sutherland will write a sequel to his book, How To Read A Novel. The sequel might be called How To Read The Acidic Venom Of A Once Was and it might give great insight into Latham’s new book and the virtues or otherwise of reading it.

Sutherland’s How To Read A Novel (I warned you the segue was feeble) seems like one of those self-help books that is cashing in so blatantly on people’s stupidity that people will buy it thinking, ‘He can’t possibly assume that we’re all this stupid!’ But if you buy Sutherland’s book, presumably you can read. Therefore, just buy a novel and read that. Or am I missing something?

Prof. John Sutherland

In the synopsis blurb for Sutherland’s book, there’s this explanation:

The word ‘reading’, as we customarily use it, is a very blunt instrument. We assume it’s rather like riding a bicycle. You can do it (you’re literate) or you can’t (you’re illiterate). In fact, reading well is almost as difficult as writing well. This is a kind of guidebook on how to do it.

“This is a kind of guidebook on how to do it”? What sort of sentence is that? This is a kind of clumsy grab for cash, methinks. The book has managed a meagre two and half stars at, but the sales rank is good, thanks to some pretty heavy marketing in the British press.

One of Sutherland’s suggestions about whether or not to buy a novel while browsing in the bookshop is the Page 69 test. Now tell me he didn’t choose that number for its extra implications. Why not page 70? Anyway, he claims that if you read page 69 of a novel and enjoy it then you’ll enjoy the whole book.

Well, I’ll put myself to that test. Here’s page 69 of my novel, RealmShift. It’s actually only two thirds of a page as it happens to be the start of a new chapter:


Isiah sat in the old armchair despairing his fate for a long time. Eventually he took a deep breath, rubbed his eyes. Sitting back in the chair, composing himself, he closed his eyes and let the molecules of his body slowly separate, the familiar feeling of unmitigated freedom flooding through him. When he opened his eyes again there was nothing but bright white nothingness surrounding him and a sense of complete peace pervading his entire being. Even the various versions of Heaven, Nirvana and so on didn’t make him feel this comfortable. They were other people’s ideas of paradise after all. This was simply somewhere that he could relax completely. He didn’t have to leave his body anywhere when he came here, he was physically present, this place was as real as the mundane world. Nothing could touch him here, none of the numerous enemies he had made, human or otherwise, could reach him here.

In some ways it was like being in water, the nothingness supporting every part of him, pure comfort. He lay backwards, hands behind his head as though he were on a reclining lounger, one leg out in front of him, the other cocked up as if on an imaginary coffee table. He breathed deeply for a while, enjoying the peace. He was far from a stranger to any number…

If you liked it, you’ll love the whole book; Professor John Sutherland says so. Go and buy a copy today. Anyone know what’s on page 69 of Latham’s book, or doesn’t it count as it’s not a novel?

It’s the way they tell ‘em

I really can’t let this one go by, especially as it was originally brought up by a rather stridently vocal reader of The Word. I’m sure you’re all well aware of the Pope’s recent forays into the arena of public speaking. Benedict XVI gave a lecture at a German university recently and in his speech he mentioned a dialogue that occurred in the fourteenth century between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and “an educated Persian”. You can read the Pope’s entire speech here.

Pope Benedict XVI

Now, the part of that speech that has caused all the uproar is that Benedict quoted from this fourteenth century conversation the following, said by Manuel to the Persian:

“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Muslims everywhere had a fit claiming the comment was derogatory, that it implied a complete misunderstanding of Islam, that it was deliberately inflammatory and so on. The Pope has subsequently responded with great affront himself, claiming that people have misunderstood the true meaning of his address. But it’s the words people use in their speeches and statements that really matter.

Benedict used the quote above in order to then point out how the “emperor, having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.”

If Benedict really wanted to make that point, he shouldn’t do it by standing in a glass house and throwing stones. He’s an intelligent man; are we really supposed to think that his use of an Islamic reference to violence wasn’t deliberate? After all, it’s not like there aren’t enough examples of using violence to spread his own faith; look no further than the Crusades. But, if you do look further, there are plenty of other examples.

The most entertaining part of all this, however, is how both the Pope and others have responded to the sudden furore. The Pope himself said, “I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address…” Notice how he says he is sorry for the reactions of people, not for his comments in the first place, still maintaining that he’s done nothing wrong? He also claimed that the comments were “a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought.” What? Whose thoughts was he using those comments to express then?

But they’re all as bad as each other. Ameer Ali from the Australian Government’s Muslim advisory committee called for Benedict to be more like Pope John Paul II than Pope Urban II. It was Urban II that called the First Crusade; nothing inflammatory in that comparison.

Other reactions have included attacks against Christian churches in the West Bank and unidentified gunmen shooting and killing an elderly Italian nun in the Somali capital of Magdishu in an attack that has been linked to Benedict’s speech. Pakistani Muslims burned an effigy of the Pope in Karachi; no violent subtext there. And then there’s this weeks mega-moron, Sheik Abubukar Hassan Malin, who is a cleric linked to Somalia’s Islamist movement. He has called for Muslims to hunt down and kill the Pope. What a clever response to anger over the ill-conceived perception that Islam is a violent religion.

