A literary career beckons for Nefertari Williams, whose powerful words, laced with original imagery, won her top prize in a closely contested competition for new writing.
Blood Is Thicker Than Water, by the 15-year-old student from Lady Margaret School in Parsons Green, was judged the best of 120 entries in a contest honouring Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, whose death from an allergic reaction to eating a baguette prompted a change in the law on ingredient labelling.
Her parents, Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse of Lillie Road, who helped create a new law to close a loophole in food legislation, presented cash prizes after the whole of Year 10 at Natasha’s former school took part.
“It is really wonderful that the Lady Margaret pupils get behind Natasha’s competition, and it is a credit to the school that the entries are of such a high level,” said Nadim.
Brianna Wallace Sousa’s entry, Festa Junina, won second place, with Laura Gordon Smith gaining the third prize for My Threads in a contest coordinated by head of English Rachel Alexander.
Judge Mark Godowski, who selected winners from a 25-strong shortlist, described Nefertari’s prose poetry as “a compelling work which deploys a range of techniques – lively rhythms, internal rhymes and surprising combinations of words – to create a powerful evocation of a hybrid heritage”.
There were also commendations for students Amy Wiedmer, Hannah Bequart, Aryana Kordestani, Malak Chelqi and Angel Garcia in a challenge centred on the theme of Heritage, prompting entries celebrating Nigeria, Morocco, the Caribbean, Iraq, Malaysia, Canada… and Crystal Palace!
Natasha’s Law will come into effect in three months, forcing businesses to fully label the ingredients of freshly made sandwiches, salads and cakes – foods previously exempt.
The 15-year-old student died from an allergic reaction to eating a Pret a Manger baguette in the summer of 2016 after collapsing on a flight from Heathrow to France.
Both Natasha and Nadim had checked the label carefully before getting on the plane, because of Natasha’s severe allergy to milk, eggs and sesame seeds, but a loophole meant the ingredient list was incomplete.
Despite being given adrenaline shots from two EpiPens by her father, Natasha was declared dead at hospital in Nice the same day.
A charity that her parents set up works on further potentially life-saving legislation, as well as educating the hospitality industry on risks and general research into allergies. Fulham born and bred, Natasha had been working towards a career in human rights and combating injustice.
Lady Margaret’s annual creative writing competition was set up to celebrate one of the student’s great strengths at school. The Ednan-Laperouses’ work has also informed H&F Council safety policy after statistics showed a 615% rise in hospital admissions for allergic reactions in the past two decades.
The Ednan-Laperouses were made OBEs to mark their charitable work in tackling food allergies that affects two million people in the UK.
Here are the prizewinning entries:
- FIRST PRIZE: Nefertari Williams (10A)
Blood Is Thicker Than Water
It seems to me that no matter how far I run, I will always be followed. When I hid in Google it showed me images of London. When I took refuge in a book shelf it showered me with Shakespeare and snowed Austen. The time I stole away to the Dutch Pot, I was confronted by an angry scotch bonnet. And the time I was basking in the rays of the sun, it burned me with the knowledge that it was hotter elsewhere.
Whenever I take to running, which is quite often, I run from the one thing I do not want to confront. I run from my blood. My blood is the nastiest thing I have ever had to live with. It is drenched in images of messy streets and sandy beaches and clothed in a wooly coat and loose shorts. In two foreign tongues it speaks, with traces of Patois amongst its London speech and with two tongues it eats, whilst one is soaked in fish and chips, the other one is weighed down by Stew Peas. Worst of all, it has a pungent stench that follows it as it runs, it smells of rainy evenings and sunny nights, and has a breath that breathes smooth reggae, yet also bouncy pop. I do not like my blood, yet sometimes I find myself pitying it. I keep running, but I run to the same places, my blood can only follow me. It cannot travel across the seas to the island it dearly misses and it cannot learn about its teachers and preachers and writers and fighters. It can only go where I run.
If I were to stop running, what would happen? Would it finally get me? Catch me and scorch me in its furious heat and leave me struggling to breathe? It would probably encircle then entrap me, take me away from everything I’ve ever loved at an agonising pace. It would leave me deserted, away from the comforts I knew and banish me somewhere far away where I’d be isolated with just the company of my blood. Or maybe, it would hug me? There was a time, I faintly remember, when I used to not run, neither of us ran. Instead we skipped together side by side, hands clasped together, grinning together. We’d wander through life with no fears, an infallible duo; we’d even dance together. All through the night we’d foxtrot to the hum of the Doctor Bird and move lazily to the tune of the robin.
