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Competition: Write a book blurb to repel readers

22 March 2014

You were on stellar form this week on the darker side of spring: the entry was full of wit and invention. There were references to Larkin, who could always be relied on to see the bleaker side of things (‘their greenness is a kind of grief’), as well as to Eliot and Thomas Edward Brown. There were also nice echoes of Ogden Nash and Wordsworth. Nicholas Holbrook and Josephine Boyle were unlucky losers and I especially liked Ray Kelley’s heartfelt closing couplet: ‘It’s not by mere coincidence that vernal/ Rhymes so immaculately with infernal.’ The winners, printed below, earn £25 each. Bill Greenwell takes the extra fiver.

Bill Greenwell

At night the young man’s fancy burns

With unrequited lust;

His thighs expand, his stomach churns,

            He shudders with disgust —

He hates himself, he hates the scent

            Of buds, the songs of birds.

With winter gone, his fast intent’s

            Too terrible for words.


In spring, incomprehensible,

            He springs up like a weed,

With thoughts beyond defensible

            And desperate to breed.

Every Jill and daffodil

            Should tremble at his tread:

For he is driven by his will

            To trample on their bed.


Basil Ransome-Davies

  The distinguished author of ‘The Waste Land’
and ‘Little Gidding’

Called April cruel. He wasn’t kidding.

But it’s not only April that makes me feel like
joining the berserkers.

It’s the whole damn vernal circus,

When normally sane adults behave like Basil

As if the world becomes full of promise

At the very first sighting of a snowdrop or a

And similar hocus-pocus.

You’ll hear people chorus ‘Ah, the sap is rising!’

Like it’s a miracle. That’s what sap does. Is that

Here’s what I believe:

Like vows of love spring flatters to deceive,

A layer of pastoral optimism

Over the abysm.

So don’t ask me to celebrate Primavera.

I’d rather poison pigeons in the park, like Tom


Chris O’Carroll

Claim your gift

  The robin seeks a worm to kill.

The cat lusts for the robin’s blood.

Cruel hunters shake off winter’s chill.

Death blooms beside the crocus bud.


The shriek of birds, the whine of flies,

The burn and itch of pollen spores

Assail our ears and sting our eyes.

Our noses ooze like leprous sores.

Wrapped in cold-weather anoraks,

We bulged and sagged in privacy.

Now all our pints and all our snacks

Are all too plain for all to see.


Still worse, this season brings us Lent,

Time to abstain from everything.

We suffer winter’s punishment,

And then do penance in the spring.


Frank McDonald

With useless hope you hurt our hearts;

The perfume on your breath

Comes not from joyous, princely courts

But from the land of death.

With songs you tease our tired lips

Too sad with age to sing.

With mirthful wine you fill our cups,

Cruel and deceitful Spring!

Give foolish boys and wide-eyed girls

Your rainbow-rich displays.

Let birds repeat your wicked carols

And please you with their praise.

But we who’ve seen your floral shows

Who once with joy believed

We could abandon winter clothes

Now view you, undeceived.


Kate Mallett

Spring cleaning must be done, a cloud of dust

Hangs mid-air in a beam of April sun,

And on the window sill a mildew crust

Reveals that putrefaction has begun.

The house, neglected through the storms and

That threatened roof and chimneys shows the

Of slow insidious damage, crumbling walls

Behind the cobwebbed paper, inky lines

Where curtains fold. I reach out for the broom,

For mops and dusters to begin my task,

Unpeeling winter’s grime from every room,

But as I sweep and scrub I have to ask

If dirt can ever be in my control,

And if hard work can ever purge the soul.


Brian Allgar

  It’s Spring, and the weeds are encroaching,

But other plants, too, are a pest.

They come out of nowhere, determined to grow

We’ve planted the rarest and best.


Now, where did those violets come from?

I’d never have have planted them there.

They’re pretty enough, but invasive and rough,

And they’re seeding themselves everywhere.


Campanulas, too, are a nightmare;

We planted a small group of three.

First a pool, then a river — and now, with a


I stare at a limitless sea.


These marauders, these trespassing beauties,

Have become an unstoppable bevy.

Though the days may grow light, it’s a sobering

And my heart, I assure you, is heavy.


Your next challenge is  to compose the most off-putting book blurb that you can muster, one guaranteed to repel would-be readers. Please email entries of up to 150 words to by midday on 2 April.


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Show comments
  • Hexhamgeezer

    Hate the world and want to get off? Scared of women? Intimidated and offended by the creativity of the human race? Humiliated by your lack of contribution to the planet?

    Then worry no more – the K0r@n is the go-to self help guidebook to make the world notice YOU.

  • Colonel Mustard

    “An account of the multi-millionaire Ed Miliband’s rise to power and occupancy of No.10 as Britain’s first Dear Leader” should do it. I can feel the bile rising already.

  • ohforheavensake

    A book blurb to repel readers?

    Erm… Got it

    Toby Young is the associate editor of The Spectator, and is also the author of ‘How To Lose Friends and Alienate People.’

    – That should do it.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Then why are you here? At the Spectator. Reading.

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