Writer Olympics

The Olympic games are upon us. All that farther, higher, faster, stronger business is quite exhausting, even when viewed from the proverbial armchair.

I’m not much of an athlete, armchair or otherwise, so while watching gymnasts turn themselves inside out and runners huff and puff around the stadium like ants around a clock, my mind inevitably turns to other things. And as it happened, I recently started thinking about literary feats of Olympic proportions, in particular prolificness, or prolificacy, if that’s the term you prefer, though I don’t, because it sounds too much like profligacy, which is a state of shameless debauchery. And I wouldn’t even accuse the author of Fifty Shades of Grey of such unseemly conduct. Or perhaps I will, once I have actually plowed through her tome and not just read about it.

Back to prolificness. P.G. Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie and other popular writers now deceased produced dozens of books in their lifetime. And there is slew of contemporary writers who are busily adding to their equally considerable oeuvre, book by book. These are Olympics-sized achievements in my book, and I was properly in awe.   Until I found out that there were writers who have published books by the hundreds: Isaac Asimov (506), Enid Blyton (600), Barbara Cartland (722). And that’s just those writing in the English language! I cannot imagine writing 722 books in any language. Not ever. Not even for Olympic gold.

But English-writing authors are not alone. The list of literary prolifics is an international one, and the one who beats them all is a lady from Spain, Corín Tellado, who clocked up a whopping 4000+ published works, mostly novels.

Four. Thousand. PLUS. The mind boggles.

Now these people, I assume, glued their bottoms to their chairs, and actually wrote every single word themselves, be it on a typewriter, a computer keyboard, or a note pad. Blood, sweat, and tears—not to mention the wearing-off of fingertips—went into their work. If that’s not an Olympics-worthy effort, I don’t know what is.

Enter Philip M. Parker, whose tally of works totals 200,000 and counting. Yes, he is the world’s most prolific author you may have never heard of. But here’s the thing: Mr. Parker, a Professor of Management at a business school, didn’t go for the old bum glue routine to reach this dizzying height. No, his method of production is as new-fangled as it gets: his works are created with a computer algorithm that trawls data bases and puts the information together into readable form, conveniently sorted into genres. Romances, dictionaries, thrillers, self-help, medical texts—you name it, there’s an algorithm for it. His publications are original compilations clobbered together from bits and pieces of publicly available data found on the Internet (though there may well be questions about copyright infringement, but let’s not go there right now). The question is: is this writing? Is this writing in the bum glue sense of the word? I concede that bum glue is required to develop the algorithm, but that’s where it stops. Computer programs do the vast majority of the work that results in a new book.

The question is, does he qualify as an entrant to the Writers’ Olympics? Well, given the general absence of bum glue in the production of the actual volumes, my vote is “no.”

Which still leaves us with Ms. Tellado. I have no idea how she did it. My mind is stuck in a boggle when contemplating the 4000 plus.

So, without further ado, the Writers’ Olympics Gold Medalist in Prolificness for Writers Past and Present goes to:


CUE:  Olympic Fanfare

(I hope this works – if it does, you will have leapt 2 feet into the air)

Here are some links for those who love lists:

Wiki list

Subhakar Das’s blog


In praise of nonsense lit

Nonsense literature is not just for kids!  I’m convinced that adults enjoy it as much as, or perhaps even more than, the ankle biters among us. And not only do we enjoy it, but we need it, at least once in a while. Why? Because in its pure state nonsense lit is everything grown-ups are not supposed to be: unexpected, fun, weird, silly, nonsensical, grotesque, non-PC.  It is perhaps the ultimate literary expression of freedom. And the best thing is, you can read into it what you want. You think it’s an allegory that points to the deep-dark heart of the human condition? Then that’s what it is. You think it’s just a rhyme to pass the time? Fine by me.

Though you can get carried away with literary, socio-economic, political, psychological, etc. etc. theories about nonsense lit, I won’t. I’ll take it as it comes, thank you.  And I like it best when it comes in the form of poetry, including nursery rhymes and limericks. (Although Stephen Leacock’s Nonsense Novels are nothing to sniff at—but more of that later.)

One of my favorite nonsense poems is The Owl And The Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear, master of the limerick. The Owl And The Pussy-Cat is not a limerick, of course, but a narrative poem about a romance between—of all things—an owl and a cat who end up happily ever after in wedded bliss. It’s silly, it’s joyful, it’s fantastic (in both senses of the words). What’s not to love?

A lot, apparently. I was idly perusing the Guardian newspaper online one morning, when I came across the rather startling news that Terry Jones of Monty Python fame had been commissioned by the Royal Opera to write a libretto based on The Owl And The Pussy-Cat (yes, really:  Owl & Pussycat).  But here’s the clincher: he dislikes the poem. He thinks it’s, well, nonsense. And what is more, it’s nonsense without meaning. I was so astounded I almost choked on my coffee. Nonsense without meaning? What is the world coming to?

However, I do sympathize: getting a near-opera-length libretto out of the old O & P must be a bit like wringing blood from a stone. Jones apparently solved this conundrum by deciding to write a libretto that is a prequel to the poem (and which, I assume contains only sensible, meaningful material). The likelihood of me seeing and hearing the finished work is slim, given it’s very limited season and venue, but I’m nevertheless agog with curiosity. If anyone gets to see it, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Here’s the poem in all its meaningless glory.  Feel free to read into it what you like.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Edward Lear, 1871

David Gaughran

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