‘I turned against Keisha the Sket for a long time’: Jade LB on returning to her noughties viral story

Until recently, if you had asked any Black girl between the ages of 25 そして 35 if they’d heard of Keisha the Sket, they would a) immediately tell you which secondary school they went to and exactly which class they were in when they heard of her, b) pass on some new unauthorised version or spin-off of the story and c) ask if you knew who the author behind this urban phenomenon was. That is, until the lifestyle platform Black Ballad found the person behind Keisha and posted an article written by her 十一月に 2019. We, the criminally underrepresented Black girls, were finally, ある意味で, reunited with our literary foremother and the author of the story that somehow reached a large majority of us in around 2005, when social media wasn’t even a thing.

I first encountered Keisha when I was a teenager. I was in a science lesson and one of the girls in the class had the first instalment on her phone. Because of the way it was written – peppered with slang, with symbols in place of words and letters – I didn’t even realise it was a story, I thought I was reading a really long SMS. This was the power of Jade LB’s writing: it felt so real. The instalments were shared via phones and MSN chats across London. Back in the day, girls would message Jade demanding the next chapter of Keisha’s story, so intense was the appetite for it. And this is why, more than a decade later, it is being published by Stormzy’s imprint, #Merky Books.

だが, perhaps wisely, the author behind the series of stories we’d all inhaled the minute she’d uploaded them to Piczo (a now defunct social networking and blogging platform for teenagers) wants to remain largely anonymous. I’d met her before, on a Zoom, so when I was asked to interview her but told that her identity was to be protected, I felt grateful that I’d at least seen her face. When it was time to sit down with Jade LB and talk about a story that had definitely acted as a foundation for my understanding of what literature could be, I suggested she come to my house in south London. When she arrived, a bottle of Moët in hand as a gift, she felt so familiar to me. I didn’t know if it was because the person sitting at my dining table had written a story I’d read hundreds of times, or if it was because we’re both writers, or even because we’re Black women who have a shared dialect and can easily fall into the same conversational rhythm.

です なぜなら of Keisha the Sket that I forget that not everybody knows what “sket” means. I looked it up for anyone not in the know and found that the Collins English Dictionary offers two definitions:

VERB
Word forms: skets, sketting or sketted
(transitive) South Wales dialect
1. to splash (water)
2. to splash (someone with water)
And/or:
British derogatory, slang
a promiscuous girl or woman
Word origin: from Caribbean slang skettel

It won’t shock you to know that in the context of Keisha it’s the latter. And it won’t come as a surprise that, in Keisha the Sket, Jade LB wrote exactly what she wanted to write, how she wanted to write it. While giving us a gripping narrative, she played with form. She wrote in text language and slang, usually sexually explicit. Some words had three spellings in one sentence. And I think this is what makes this story so unforgettable. Jade LB played by her own rules back then, and in the publishing of Keisha the Sket in 2021, she remains the author of her own story.

Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
I had a very London childhood: played out and listened to garage music. I’m the eldest: there’s a 10-year age gap between me and my middle sister, and so I was an only child for a really long time. I was like a second mum to them; I remember doing their hair, dressing them, looking after them on the weekends. I’m really close to them.

And what was school like?
I loved primary school so much. It had a lot of different cultures. And then my mum fought to get me into an all-girls Catholic secondary school and I had a lot of the difficulties that I guess you have when you’re just around girls. A lot of bitchiness and cattiness. I didn’t get in fights, it was just vibes and words. That was enough for me.

What was your escape from that?
I read loads – American novels, all these random people from the streets, Sister Souljah, Around the Way Girls by La Jill Hunt. I don’t even know where I got it into my head that I wanted to find the Black section in the library, but I found it and they had all these urban books. They also had Zane, an erotica writer. I always had a book. And sometimes the title of the book was a bit risque so we would put a piece of paper inside of the plastic so that the teachers couldn’t see what the book was called. Jacqueline Wilson was the first bit of relatable literature that I began reading as a child. Obviously I did the Harry Potter stuff, but it was Wilson who was reflective of my life in some ways. But they were just white, ええと? When I got to the Black novels it was like: “Yeah, I get this.”

How did Keisha come about?
Keisha was definitely inspired by the American novels. I was so enthralled with their writing, but my experience obviously wasn’t what was happening in the streets of New York. It was London, and it was the things I was hearing at the back of science class and whatever. My run-ins with boys were really limited because of my lack of confidence. When it came to intimacy, I wasn’t doing that; I was very much observing and witnessing, collecting all this information and making stories out of it. And then it was funnelled into Keisha’s world and story.

