by Brough Scott, Chairman of the judges
Writing about racing is writing about life. Indeed one of the greatest short stories in the English language – Ernest Hemingway’s My Old Man- is about the life and death of an old jockey who resorts to desperate measures and dodgy friends in search of one ride too many.
Not that entries to this year’s Wills Writing Awards need to be of the short story variety, although several past winners have been including one with the magnificently terse and intriguing opening line – “I am a tree.”
If you are interested – and we hope you are -that piece was written by a 10 year old and was about the Cheltenham winning post. The post had, of course, started life as a forest tree only for someone with a noisy machine to cut it down, put it on a truck and then pare it into a straight pole. By the time our story starts, it is painted white, has a red wooden halo, and has been hammered into a patch of apparently lonely ground opposite an echoing grandstand with the Cotswold escarpment magnificent in the distance.
That was fiction, but over 17 years there has been plenty of fact. From a glowing account of a day at the races when “Mummy met that nice Dominic Elsworth”, to a an evocative picture of pre-dawn lights bobbing on riders’ helmets at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse, to a brilliantly funny betting shop scam in which the author only just got out soon enough.
I tell you all this because – heaven help me – I have been writing about racing for near on half a century and continue to be amazed at how its different facets can continue to intrigue and amuse readers and writers alike. Much more important, I want you to take up this chance to dig into the unique mixture of the glorious and the absurd and the depressing that only a study of racing can give.
For this is some chance. Let’s be blunt, read the conditions, guys - £3,125 in all, £1,250 to the overall winner, £250 and £125 even to the under 15s. I don’t know what your pocket money or student grants are like but if you fancy writing and have been remotely interested in racing, you must be pretty fat and idle if you don’t want to have a cut at this. Crikey – if you were to win the whole Sports Writer of The Year prize, you won’t get more than a grand.
Martin Wills’ life, and his emerging talent as a writer, was cut short some 18 years ago and, when his family came to me with the idea of these awards, I had only one caveat about this brilliant annual honouring of his memory. It was that the prize money was too high. That, with the prestige we could give and the opportunities that winning would offer, the cash amounts could at least be halved. Whisper it carefully, I still hold that opinion. So quick, open up your laptops, before the Wills family agrees with me.
There may be all sorts of reasons why racing might interest you – the betting tales immortalised by Damon Runyon – the long line of lyrical anthropomorphism which links the likes of John Masefield’s Right Royal with Laura Hildebrand’s Sea Biscuit – or the rich and rogueish excitement of the racing day evoked by everyone from Charles Dickens to Graham Greene to Jeffrey Bernard and to the recently late and lamented Clement Freud. If it does, don’t miss this chance of winning fame and fortune by writing it down.
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