Winners of 25th and last Martin Wills writing awards announced

The senior winner of the 2017 Martin Wills Writing Awards is 23-year-old Molly Hunter from Lincolnshire, who submitted an affectionate portrait of a family horse, Your Humble Servant.  The winners in the other categories are Jonathan Curran from Co. Carlow (under 18), Beth Ransome from Gloucestershire (under 15) and Mick McGuinness from Co. Antrim (under 12) – see below for details of all winners and runners up.

2017 was a good year for the final Awards, the 216 entries being easily a record. It was also a good year for the girls, who scooped six of the eight prizes and filled 20 out of the 26 shortlist places. As always, Ireland’s entry was particularly strong, taking three prizes and a total of eight shortlist places.

Brough Scott, Chairman of the judges for the 15th consecutive year and principal adviser since the outset in 1993, commented:

“It is great for the Martin Wills Writing Awards to go out with a flourish. This final year, not only had we record entries but also splendid winners. It has been a pleasure to be associated with the Awards for so long. I cannot think of a better way for a family to commemorate one of their own”

John Blake, Chief Executive of Racing to School and a judge, added:

As tempting as it is to suggest a loss of appetite among the text speak generation for creative composition, these unique Awards tell a different story. Warm, personal accounts jostled with clever and insightful inventions, all threaded with a passionate interest in racing”

Tim Cox, a Trustee of the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art and a judge, said:

Horseracing is the source of many stories, from the nostalgic to the futuristic, from the melancholic to the joyful. It has been a delight to see how these young writers have explored so many of these themes with verve and originality.

Overall entries

The 25th and last annual Martin Wills Writing Awards, for creative writing (fact or fiction) around a horseracing theme by a young person resident in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, attracted 216 entries – the previous record being the 169 achieved in 2009, 2010 and 2016. Of these, 50 were in the under 26 category, 27 in the under 18 category, 77 in the under 15 category and 62 in the under 12 category.

The under 12 category was introduced in 2016. The large number of entries in the under 15 and under 12 categories in 2016 and 2017 reflected the association with the Awards in those two years of Racing to School and the National Heritage Centre and their predecessor bodies.

 Winners and runners-up

The under 26 winner is 23-year-old Molly Hunter from Barrow-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. She attended Baysgarth School in adjacent Barton-upon-Humber, achieving AAB in English, Law and History A Levels. At Hull University, she was awarded a 2.1 in Law. She has just finished a nine month placement as a Marketing Executive at Cheltenham Racecourse, following participation on the BHA Graduate Programme, and would like to remain in racing. She receives £1,000 for her article, Your Humble Servant, “the story of a 50/1 outsider, in one chapter a treacherous colt who wouldn’t run in a straight line, in another a kind, docile children’s pony”.

The under 26 runner-up is 22-year-old Lara Prior-Palmer from London, the joint runner-up in 2014. She is currently in her final year at Stanford University in California, studying for a BA in History and Languages (Persian and Arabic). Previously, she was at St Paul’s Girls School in London, where at A Level she achieved A* in English, A* in History, A in Art and B in German. She receives £500 for her story, The Photographer, based on her interaction with former champion NH jockey, Richard Dunwoody, during the 2013 1,000 km Mongol Derby (the world’s longest horse race), which she won. She says: “The article is about the art of recording the horse as it races, through photography and writing, and how these mediums shape memory”.

The under 18 winner is 17-year-old Jonathan Curran from Milford, nr Carlow in Co. Carlow. He attends Irish College in Carlow, where he is studying for his Leaving Certificate this summer, following seven As and four Bs in his Junior Certificate. He receives £500 for his piece, Winter Solstice. Jonathan says: “My story aims to capture the dark truths of depression amongst jockeys”.

The under 18 runner-up is 15- year-old Susie Eddis from Horkesley, nr Colchester in Essex. At the qualifying date of 1 September 2016, she was only 14- years- old, but was ineligible for the under 15 category as the winner in 2012 (when 10-years-old at the 1 January qualifying date). She attends St Mary’s School, Ascot, where she will be taking 10 GCSEs in 2018. A talented rider, in the working hunter pony category, she won the individual title at Grantham as part of the England team in 2014 and 2015, the Supreme Championship at the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead in 2015 and the Horse of the Year Show at Birmingham in 2016. She receives £250 for Memories, “in which Susie reflects on memories of her own and others, and concludes that they can be equally powerful.”

The under 15 winner is 14 year old Beth Ransome from Dursley, Gloucestershire. She attends Marlborough College (as did the Under 15 winner last year), where she is studying for 11 GCSEs next year. She receives £250 for her article, A Painting Worth a Thousand Words. Beth explains: “My story is about a talented young jockey who was going to race in the Grand National but went to fight in World War II. In the story, I am looking at his ‘missing in action’ letter, standing in front of his portrait”.

The under 15 runner-up is 13-year-old Grace Tyrrell from Portlaoise, Co. Laois. She attends  Presentation College, Portlaoise, where she will be taking her Junior Certificate in 2018. She receives £125 for Her Challenge, “a story about the invisible side of a racing yard, the lives behind the winning horses.”

The under 12 winner is 11-year-old Mick McGuinness from Belfast in Co. Antrim. He is in his first year at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, Co. Down nearby. He receives £200 for At Cheltenham.  He says: “When I wrote my entry, I was thinking back to when I was at Cheltenham to see the 2016 Champion Chase. I was comparing the differences and similarities between my day at Cheltenham and what would be happening at school. I tried to make the reader feel what I was feeling and see what I was seeing”. Mick would like to get a job in racing when older, perhaps in journalism or possibly as a race commentator.

The under 12 runner-up is Pippa Moore from Leighton Bromswold in Cambridgeshire, who was 10-years-old at the qualifying date but is now 11. She attends the local Brington CofE Primary School, but will be going to Kimbolton School, also in Cambridgeshire, in September. She is a keen member of the Fitzwilliam Hunt Pony Club. She receives £100 for Roaring Racer. Pippa says: “My story is about a girl’s dream to be a steeplechase jockey. She is gripped by the intensity of the race and believes she has won, but it turns out to be a dream”.

The winning articles will be published, in the next few weeks, in the Racing Post and The Irish Field. The under 26 winner will also have the opportunity of work experience at the Racing Post and of retaining for a year a fine bronze of two galloping horses by Gill Wiles.

The Judges

The judges were: Brough Scott (Chairman), three times Sports Feature Writer of the Year and twice Racing Writer of the Year; Marcus Armytage, racing writer at The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and Horse & Hound; John Blake, Chief Executive of Racing to School; Ed Chamberlin, Chief Racing Presenter at ITV; Tim Cox, owner of the Cox Library of books devoted to the thoroughbred horse; Frank Keogh, a senior sports reporter at the BBC;  Lee Mottershead, a racing writer at the Racing Post; Sean Magee, an author and journalist;  and Catherine Wills, sister of Martin Wills, who is a DPhil art historian and a racehorse owner/breeder.

The prize winning entries can be read on the website (www.willswritingawards.co.uk) under “The Winners” tab.