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?