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Meet the Anonymous Author Behind the Viral 00s Teen Story, Keisha The Sket

Jade LB’s cult story of Black British girlhood spread through London on phones and print-outs and now it’s being published by Penguin

By Hannah Ewens

Keisha The Sket author, Jade LB
Jade LB by Stuart Simpson

When thirteen-year-old Jade LB wrote her viral story about a Black girl from east London entirely in text-speak, she had no idea it would capture young imaginations. But in hindsight its success was destined: there was no literary character like Keisha before 2005. Keisha The Sket was a highly explicit teen drama, following the sexual escapades and serious violence in the life of a seventeen-year-old rebel. Keisha’s notoriety as a “top sket” threatens to hamper her attempts to couple with her crush, Ricardo. When the pair do get together, traumatic scenarios and wild plot points conspire to pull them apart. How did her adventure end? No one knew – one day, the chapters stopped coming.

While it ran, Keisha The Sket was a cultural phenomenon for young Londoners. For those who could relate to Jade’s language and elements of the mid-00s culture described, it’s as synonymous with that childhood era as Sony Ericsson phones, dial-up, bassline and garage. Although originally published on blogging site Piczo, KTS was read in playgrounds and on the back of classrooms and buses. But as Keisha’s tale began to spread around the inner city via Bluetooth, Myspace bulletins and MSN, it reached city other areas of the England, including the south coast. “I remember hearing Keisha getting to Birmingham and Manchester,” says the anonymous creator, now 29.

After completing her masters in 2018, Jade LB worked with young girls at risk of sexual exploitation. She has since been in therapy, “kicked about a bit” around London and works part-time for an unnamed large organisation that provides a public service. She also teaches at a university. In recent years, she has made efforts to reconnect with her character and understand what Keisha meant to her. So when Stormzy’s Penguin imprint #Merky Books approached her at the end of 2019, the timing felt serendipitous.

Crucially Jade has reconsidered and re-evaluated the story for this official publication. Her original text in all its text speak glory is printed alongside her new and updated Keisha The Sket. Writers Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Femi, Aniefiok Ekpoudom and rapper ENNY join the author to provide some context on issues like hypersexualisation, masculinity, music and Black girlhood. To reintroduce KTS to a very different world was a task that had to be done thoughtfully – and the anonymous Jade LB remained in total control of her creation.

In person – at twice the age of when she wrote Keisha – Jade LB is highly articulate and has a calm confidence. We meet at a quiet Dalston café and she chooses to sit by the window with a green tea to discuss the act of reimagining her text and why anonymity was – and remains – so crucial to her happiness.

Did you aspire to be a writer at 13 when you wrote KTS?
Not particularly. I was an above average student and avid reader but didn’t pay attention when I got to secondary school. The only reason I wrote was because I was gifted a computer for my 13th birthday and there was nothing else to do, because we couldn’t afford the internet at the time. I vividly remember the first day I sat down to start writing it; I was so frustrated because I turned on this computer anticipating having Microsoft Word, Paint and it didn’t have any of these programmes. It was only these basic applications. I found Notepad which was the only thing that made sense to me, so I started writing. Every day I would come home from school, do my chores but once those were done I’d be writing this story. By the time we had the internet, I had a backlog of chapters, between 4 and 6.

How did the great dissemination process of this story work?
I never thought ‘oh I’m gonna put this out for people to read’. That wasn’t a conscious thought. I made a Piczo site like everyone else did. I had pictures of girls that I knew and a page of boys I knew and an ‘About Me’ page with a picture of me in my school uniform and how old I was and what countries my parents are from. Then I just started to make this page called The Story and I decided to put the first chapter up and the page was aquamarine blue and the text was in black Comic Sans and then in red Cosmic Sans I wrote ‘I’ll upload a chapter every two weeks’. Some people had productions where they’d make pictures with all that stuff on them but I didn’t know how to do that, so maybe this was my own creativity I was trying to platform in this strange way.