Maybe next time the Pope wants to use old quotes to highlight how spreading a faith through violence is unreasonable, he could use any one of the following. Being from his own faith, no one could accuse him of inflammatory remarks against another faith.

Exodus 7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

Leviticus 20:2 Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.

Numbers 21:34 And the LORD said unto Moses, Fear him not: for I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land; and thou shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. (21:35) So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left alive: and they possessed his land.

A free and neutral internet

Freedom of speech can be an issue in more ways than just being prevented from speaking your mind. Freedom of speech is not just about being able to say what you want, safe in the knowledge that anyone else can say what they want in return. It’s also about being able to access, unconditionally, anything that anyone might be saying. One of the real strengths of the internet is the wealth of information out there and its ready availability. If big business and profit margins start cutting into that ready availability, we have a very serious issue on our hands. Let’s keep the internet neutral. Have a look at the video (link below) to learn more and there’s also a Save The Net link now in the sidebar to the right. If you want to comment, you can. And you can say whatever you like. And anyone else can say anything in reply. Well, within reason, as I moderate the comments, but that’s only to weed out the spam and the obvious hatemail.

Link to full size video on YouTube

Anniversarial word smithery

When it comes to using words in ways that seem to make the absurd an artform, there’s really no competition for politicians and religious leaders. There’s been an awful lot of rhetoric and word smithery going on over the last couple of days as people reflect on five years since the terrorist attacks on America. The day the biggest bully in the schoolyard got a very bloody nose will resonate for many more years yet, of course, and rightly so. But there’s nothing like an anniversary to bring out the nonsense from the world’s leaders.

Contradiction is often in evidence. Take this little gem from our very own Prime Minster, Little Johnny Howard. Talking about the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Howard called them “an attack on the values that the entire world holds in common.” Well, Johnny, if that were true there wouldn’t have been any attacks. Obviously someone doesn’t share our values.

John Howard

Some people consider themselves poets as well as being masters of rhetoric. Take Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda no.2 and all round extremist Islamic nutcase. On new attacks in the near future he claimed, “the days are pregnant and giving birth to new events, with Allah’s permission and guidance.” I would suggest that new events will occur regardless of “pregnant” days and I wonder how Allah submits his “permission and guidance”. Email, perhaps?

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Back here in Australia, the Opposition leader, Kim Beazley, has called for tourists and aspiring immigrants to pledge allegiance to “Aussie values” before being allowed into the country. So he wants anyone coming here to have a penchant for flame grilled red meat, beer and footy? Preferably they would all drive a Ute and kick back at every opportunity with the catch-cry, “She’ll be right, mate.” Actually, old Kim might be onto something.

Kim Beazley

There’s this to show that I’m not totally biased against politicians. Almost, but not totally. Little Johnny again. He’s been calling for Muslim leaders to do more to condemn terrorism perpetrated in the name of their religion. Muslim leaders are crying foul for some reason. Howard had this to say, “If a fanatical group of Anglicans or Catholics carried out a terrorist attack and invoked God and the Christian religion to justify it, wouldn’t you expect it to be routinely and regularly condemned by religious leaders in this country?” Good point, Little John, well made. Although it’s more likely that the Catholics would try to use it to turn a profit and the Anglicans would try to make it all the Catholics’ fault.

Talking of religious leaders and Catholics, old Pope Benedict XVI has been coming out with a couple of corkers lately. He recently held an open air Mass in Bavaria and called for people not to let science and reason make them deaf to God. Seriously, he really said that. Bah, that reason nonsense is over-rated anyway.

Pope Benedict XVI

He also lambasted people that “consider mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom”. Well, said mockery is exactly that – an exercise of freedom. Was he trying to make a point there? Other than the obvious point that the Church is rather averse to freedom of the people, but we already knew that. At least that’s something they have in common with many other faiths.

Also, proof that it’s not just world leaders that can spin a good word. James Button, Sydney Morning Herald correspondent in London, wrote today about the various reactions to Islamic extremism in different countries. He referred to one European event since the 9/11 attacks as being “the cartoon wars”. He was referring, of course, to the outrage over the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad. But I bet no one would ever have foreseen the use of the phrase “cartoon wars” in a serious broadsheet article.

However, my favourite word smithery of the day goes to the North American Aerospace Defence Command. (Incidentally, say the acronym out loud as a single word and see what you hear).

There was obvious anxiety on this anniversary and heightened concerns for airline safety. A United Airlines flight en route from Atlanta to San Francisco was diverted to Dallas due to “suspicious activity”. However, NAADC later dismissed the diversion as “an abundance of caution.” Well done, NAADC. You win The Word’s Terrorist Attack Anniversary Prize for Understatement.

And before anyone tries to berate me for the new word I’ve used in today’s post title, consider it my gift to you.