In our September 2008 issue we launched the ELLE Talent Contest to hunt out the writing stars of the future – and were overwhelmed by the response. Over 1,000 hopefuls addressed the question ‘What does style mean to you?’ in entries that were by turns funny, moving and insightful.
The winner was 22-year-old Rebecca Lawn who was teaching English as a foreign language in Paris, at the time.
Ready to write? In need of some inspiration? Read Rebecca’s winning story below:
‘Have you brought your babies?’
‘I haven’t got any babies, Grandma.’
‘Hasn’t he brought his babies?’
‘He hasn’t got any, Grandma.’
‘He must have killed them.’
‘No, he didn’t have... Erm, Grandma, we brought you this.’
‘Look at that woman’s hat! Watch her, there, look outside. What a funny hat! No one should ever, wear such a hat!’
‘Grandma, the window is open! She’ll hear! Do you want to open your card? I hope you like it. There weren’t many with 90 on.’
Marie sat with her close family around a large table in the main room of the nursing home. People she had grown up with and others she had seen grow up were mixed together across the room; a buffet of sherry, cheese sandwiches and cold quiches, followed by Victoria sponge cake and trifle, was revealed from under its cling film coating; a band in the corner composed of a pianist, trumpet player and drummer (whippersnappers in their late sixties) belted out war songs. The trumpet player was a bit of a flirt, a showman, and winked at Marie and her two sisters, Beryl and Winnie, as they sang along to the songs of their youth. A smile illuminated Marie’s face. Her soft white hair was as elegantly styled as it had been for the past 30 years; before that, when it was a deep brown, she would style it and pin it and twist it and wave it, effortlessly. She wore pearl earrings, and a navy blue and white blouse, a navy skirt. Her shoulders were covered with a patterned scarf, a birthday present.
‘I think she recognised Greg, but for some reason was adamant that he had children. News to me!’ Dad laughed. ‘Of course she recognised Becky.’ He was talking to his cousin Alan, who had suddenly appeared over my shoulder. ‘She’s always been her favourite.’
‘I don’t think she has a favourite,’ I said, a little awkwardly.
I remember the swirls of clothing in her closet, small sticky hands pawing at billowing fur coats. By the window I would sit, at a dressing table of soft pink, holding her curved hand mirror.
I remember complimenting her on her blouse, or her skirt, or her necklace or her bracelet; how it all went together, as though each piece was never meant to be apart.
I remember sorting through her jewellery, putting everything in its place. Pieces from the Forties, earlier even. And then modern pieces. Precious metals and precious stones. It took me so long. I admired each one, turned it to see its reflection in different lights, placed it down as gently as I would a newborn.
I watched my grandma, sitting in her wheelchair. At first I saw her uncertainty as to what had happened to my brother’s ‘children’, her confusion of being 90, her pleasure that we were all there around her, all at once, all for her. And in her presence, as always, I saw 90 years of style that no one could match.
The next day, my dad brought out a box. ‘Bex, have you seen these? Photos of your grandma, and of her mum, even. She had them here when she was living with us. Look.’
We looked through the albums. A whole box full of memories, photographs with names and dates and places pencilled on the back. Marie aged one. Marie and Eric in France.
‘Dad, have you seen this? It’s Grandma’s work card! 1941! And this, look!’ And then I stopped. This was my grandma at 23; I’m almost her age.
‘Always glamorous, your grandma. A very attractive woman. I’m sure she will have told you about dating Leeds football players? She likes to tell that one.’
‘One sec, Dad, I’ll be back.’ I grabbed some kirby grips from upstairs and propped grandma’s photo on the mantelpiece. I looked at her face, then at my face. I took a grip, and then another, and styled and pinned and twisted and waved. With effort.
‘Dad, what do you think?’
‘I’m thinking what I’ve always thought – how much you resemble her.’
Find out more about the ELLE talent contest 2013