The 2012 Martin Wills Awards, the 20th “running” of what remains a unique opportunity in its field, was a case of quality more than quantity. The overall number of entrants might have been well short of the record at 116 but the standard of writing was higher than ever before. Even after all this time it made the judging an inspirational pleasure.
A look at the website will confirm that the winners were outstanding and the runners up would have been winners in many a year. What was particularly rewarding was the diversity of approaches with which the entrants addressed their subject. Time was when there was a tendency for them to confine themselves to either a straightforward race report or, worse still, a dry as dust prospectus for the future of the game. Martin Wills was interested in racing and horses but he loved writing most of all. It is to encourage writing about racing that the Awards exist.
Lottie Pyper, the Under 19 runner up, was even more shocking with how a family disintegrated as obsessions and problem gambling blew up into a terrifying toxic mix. It was brilliantly done, but so too was the Under 19 winner Monica McLuskey’s beautifully observed travelogue of the extraordinary beach races at Sanluca de Barremeda on Spain’s Atlantic Coast.
The standard had been so high with the younger entries that I wondered whether there could be seniors to match, but in their totally contrasting ways Hannah Barraclough and Patrick Mullins delivered so well that in the end we just could not separate them. For how could we compare Hannah’s touching evocation of an old man with Alzheimer’s staring out of the window thinking he was seeing his horse running home to Patrick Mullins’ Hemingwayesque first person account of how the glory of his first Grand National ride was cut tragically short when Dooney’s Gate crashed and broke his neck at Becher’s Brook.
So here’s a welcome to young writers of ambition, with just one judge’s caveat. In these “spell check” and programmed “lay out” times there really is no excuse for illiteracy or crumpled presentation. You may well have ended up writing in a towering hurry, who hasn’t? But the trick is to take a deep breath afterwards and re-read it through a judge’s eyes. If you don’t, it feels as if you haven’t bothered and that, ultimately, suggests that you don’t really care how the words appear.
You should. Because for you, as for so many before, these Awards could be the start of something big.
Chairman of the judges
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