Sometimes, I wonder why I run.
- RUNNER UP: Laura Gordon-Smith (10AH/101)
My heritage is filled with stories. There are so many to tell: they weave together like a beautiful intricate carpet. The fabric is rough in some places. I hear stories of hardship - of hunger and no hot water. In fact, many of those stories come from my father. Somehow, I didn’t know just how different his childhood was to mine until recently. Knowing that his family never had hot water, or even bedrooms, has made it clearer to me that I have been fortunate enough to have a silkily smooth carpet laying under my feet from the very beginning. But before me, there have been countless threads of colour and detail within the carpet. From the delicious food and the welcoming hospitality, the distinctive music and the delightful celebrations.
My Dad’s family are many, and remote from me; they are dispersed all over the world. Though I have not any heirlooms or material objects passed down to me over the generations, the heritage I have been given is the sense of honour, honesty and generosity, which are the most important values that have been passed to me by my father.
Every day, when I wake up and go to school, I see shops, buses and the general morning rush hour of people getting up and going to work. I can hear the exhausts of cars and taxis driving by, the sound of my music doing its best to wake me up completely. When my Dad woke up from his roll-out bed in the early hours of the morning, he looked out of his small window and saw the mountains shadowing Tehran. He has always been an efficient person, and that started early in his life. His small shoes and book bag journeyed with him, as he marched out of the house by himself from the very first day of primary school; on those mornings, there were no buses, no taxis and no noise, other than the quickly- paced taps of his shoes echoing along the alleyways.
Days and days of hard work and preparation went into the food served on my Dad’s dinner table on the floor. Being a mother of seven, for my Grandmother, was a full-time job. Food brought his family together, and everyone had a role in his busy household. Cooking skills have been shared; recipes have been sewn and unpicked and are still everchanging, now that my Dad has shared the family’s trade secrets with my siblings, and, one day, I will be able to call those recipes my own, too.
So, as I live my life and continue to sew new threads into my carpet for the generations to come, the rough patches and the bright, colourful and smooth ones will grow too. What I have realised is that without all those parts of the carpet, it would not hold the elaborate beauty, or the memories, or the generosity, honour and honesty, because the threads that are intertwined, creating that beauty, are what makes it my heritage.
- RUNNER UP: Brianna Wallace Sousa (10M)
The breeze of the warm summer air brushed against my skin, the fields of grass shook from side to side and the birds flew past me, screeching at the sounds of the bustling crowds of citizens in the nearby town a few minutes away from the barn. The two fields were separated by a stream that flowed down the valley and into the plaza of the town. One side of the field had a small house with a large cattle farm connected to the back door and the field I lived on had a large barn and a cottage leading to the side of it. I never really noticed the other property as I was always busy feeding the livestock and helping mother with younger brother’s medicine. It was only that day I noticed it.
It was the festival of the saints and I prepared baskets of offerings and sweet fruit wrapped in a cloth soaked in water and lavender. I kept the few silver coins in my pouch along with brother’s medicine. Mother said to always be on guard when going to the plaza, and for my brother’s health to be of top priority. When we reached the plaza, the marble stone brick paths were covered in patterns of floral decorations. Red and purple clothes were hung from the windows of the townspeople and large lanterns with ancient symbols splatted from blue ink were placed carefully on each lamp post every house or so. The drums and musical instruments began to play and citizens joined towards the centre to dance and celebrate. Younger brother ran off to play with his friends and I stood there, grasping onto my pouch tightly and the baskets guarded by my feet.
At that moment a boy a few years older grabbed my hand and dragged me to the centre, whom I’d never seen before. Time stopped and the strings of the guitars played gently as he guided the movement of my terrible rhythm to the beat of the music. I had never felt such grace and joy. He smiled and snatched the ribbon out of my pouch. Suddenly I came back to my senses and snarled at him, grasping onto the handles of my pouch. He nodded and took his hand out, with the ribbon, pointing towards the silk hair that brushed against my back. I allowed him, with caution. Closing my eyes that grace I had felt before travelled through my body, sending chills up my skin. The boy tapped my shoulder and when I opened my eyes the once flowing hair had been platted with the petals of the floral decoration and tied off with my ribbon.
That was the first day I met your father” said my mother as she rocked in her hammock, knitting the sweater she never managed to finish after all these years.
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