The entry numbers were down this year, mainly in the under 15 category, but the quality was mostly well up to standard. The judges were extremely impressed by the shortlist, even if a couple of them took the competition's emphasis on imaginative writing to quite uncomfortable extremes.
We were thrilled that young writers seized the opportunity to link racing with wider and indeed harsher themes, but would caution future entrants against putting such elements ahead of the essentials of clear observation and communication. Above all else, young writers need to involve their readers; the first part of that process should be accessibility.
So while we would like to assure all would-be prize winners from the two islands that even making the shortlist will boost both their confidence and their prestige, we would also like to stress some basic points which make their chances greater and the judges' task easier.
1. Write to length. If asked for up to 1,200 or 800 words, it is self-defeating to file either any more or much less. In another life, it is just deemed unprofessional. Every laptop has a word count.
2. Watch the spelling. Some articles this year contained howlers which would make a ten year old blush. Laptops have a spell check too, but make sure it is the right word.
3. Presentation is important. Avoid long paragraphs, limit long sentences, eschew small type and space generously.
4. Start and finish strongly. Give your article a good title and put extra effort into your first and last paragraphs.
5. Resist the temptation to overwrite. Ration the adjectives and flowery language.
6. Read through the finished article. This is the rule most often flouted, yet the most important regular discipline an aspirant writer should observe. However good the words may have felt as you finished that final paragraph, they need then to be read through with the coolest eye to avoid wincingly embarrassing mistakes glaring out of your supposed masterpiece. Believe me, never a day goes by than those of us who make a living from the game know just how unforgiving this rule can be. Entrants fail to accept it at their peril.
Forgive us if these points might seem self-evident, but we continue to be amazed at how often these basic rules are broken. However, none of this is meant to do anything but encourage young writers from all over Britain and Ireland to enter a competition unique in its field and extremely generous in its prizes. Remember, you can’t win unless you are in.
Chairman of the judges
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