Set the scene for me again. 君は だった 13 …
I got a desktop computer for my 13th birthday and it had the factory-set applications on it. I looked on this computer expecting to see the Microsoft system, like at school, and it didn’t have that because you’ve obviously got to buy the package. So all it had was Notepad. I vividly remember beginning to write this story, just out of frustration because I didn’t have anything else to do on the computer. That is how it started. And then we finally got internet in the house and I obviously had to get MSN, and a face-pic.com account, and Piczo. It had pictures of myself, all my details, what school I went to – and I also had a page just called “The Story”. I copied and pasted the first chapter on to it, and I remember it was this aquamarine blue, the background, and the text was in Comic Sans and it was black. I didn’t really think that people would read it.

When did you know people had started reading it?
I don’t remember a lot of conversations about it. But on Piczo I remember people leaving me threats in the comments because I was late uploading chapters.

I remember when it touched my school in New Cross in サウスロンドン. I was probably 15 and I remember being scandalised! How did it feel to you when you clocked that: “Hold on, this isn’t just in my school or people I know, this has gone cross-country?」
I don’t think the penny dropped when I was that age. In my later teens, when I clocked that it had been widely read, it was just a sinking feeling. In sixth form we were making new friends and I remember feeling: “I don’t want these people to know this about me.”

Tell me the story of how we’re here.
に 2018 I was finishing up my master’s – on Africa and development – and I had been on a bit of a journey. I’d started therapy and I was looking at things a bit deeper and deconstructing some of the stories I’d been telling myself over the years. One of which was that this Keisha the Sket thing was bad and I didn’t want anything to do with it. And then I worked with girls at risk of sexual exploitation and that really challenged my gender politics as well. A lot of things opened my mind to thinking: “You can do whatever you want with this, now.” At the end of 2019 I ended up in the #Merky Books offices, and that was the beginning.

You got the chance not just to have Keisha published but to rewrite her story. Why was that important to you?
It was an ego thing for a long time. Going over the story and rereading the text language, 私は思った: “This story is terrible!” I wanted to show my writing abilities, initially.

しかしその後, it was also because Keisha was part of my imagination as a teenager. And now I’ve lived my life. I’ve got a really different perspective and I wanted to show that. There’s such a story around Keisha being, maybe not a fuck-up, but such a mess and past redemption. And now I’m past Keisha’s age in the story, past the age of the girls in my school who were having a lot of sex, or even the girls I worked with who were at risk of sexual exploitation, and I realise that your story doesn’t end there. There’s so much life to live. So many new decisions and opportunities. I felt Keisha could have a mundane existence after the wildness of those few years, and that’s just life.

I was also really touched by considering the foundational influences of everyone’s life. I wanted to develop Keisha’s relationship with her mum, which didn’t get a lot of airtime in the original version.

The first time 円形, you wrote it for yourself. 今回, were you writing for an audience?
It’s almost come full circle in that, 番号, I think I wrote it for myself. And I think that I did some processing while writing it. The ego stuff definitely died as I was writing it. Therapy is a space where you process a lot of your stuff, and through Keisha there were little nuggets of my life that I was processing.

What is your relationship to Keisha?
I turned against Keisha for a really long time. 私は思った: “I’m hiding from you. I’m creating as much distance as possible between me and you, Keisha.” But I definitely fell in love with her in rewriting her story. Her audacity, her brawn.

Would you write a sequel?
番号. There won’t be a sequel, but what there will be is more about Black girls and womanhood. You will see and hear Keisha. You’ll see and hear me. You’ll see and hear the Black women that have impacted my life through more characters.

Is there going to be a TV adaptation?
I probably have a little bit of a reputation for being difficult – with anyone that meets me in a business capacity when it comes to Keisha. I don’t cower away from saying no to things, so I could get round the table and be like: “This is not happening because it’s not happening on my terms.” And this is a deeply personal project for many different reasons.

I also have a real thing about television and film and the depiction of Black inner-city people and life. It is often not done right. And so I think that I’d need to have quite a lot of creative control over any television or film project when it comes to Keisha the Sket. And if I’m not going to have that, which in TV is very unlikely, then it’s not going to happen.

In terms of career goals outside of Keisha, what’s your plan?
I don’t even know, to be honest. I studied politics – I’ve got two politics degrees. And when I came to the end of my master’s, my aspirations and love for African politics had been sucked out of me. There is something about African politics, in terms of academia or global governance or charities – it’s white and middle-class, and they are just chatting shit, and have stupid views, and have not done any work on themselves, so they’re going in as the pricks that they are. Working underneath that has sucked a lot out of me, so I think I was quite lost, 実際に, when I embarked on this.

Keisha came back to you at the right time.
I guess so.

And are you excited about it being out in the world?
I don’t know about excited. I feel really sick. But ultimately, we’re here. So yeah, more than excited I feel really grateful and proud of myself. But also sick!

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