Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Shakirah Bourne, Author of Josephine Against the Sea; On Carribean Mythology, Her Author Journey, and Writing Younger Voices

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

I’m so excited to share and tell you all about this wonderful book that I read very recently, friends. If you love stories that capture the thrill and joys of adventure, a story set entirely in Barbados, a satisfying sprinkle of Carribean mythology, and a good-hearted and mischievous heroine who meddles – and actually saves the day – then you will love Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne.

I had the opportunity of reading Josephine Against the Sea early and I was delighted by how much fun the story was and its spirit. After reading this book, I felt like I had gone on an unforgettable adventure with Josephine. Today’s visiting friend at the Pond is the lovely Shakirah Bourne, the author of Josephine Against the Sea! I cannot think of anyone better to help me share this wonderful book with you all than Shakirah herself, who visits us as a Barbadian bullfinch merbird.

I hope you all will enjoy my interview with Shakirah as much as I did! But, before we dive right into her wonderful interview answers, I’d like to officially introduce to you Josephine Against the Sea.

Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne

Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That’s why she makes a habit of scaring his new girlfriends away. She’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team because she’ll get to play her favorite sport AND use the cricket matches to distract Daddy from dating.

But when Coach Broomes announces that girls can’t try out for the team, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life . . .

The next day, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, this one doesn’t scare easily. Josephine knows there’s something fishy about Mariss but she never expected her to be a vengeful sea creature eager to take her place as her father’s first love! Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s clutches before it’s too late?

Find and pre-order Josephine Against the Sea on:
Goodreads | Bookshop | Indiebound | Amazon

Author Interview: Shakirah Bourne

CW: Hello Shakirah! A wonderful and warm welcome to The Quiet Pond – thank you so much for visiting us today! For our friends out there who are only meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Shakirah: Hi CW! I am honored to be here! I’m Shakirah Bourne, a Barbadian author residing in Barbados in the Caribbean. I love experimenting with form and I’ve written several adult literary short stories, plays, musicals, and four feature films; now I’ve found my calling with kidlit. My middle grade contemporary fantasy, Josephine Against the Sea, comes out with Scholastic tomorrow, July 6th. I enjoy staring out at the sea, eating mangoes and taking walks through old graveyards.

CW: A huge congratulations on your upcoming middle-grade book, Josephine Against the Sea! I had such a fun time with Josephine and her adventure. I understand that the book has undergone its own journey itself – having first been published with a different name in 2019, but now being published again in 2021 with Scholastic. Can you tell us about the journey you and Josephine have been on together, and what changes Josephine’s story has seen?

Shakirah: Josephine and I have been on a very convoluted but rewarding journey. In 2017 I decided to enter a kidlit writing competition three weeks before the deadline, and though it was a chaotic experience to finish a book in that time, I just fell in love with the story. I decided to query agents with that draft and to my surprise, not only did I sign with an agent five months later, but the manuscript was a finalist for the competition. Part of the award was a publication deal with a regional publishing house, and that’s how My Fishy Stepmom was published in 2019.

After doing edits with my agent and my Caribbean editor, I went on submission to US editors. We heard back from Scholastic about 3 months later, with my editor requesting a Revise and Resubmit since she wanted to clarify the emotional core of the book, and improve the pacing. After an editorial letter, I revised the first few chapters of the book, and then thankfully received an offer!

In terms of the changes, my first draft was 28k words, and the story thread was mainly on Josephine trying to sabotage her Dad’s dates and then save his life. By the time a version of the story was published in 2019, it was 45k words as I had expanded her world to include challenges at school and getting on the cricket team. Josephine Against the Sea is now 61k words and it includes more suspense, folklore and adventure.

CW: What was the ‘spark’ of inspiration for Josephine Against the Sea

Shakirah: Well, since I only had three weeks to write I had to think of an idea fast! And the first that came to mind was inspired by a story I read in English class when I was twelve years old, about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. He’d visit her daily to stare at her combing her hair by the river; he stopped caring for his family and himself, and one day, villagers found his clothing on the riverbank, and neither he nor the mermaid were ever seen again. I always wondered what could have happened to them. Who was that mermaid? Did his family try to find him? I’ve been haunted by those questions since then and Josephine Against the Sea became my answer to those questions.

CW: I loved many things about Josephine Against the Sea, but there were two things that really stood out to me. The first is that I loved the Caribbean mythology in this book – the silk cotton tree and Mami Wata! Where did your love for Caribbean mythology come from, and what do these myths mean to you personally?

Shakirah: I’ve always had a love for fantastical tales and mythology. My earliest memories of Caribbean folklore were tales from my grandmother about Anansi the Spider, and Ossie Moore, and every Bajan kid was warned about the Heartman, who kidnapped you and cut out your heart if you were caught outdoors after dark. But as we have an oral tradition of storytelling in the Caribbean, there weren’t many printed stories about these characters. I think this is why that story about the fisherman and the mermaid had such an impact on me because I rarely saw Caribbean folklore characters in books.

