Everyone can write, can’t they? But it takes real skill to come up with truly awful writing, like that celebrated by the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

This is almost as much fun as the Oddest Book Title of the Year contest. But instead of just finding existing examples — in this case, that fit the requirement of a bad opening sentence to a novel — entrants are asked to create their own lead to an imaginary novel that thankfully has not seen the light of day.

The contest began in 1982, and “honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton.” He’s the man who gave the world, “It was a dark and stormy night” in the opening to his novel, Paul Clifford.

The winner of the 2009 contest is David McKenzie, a 55-year-old Quality Systems consultant and writer from Federal Way, Washington. Apparently he is a repeat winner, having propelled his awful writing to the top of the Western and Children’s Literature categories before. Oh, yes, there are categories, such as Fantasy Fiction, Detective, Purple Prose and Vile Puns, with winners, runners-up and “dishonorable mentions.” But this year, he won the top prize and all the fame that goes with it.

Here’s his winning entry, in all its 88-word glory:

“Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin’ off Nantucket Sound from the nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May,” a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.”

Most of the entries are pretty funny. Some are short, but most cram as much detail as possible into a longer sentence, like this winner of the Detective category (Eric Rice):

“She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida – the pink ones, not the white ones – except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn’t wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren’t.”

I’d better not turn my attention to writing until I’ve cleared my head of these!