So people around you at school knew Keisha was yours but at what point did the story spread and the author become anonymous?
People that went to my church, went to school with me, even people who found my MSN and added me from reading the story, knew it was me. There’s one person who found my MSN that I’m still friends with even to this day, and she only added me because she came across my Piczo site and my story. Back then sharing a URL wasn’t a thing, so people were copying the story and putting it on their phones and computers and sharing it in very creative ways, whether it was printing it, bluetoothing it, texting it. But no one was ever simply sharing the URL to my Piczo site and being like ‘here it is’. That’s where the anonymity built because no one knew where their source was getting the story from. As soon as you print off the pages and pass it around at school, I’m no longer an element of this. It’s just a story on a page. Whereas now, you always want the source of where this thing is from.

Are you glad you had the early-social media era opportunity to hide from being hunting down as a creator? Without anonymity you’d have to get on Twitter and be a spokesperson and a brand within the media and publishing industry. That would demand a lot of you.
For sure. I feel grateful that I have been able to have a choice in whether to be hyper-visible or not. I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s take on the internet and her takedown of the culture that we’re in where there’s no room to grow or be wrong. I’m grateful to give what I can and then be back to my normal life. I don’t want to be right all the time. There’s almost a chase after new opinions or prototype for being ‘right’. What’s the new expectation for being a Black woman? What’s the new expectation for being working class? I wouldn’t want to be chasing these prototypes every day of my life just to try to keep the brand going.

I’m also aware of the space that KTS occupies: a plethora of different spaces and some of them are a bit toxic. I can imagine things to do with KTS or me being on a gossip page. There’s the risk of the KTS brand being rubbished. Too much familiarity breeds the capacity for people to rubbish your creativity or the things that you create. On another level, I’m so aware that KTS is nothing to do with me. I don’t feel like I need to be out there because in its cultural impact, what it’s about, the conversations it’s inaugurating, it’s so much bigger than me now.

Keisha The Sket author, Jade LB

The storytelling of stands up today – you knew the humour and melodrama and all the beats that make a teen drama. What books and TV were you consuming at the time that may have helped teach you to fit a narrative together?
Throughout my teens, things were so hard at home financially that we didn’t have Sky and that so I wasn’t really watching anything. I had started going to the local library independently at 12 and found the Black fiction section. I came across these two imprints called Urban Books and Triple Crown Publications that published books from – judging from their names – the streets of New York. The stories of people who were not traditional authors and their stories were not what you would expect to find in a book: Black inner city people in America, their love lives, sex lives, violence, money issues, and it was the first time I came across Black life in its rawest depiction. It felt so close to reality. Despite where they were geographically relocated, I was just like, I feel this. I feel this on so many levels.

Jacqueline Wilson was someone else whose work I loved so much and on a class level I connected with what she was saying about these people’s lives. But in these American novels the connection was on so many levels. These authors had slang or broken text and it was like ‘wow there’s license to do that because they’re doing it, these are books in my library’.

It strikes me that girls in the 00s found Keisha adventurous and powerful but reading as an adult in the 2020s, it’s clear she’s hypersexualised and we understand her story through various lenses of gender, race and class. Did you write her in your teenage mind as a powerful, exciting character?
I did find Keisha powerful, exciting. I thought I was so disgusting as a teenager and I just hoped that one day I could be as desirable and pretty as her. But there is no one truth. I always have a conversation with myself about ‘OK what’s the biggest truth?’ And the biggest truth is that Keisha was a victim. But there’s so much texture and nuance beneath that biggest truth. And she was this vivacious, powerful, fun, audacious young girl but she was also neglected and in pain and seeking. All those things are true.

It was fascinating to see what you chose to change and keep in the re-write. It felt like overhearing the younger Jade and older Jade in conversation. Was it crucial that you print revisionary material when you were agreeing the terms of publication with a publishing house? Did you need people to see the evolution of your thinking?
At first it was important from an ego-led place – I need to show I don’t talk like that anymore or that my communication isn’t in text speak [laughs]. But during the process, I was really confronted by the responsibility I had for a teenage Jade who didn’t have the skill to be able to tell a story with some of the literary devices that I put into the rewrite.

