In October 1993, I entered the first Independent / Sight and Sound Young Film Journalist of the Year competition. I sent the 1200-word review off along with my regular stack of unsolicited submissions - poems, stories, feature ideas - to editors who would not reply and two-bit magazines who would (though you had to pay them for publication). I won the competition; a placement on the Independent led to a job there, and I now freelance for Premiere and NME among others.

It's tough to offer ground rules for the competition. There aren't any beyond the obvious: write with precision, clarity and imagination, and don't make any stabs at being Pauline Kael. Some find reading other critics inspiring, but I find it intrusive, which is why I chose to review Andrew Birkin's film The Cement Garden.

At the time of seeing the film, I didn't know the novel. I had also managed to avoid the pre-publicity, so I was able to approach my review with a clear head. There were other, more obvious, choices, but I had read too many dissections of The Piano to be bothered to attempt another, and had grown too weary of Quentin Tarantino to care very much about True Romance.

Make as many notes as you can while watching the film, or immediately after. Take your time to hone and refine your review. In short, don't submit it until you believe it represents your best writing, and are satisfied with every word. After all, the prize could prove to be a valuable springboard.

Eighteen months on, I've had hate mail from Roxette fans, furious Premiere readers (after my florid drubbing of Natural Born Killers) and even from Carlton's head of news (following my piece about the wretched London Tonight programme). These are the things that make it worthwhile.

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