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London, Ep. 1

July 23, 2009—The first-ever Literary Death Match on European soil (London, Ep. 1) at Old Queen’s Head in Islington was a downright staggering success, as a packed room of properly raucous onlookers saw Amber Marks (representing Book Club Boutique) narrowly outduel Joe Dunthorne (England Writers Football Team) in a wily and hotly contested match of Play Your Lit Figure Cards right. The finale went down to sudden death in which Marks overturned Seamus Heaney (7 of Diamonds) and Dunthorne flipped Salman Rushdie (6 of Hearts)—to snare her the LDM championship.

The night surely ended with a bang, but began with an explosion, as well. To kick things off, Dunthorne led off after co-first-rounder Tim Wells (representing Pen Pusher Magazine) opted to read second. Dunthorne wowed and thrilled with a literary rap called “Raise Your Status” that included such rhymes as “if getting laid is equal to an Olympic gold/ and you want a load of medals while you’re not to old/and the walk of shame is like a victory lap/ and you call all your mates for a quick recap/then raise your status.” An applause-bursting crowd wasn’t finished with their claps, though, as Tim Wells stole the show right back with three perfectly pitched poems, one hilariously keying on his new glasses refusing to fog up.

Then the mic was passed on to the trio of all-star judges—Tindal Street Press editor Luke Brown, Laura Dockrill (Dockers MC, and author of Ugly Shy Girl) and Tim Clare (Aisle16, and author of We Can't All Be Astronauts)—who each cracked wise and smart before making the night’s first impossible, electing Dunthorne the night’s first finalist.

After a boozy intermission, Round 2 kicked off with Nick Harkaway (represnting BBC Radio 3’s The Verb) up against Marks, who chose to read last. Harkaway was an absolute dazzler, self-deprecating and staggeringly funny as he read from his novel, Gone-Away World—the bit about sheeps and war had the crowd tittering wildly. Then up stepped Marks, who dryly read a tale about the absurd use of animals to service law enforcement.

Back to the judges, who had another tough decision. Clare commented on Harkaway, whose nodding lulled the audience into agreement with his every word: “I saw heads starting to slowly palsy with confirmation, and it gave you the very sympathetic demeanor of a very eager butler.” And for Marks, Clare said: “You did go over time, that was a little bit naughty...I fell like I have to bring that up—maybe I’m just drunk on power as a judge.” Ultimately Marks’ extra time didn’t undo the judges opinions of her great piece, and she was pushed through as the night’s second finalist.

The contestants flip their cards.

Then came the masterfully confusing finale based on the UK game show “Play Your Cards Right” (aka “Card Sharks” in the United States), in which Dunthorne and Marks competed in three rounds (five cards, four cards, then finally three)—the one with the most cards would be awarded the victory. The competition kicked off with an auspicious beginning, as the first card flipped was a Joker (Dan Brown). Marks was given the chance to try a new card, and her first effort flopped, as the audience convinced her to go lower when she was faced with Harold Pinter’s 8 of Clubs. The next card turned was the King of Spades (Ian McEwan). Then Dunthorne took his turn, speeding through cards before he risked it all, and stumbled when he went higher when faced with Seamus Heaney (7 of Diamonds) and V.S. Naipal (4 of Clubs) showed his mug. The second and third rounds were both a breeze, as Dunthorne and Marks blazed through each snaring the full amount of cards possible. Tied at six, the event went into extra time, where each drew a card from the deck. Tension mounted when Marks flipped Heaney (7, shown below). The edgy crowd then witnessed the flip of Dunthorne’s card: Rushdie (6 of Hearts, also below). Seconds later, Marks was crowned as Europe’s first-ever LDM champion.

See the epic finale here:

LDM London, Ep. 1 from Opium Magazine on Vimeo.

See all the photos from this event here!