Now that this year’s Martin Wills Young Writers Awards are over I would like to thank you for taking part and to congratulate you on the efforts you took with your entry.
I know all too well the huge difference between thinking or even saying that one might “have a go”, and actually going through the hassle of getting the thing written, cleaned up and sent off. So it is in no way a flip comment to say that your getting involved has been an achievement in itself.
As Chairman of the judges and as, God help me, someone who has been looking at blank screens and bland pieces of paper for more years than I care to remember I wanted to pass on to you some general comments and suggestions which you may find helpful in taking your writing forward.
Overall we were very impressed with the enthusiasm, imagination and broad range of both subject matter and writing styles shown by this year’s entry. The remit of the Martin Wills Awards is set deliberately wide to try and encourage and develop good writing generally, as well as an intelligent interest in the racing game.
But here are some ideas which have come up from discussions amongst the judging panel. Forgive us if some may appear basic but reading them through I know I have to apply them to myself on a daily basis!
i. Make sure the entry is cleanly presented – with word processors there is no excuse for not having consistent spacing, capital letters on headings and all that sort of thing. It may not affect the quality of your writing but it sure as hell affects the patience of the judge.
ii. Do check spellings. Firstly with spell check for basic words but then with relevant reference books for anything more rarified that you are not doubly certain of – more than one entry spelt the “REINS” of a horse’s bridle as “REIGNS.”
iii. Do check technical terms. Whilst none of us want you to bore us rigid with unnecessary anorak details, and indeed we do not demand any great knowledge of horseracing to take part, we do need to be convinced that you understand what you are saying. If you make some statement about the colour of a famous horse, the distance or date of a race, it is essential that it is correct. Fact checking is a challenge journalists face every day and should be an essential part of any writer’s craft.
iv. Do take trouble over the first paragraph. In a perfect world it should be a tuning fork for what follows. Do avoid what I like to call a journalistic “clearing of throat” – spending the first few sentences stating the obvious when what the reader wants you to do is to cut to the quick, to give them an idea of why they should read on.
v. Don’t strive too hard to make effect. You don’t have to insert a metaphor into every paragraph. You don’t have to try and make heavy judgements. Once or twice I wrote the word “ponderous” next to passages. The striving you should be doing is to try and distill your thoughts, images and message down to the simplest, easiest piece you can devise. Avoid repetition. Remind yourself of the Fred Astaire dictum (albeit on dancing), “if it don’t look easy, you ain’t tried hard enough.”
vi. Above all - THINK OF THE READER. It is so easy to get bound up with what you think, what you have seen, how your contacts may react, that you actually forget this most important of all rules in writing. If you don’t put the reader first you will never communicate as well as you should.
I do hope you will take these comments in the spirit in which they are made and that you will continue to enjoy and develop your writing.
All the very best
Chairman of the judges
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