Reading Progress:

“She wrote exactly how it was to live, love, and be in endz”: A conversation with Lemara Lindsay-Prince

and Jane Link

“For so many of us Black Brits, the anonymous writer of Keisha The Sket—Jade LB—is as fundamental to the canon as Shakespeare or Dickens.” First published on social media back in 2005, Keisha The Sket is the coming-of-age story of a 17-year-old girl navigating sex and men, classism and misogynoir in south London. In this interview, her publisher at Stormzy’s imprint #Merky Books tells the extraordinary story of bringing this canonical novel to the printed page. 

Keisha Graphic

It’s a bright morning and out of nowhere, you say to yourself, why don’t we publish Keisha The Sket here at #Merky Books. How did this book come to be?

A bright morning in London! I love your optimism. How we came to publish Keisha The Sket speaks to the two pillars of what we do at #Merky Books: community and culture. Back in 2019 we ran our first literary festival/pop up with Beats by Dre. This was a space where all could come through, interact with, and reimagine literature. We had all the community spaces in which words are valued and take on different meanings, everything from spoken word sessions and live podcast recordings to Penguin’s classic covers re-designed with black protagonists. We even had a barbershop! We also hosted an ‘Ask an Editor’ drop-in clinic encouraging people to speak to us about their stories, and it was at this session that Jade LB walked in. We immediately knew we had to publish her and add her debut to the canon.

Keisha The Sket was first published anonymously on a social media site called Piczo back in 2005. We now know it was written by Jade LB when she was just 13, who herself turned against the story for many years out of feelings of shame. How did you handle this delicate situation?

The thing is people either knew Jade LB personally or knew about the folklore surrounding her writing. She was around, posting new chapters of Da Story (it’s title before Keisha The Sket) with a picture of her teen self in school uniform. See these old Twitter threads of people saying they could literally take you to her house. When she stopped writing, she was mythologised. We spent months gaining her trust, personally and professionally. This was a story she created when she was a teen—when her politics were different, her worldview in its infancy—so to come back over a decade later and have this be published by #Merky Books, by Penguin Random House—that’s a big leap. Jade was used to publishing direct to market; now there’s a literary powerhouse saying we want to share your story with the world. Mad! #Merky Books aims to be less opaque than other imprints, meaning we can guide writers through the process better than others because we are grounded in the culture. We were intimately connected with the work in its original form, read it on printed pages passed around the playground or on a Nokia. We always felt we were placed to publish Jade and communicating that care, that cultural connection, that adoration was integral to the entire acquisition.

Many over social media have termed this publishing story “a cultural reset”. What do you think is being reset?

It speaks to gatekeepers, the mindsets, the modes of production, the value we place on what makes a story and what makes literature worthy in this industry. It pokes at the established culture of publishing which hasn’t always engaged with the lived experiences or cultures that exists in global majority communities. That we could take an anonymous author, who published on a now defunct website, and turn it into a book shows a reset in acquisition strategy. Think about how we announced Keisha The Sket. It wasn’t just a typical trade announcement. We had the trailer, we had the burner social media accounts—we made it a moment, dare I say, a movie.  

Keisha Sauce

The book includes two versions of the story. The first is the original Keisha Da Sket which was circulated on social media over a decade ago. The second, rendered in standard English with a few changes to the story, is titled Keisha The Sket. Why the second version?

I wanted this to be The Bible of Keisha. Jade LB is our literary foremother. We had to honour the impact she has had in popular culture and literature. There are a number of audiences for Keisha The Sket: a nostalgic, early adopter audience who grew up reading the early version, and an entirely new audience who know nothing about it but would like to. Piczo is gone, people don’t use Nokia’s anymore, so to have the original all in one place was monumental, archival work. There were also so many cliff-hangers in the original story that people were vex, I say VEX. Jade used to get threatened with violence only because she had left a storyline in mid-air! It was only right that we give people the complete story about Keisha, about Ricardo, about Malachi, about her relationship with her Mum. I also love the third section of The Bible—the essays at the back where ‘the culture speaks back’. With words from Candice Carty-Williams, Aniefiok Ekpoudom, Caleb Femi, and Enny Integrity, these essays speak to the larger history and impact of Keisha in our lives and beyond. Rarely do we get an opportunity to guide a conversation about our art and contribution to culture.

You once contextualised this book in the African griot tradition. What did you mean?

I said that because of the word-of-mouth quality to Keisha The Sket, the folklore around it, and people’s interactions with it. Where were you when you heard about KTS? How did you start reading it? What do you know about the author? There are so many ways of consuming literature. Literature can be a voice note, a thread, the most incredible text exchange. It can be someone telling you something right there and then. With the rise of TikTok and others, publishers are looking for content and culture which could be turned into a book. What publishing Keisha The Sket taught me though, and continues to is to stay connected to culture as much as I can, to meet people where they are at. Publishing and every culture-making industry should look like and sound like the world we live in. We need more of everyone in Design, in Marketing, in Sales, in Publicity, in Editorial, in every part of the book making process.

It’s mind-boggling to think that a youth could have shown such flair for writing, such linguistic innovation, and not been recognised at all. What allows #Merky Books to see what others don’t?

She captured society, community, feeling, agency, lust, all of them tings there so, so well. She wrote exactly how we spoke, exactly how it was to live, love, and be in endz. That’s flair and innovation. That’s so real. She was so real for that. Like every editor, I am on a quest to see something that others don’t. We can all see potential, but we see so much further as an imprint because we are not on the periphery of the culture but in it, daily, and more importantly, authentically. It’s an advantage to work with people who push our thinking and challenge our preconceptions every single day. We are building empire which serves the culture and community. 

 What is the most important lesson you learnt in this journey?

I’m borrowing Jade’s phrase here—“don’t bend.”

LEMARA LINDSAY-PRINCE is Senior Commissioning Editor at award-winning imprint #Merky Books, the imprint behind the British Book Award winner Keisha The Sket by Jade LB and the memoir of Britain’s beloved children’s author Malorie Blackman. She is also joint Editor in Chief of independent literary journal Plantain Papers, and a published writer whose words can be found in Well Read Black Girl anthology and OOMK Magazine. Honoured in The 2020 Elle List as ‘the biggest game-changer of all time’ in publishing, the guiding line through Lemara’s work is to publish books that promote new ways of seeing and being.

JANE LINK is the founder of bigblackbooks. She is also a publishing professional holding two master’s in literature from The University of Edinburgh and SOAS. Find her on Twitter @verybookishjane.

“She wrote exactly how it was to live, love, and be in endz”: A conversation with Lemara Lindsay-PrinceKeisha The Sket Published by #Merky Books on 18 October 2021
Genres: Coming-of-age, Womanism
Pages: 384

Where were you when Keisha the Sket first broke the internet?

Keisha is a girl from the ends, sharp, feisty, and ambitious; she's been labelled 'top sket', but she's making it work. When childhood crush and long-time admirer, Ricardo, finally wins her over, Keisha has it all: power, a love life, and the chance for stability. But trauma comes knocking and with it a whirlwind of choices that will define what kind of a woman she truly wants to be. Told with the heart and soul of the inner city, with an unforgettable heroine, Keisha The Sket is a revelation of the true, raw, arousing and tender core of British youth culture. In print for the first time, this British classic has lived in the phones and websites of fans for decades.

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