Writing this story was an opportunity to document some of our superstitions and folklore to make them more accessible, and also an opportunity to add to the lore by adapting one of the characters to a Barbadian landscape. I wanted to showcase our superstitions; beliefs like throwing a silver dollar in the water for good luck, or walking out of the sea backward to ward off evil spirits, or the belief that a heated natural pool cures non-curable diseases.

As I started to do more research, I discovered that our Caribbean folklore characters are mainly rooted in African mythology, and it was a delight to see the manifestations of different folklore characters. I wrote this book to see myself and the people around me authentically reflected in a story, but I hope the Black diaspora will see the similarities in our culture. It’s a reminder that though we’re far apart, our shared history brings us closer together.

CW: What I also loved about Josephine Against the Sea was Josephine herself. I loved that you captured such a youthful and spirited voice, and I think so many younger readers will really relate to Josephine’s thoughts, struggles, and resolve. How do you approach writing a younger voice? And what do you enjoy the most when writing Josephine’s voice?

Shakirah: This is a really great question, because I do spend a lot of time thinking about how 11 year-old me would have interpreted a situation, and then applying that perspective to fit the personality of the character in the respective story. I try to be as authentic as possible, using the same language and vocabulary that I would have used at that age in a casual conversation, but at the same time trying to bring across sentiments in a simple, but poetic manner.

I adore Josephine’s voice! She’s full of sass and sarcasm; I imagine she’d be looking at every stranger with a pout and a side-eye lol. I find writing through her eyes really enjoyable because her observations are frank and honest, and you’re able to show the irony of some societal norms and expectations, which does lend well to humor and the opportunity to do some subtle social commentary.

CW: Family and grief are two big themes in Josephine Against the Sea, and I really love how you explored these two ideas in Josephine’s story. In particular, I love how there’s this light tone but there’s an undercurrent of pretty serious and real stuff that readers will connect with. What is your philosophy for writing serious stuff for younger readers?

Shakirah: I always try to make the story as entertaining as possible. My main goal is for the reader to have an enjoyable reading experience since I want to encourage children to read all the books. In Josephine, I use a lot of humor in the plot and in her voice to make some of the more serious themes and the lessons that she learns more palatable for younger readers. For instance, Josephine has a lot of repressed trauma from the loss of her mom, and I show this through her unwillingness to accept a new person in her father’s life, which was then portrayed through her numerous pranks and booby traps on his girlfriends. Younger readers will enjoy her antics and get a laugh, but as she becomes more self-aware about her inner fears, readers will also learn the importance of honest and open communication as a first step towards healing.

CW: I’m really excited to see what fun and exciting story that you’ll be giving us next! Can you give us a clue on what you are working on next? Will Josephine have another adventure soon?

Shakirah: Right now I’m working on an MG Horror called Duppy Island, where a young filmmaker follows her family to a silent retreat, only to find the island haunted by faceless children. It’s also inspired by Caribbean folklore, in particular, a creature called a douen, which is a child who dies before they’re baptized. That’s coming out next with Scholastic, but there’s also a plan for a next book in the Josephine series called Josephine Against the Heartman. I got the idea for this book while doing revisions so I’m excited for everyone to read it. In that book, Josephine has to team up with a suspicious sea spirit to save Ahkai from the Heartman.

CW: Thank you so much for visiting us today, Shakirah! It was so wonderful to have you. My last question is a question I ask all of our visitors: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?

Shakirah: It was an absolute pleasure to be here! Baked goods like coconut sweetbread and leadpipes will take me back to picnics with my childhood friends, the smell of fishcakes in the air reminds me of sitting on the beach in Oistins, and hot Bajan soup with plenty of dumplings will always remind me of home.

About the Author

Shakirah Bourne is a Barbadian author and filmmaker. Her first feature film, the comedy-drama, PAYDAY, was screened throughout the Caribbean, USA and UK. She has written three films since its debut in 2013: Two Smart (writer/co-director), Next PAYDAY (writer/producer) and A Caribbean Dream (writer/director). A Caribbean Dream is distributed by Verve Pictures and had a cinema release in London in 2017. The film won several awards, including Best Drama at the National Film Awards UK,  Best International Feature at the Charlotte Black Film Festival and best UK Feature at the London Independent Film Festival.

Her short stories have been featured in many literary journals (see below). Her self-published collection of short stories, IN TIME OF NEED (2013), won the prestigious Governor General Award for Excellence in Literary Fiction. She was a finalist for the BURT/CODE Award for Caribbean Literature in 2018. The Caribbean edition of her middle grade novel, MY FISHY STEPMOM, was published by Blue Banyan Books (2019) and the North American edition, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, will be published by Scholastic in 2021.

Find Shakirah on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

2 thoughts on “Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Shakirah Bourne, Author of Josephine Against the Sea; On Carribean Mythology, Her Author Journey, and Writing Younger Voices

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