Mentee NameTitle of ManuscriptMentor NameAge CategoryGenre(s)Total word count (approx.)
Jess BirchLady EmLouisa ReidYAContemporary Verse Novel35000

LADY EM is a YA contemporary verse novel complete at 35,000 words. A fast-paced, dark, and modern re-telling of Macbeth, it would sit alongside YA Shakespeare re-tellings such as Under a Dancing Star and contemporary verse novels with a supernatural twist such as Long Way Down.  

Academically gifted but not much liked, 17 year-old Emilia Campbell, or “Lady Em”, is on the verge of losing everything to her charismatic twin brother Duncan. Favoured by their father, it seems like he is going to snatch away everything that she holds dear: their father’s company, her place at Cambridge University and her beloved piano. 

As her brother threatens to steal everything that matters in her life, Emilia is left increasingly desperate to regain control. In the aftermath of her brother’s death, Emilia feels the increasing presence of the Caledonian witches. Her every move is picked apart by the vindictive vlogger “Punch” and she turns to the mysterious school counsellor for guidance during these troubled times. Soon, however, she wonders if the consequence of stopping her brother has been the creation of someone even more dangerous. She must decide what she is willing to do to stop them and whether the family secret that she learns of is a gift or a curse. 

In 2019, I was a teacher judge for the UKLA books awards whose entries showed me how effective moving away from traditional prose can be. I studied English Literature at Newcastle University, where I wrote and directed my own play. I also have an MSc in Global Ethics from the University of Birmingham, specialising in the care of conjoined twins. I wrote this book whilst on maternity leave with my second child with the help of a jumperoo and a bouncy chair. 

Thank you for your time and consideration, 

Jess Birch 


They smash into each other, 
again, and again, and again, 
these boys, 
these almost men. 
It’s rugby, 
or so they claim. 
They love it, 
this legalised violence, 
this excuse to tear, 
and swear 
and bite 
when the ref’s not looking. 
My brother’s the worst. 
As head boy, 
and flanker, 
he’s always pushing, pushing, pushing, 
often too far, 
often until shirts tear, 
bones break, 
and they scream out in pain. 
But he doesn’t stop. 
And that’s what makes him so good. 
Or so they say. 
And so our father believes.
They’re here for once, 
our parents, 
for this game
for this match 
for the local hospice. 
How kind of them. 
Mum’s sat on a blanket, 
with Grace, our dog, 
beneath the August sun. 
Dad’s shouting on the sideline, 
puce in the face: 
“come on, come on, come on”  
as if his words alone, 
my twin, 
towards the line. 
I don’t sit with them.
I sit with Annie instead. 
We should be cheering on our boyfriends, 
Duffy and Mack, 
who, like my brother, 
endlessly down the field. 
But we don’t. 
Instead, we toy with our strawberries,
flicking the green stalks 
at each other’s bare feet, 
often missing our target:
the chipped paint on our toes,
but always smiling.
Our phones are face down, 
as we allow ourselves to pause 
for a moment,
before we 
our last school year. 

A first year titters, trips and topples, 
Over Annie’s dark legs
but I catch her, 
as she falls. 
Her friends gasp, 
mouths covered, 
“Lady Em,” they say.
What have I done
what have I become
to scare them
this way? 
I smile, 
and tell her that it’s ok, 
that it’s fine, 
that it doesn’t matter, 
as she backs quickly away.

The crowd cheers: 
with the sun soaking his brindle hair, 
the ball 
from the air.
He runs, 
like a whippet 
down the wing, 
toward Mack, 
who steals it, 
from the pass
and smashes it against the ground
like a head, like a baby, like a trophy you don’t want
but so desperately need. 
Dad cheers through his teeth. 
But Mum’s by his side, 
holding his bleating phone.

He soon smiles. 
It must have been good news, 
it usually is. 
People like to please him, 
and I understand why, 
because so do I.

The final whistle blows: 
we’ve won. 
And even if it’s just for charity 
the boys howl and scream and squeeze each other until it must 
They hoist Duncan high in the air; 
like a ship’s figurehead
he smiles down at his waves.  

Mack frees himself from the pack,
and squeezes in
between Annie and me.
He’s damp, 
with sweat, 
and something else. 
He peels away his gumshield; 
blood shines on his teeth
which he spits
and wipes across the grass. 
I brace 
as he plants
this winner’s kiss
on my