Again, I go back to leading the brand in a different direction intentionally. We’re not talking about [Keisha’s] promiscuity because that’s not the conversation. It’s interesting because KTS wasn’t what I called the story – it was just called The Story on my Piczo site. It was popularly coined KTS. That is reflective of the perception of Keisha; she’s a promiscuous girl with agency, she was engaging in sex and she was never a victim, and that’s just not true. The rewrite was intentional in that I wanted to talk about gender, love, sex, womanhood, girlhood, working classness, Blackness, Britishness.

I loved in the re-write that her mum gets so much more airtime.
The first time I entered the therapy space in 2018, I thought: I’ve got to go because I’ve had my heart broken by someone’s stupid son and I’ll talk about this man for a bit and get over it. But the first thing the therapist asked me was to tell her about my parents and I was just thinking ‘what about them?’ But that me realise that so much of our trajectory is based on our foundational relationships. So I was influenced by my own journey, uncovering my foundational relationships with my parents. I thought it was important to give Keisha’s mum a bit of texture and give reason for Keisha’s victimhood, her lack of agency and her inability to be assertive and connected to herself.

The original story finished without warning in the middle of the action. What was happening in your life when you stopped uploading chapters?
I was done with it. Back then we didn’t really have that thing where ‘we’ were commenting online or reading the comments, so on Piczo there was a little comment box and a guest book but I never read either of them. One day I just read them and there were so many threats like ‘you better fucking upload a chapter, I’m gonna fucking fight you’. I felt a new pressure to get what we would now call ‘content’ out, to get this story written. I thought, I don’t need people telling me they’re gonna come beat me up because I haven’t put out a new chapter.

The Keisha stans were turning on you. Was it cathartic to give her a proper ending in the re-write? Keisha goes to university, she moves on with her life as a young single woman.
It was. The ending I did decide to give it is maybe not the bang that people would hope for. But I like it because it reflects my opinions on Keisha and the young women that I’ve met throughout my life. The truth is that Keisha could honestly be anyone: we all have our story. Her former years – as colourful or as dark as they were, however you look at it – could have been the pre-amble to a really quote unquote normal life. Keisha could’ve gone to uni, she could’ve got married and had children, she could’ve been a single mum, she could’ve been an addict. Her story could’ve gone in any direction. But that ending aligned with my personal politics and my views of the world and class and deprivation. Even down to the fact that I went to university twice – I did an undergrad in Politics and a Masters in Africa and Development – no one would’ve ever believed I would do that. Just like with Keisha. But it happens and you muddle through it.

Have many production companies approached you asking to make it into TV or film?
Oh, yeah. The team’s been overrun with production companies and broadcasters trying to get their proverbial claws in [laughs]. I’m a right cow when it comes to just creative control. Nothing’s gonna happen without me at the head of the table, so if anyone gets through that very difficult process of negotiation but it would be a long process to get from here to screen. If there’s no alignment, it’s not gonna happen and I’m OK with that.

On a final and related note, do you feel compelled to write more fiction?
I don’t feel compelled to write more, no. But I feel I’ve got a bit of a responsibility to continue to write and shed light on Black British stories. I do feel strongly about how unjust it is that the publishing industry is so gatekept. It’s a travesty that Black British stories don’t take up space in the way that they should. I’m third gen and I didn’t grow up seeing myself in literature and that’s really sad. I’m mixed heritage and don’t feel I’ve got a home somewhere else. I feel very British. Here’s home. I’ve gotta make a place here and so many people have to make a place here, and we can do that by carving out our place in creative fields. In that way I feel compelled but on a personal level, I’m just gonna do what I want. If I try the few book and story ideas I have and it doesn’t feel good then I’ll leave it at Keisha The Sket.

Jade LB is making an anonymised public appearance to speak about Keisha The Sket at the Southbank Centre on 29th October.