Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Shakirah Bourne, the author of
JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA
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?
Let’s talk to this magnificent author about her incredible book!
This is Shakirah. Everyone say, “Hi, Shakirah!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Shakirah! Tell us about yourself!
Hi Casey! I’m so excited to chat with you today. I’m a Barbadian author, still residing in the lovely island of Barbados. My background is in filmmaking, adult literary fiction, playwriting and much more–I love creating stories and experimenting with many different narrative styles. I eventually found my way to writing kidlit in 2017 and my debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, comes out with Scholastic on July 6th 2021.
What was the inspiration behind JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA?
I decided to enter a writing competition called BURT Award for Caribbean YA Literature, three weeks before the deadline. I had to decide on a story idea quickly, and the first idea 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.
Though villagers warned him to stay away, he visited her by the river everyday. At night, she took over his dreams; 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? What if the fisherman’s daughter tried to find him? JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA became my answer to those questions. I have always had a love for fantastical tales, and this story gave me the opportunity to delve further into Caribbean folklore and create a modern day adaptation set in Barbados.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA?
1. I discovered that I can write a book in a short timeframe. In only twenty-one days, I planned a book, wrote the first draft while crying, and still had a few days to spare to re-read and edit before the deadline. I haven’t finished a book so quickly since then.
2. I discovered a passion for writing kidlit. In my adult short fiction I would write stories from the perspective of children, mainly to expose hypocrisy or show irony, but I never thought about writing books specifically targeting kids until the BURT competition. There is a significant lack of Caribbean middle grade books, and I can’t think of even one traditionally published middle grade novel set in Barbados, so now I’m on a mission to encourage and inspire as many Caribbean/Bajan writers as I can to explore this genre.
3. I discovered even more connections between Caribbean and African mythology in my research, especially with regards to sea spirits and sea goddesses. I started to think more about the history of my antagonist and during revisions, I started to empathize with her and see her point of view. It sparked an idea for a sequel, which I pitched to my editor, who loved it too! Now JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE HEARTMAN is coming out in 2023.
Oh, wow! That’s impressive that you were able to write your first draft so quickly! And so excited to hear about the upcoming sequel!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
In thinking about the answer to this, I realized that I have read a lot of traumatic and dystopian novels, and there’s no way I’d subject Josephine and Ahkai to such angst (yes, I know they have to battle a sea spirit but that’s not the point). I think I’d let them go book-hopping in some Enid Blyton stories, and add Black representation in those books. They’d have a lot of fun solving mysteries with the Famous Five or Secret Seven, and Josephine and Elizabeth would wreak havoc with elaborate practical jokes in The Naughtiest Girl in School series.
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I didn’t realize I was writing middle grade at all. When I first queried this book, I claimed that it was Young Adult, and then had to learn the differences between the two. In retrospect, I’ve always been drawn to telling stories through the eyes of 11-13 years olds since this is an important period of transition for kids. This is the time they start questioning their place in their family and other groups; they are curious, and willing to go on adventures, and are quite frank and honest in their observations. I find examining people and setting through this perspective very fascinating, and it lends well to humour through self-reflection and also of the behavior of friends, family and the wider community.
It really is one of the best ages to write for!
Let’s talk about writing style! When you start a new story – do you plot it out or are you a pantser? What are some of your favourite methods for tackling writer’s block?
I am a Plotster (who leans more to the plotter side). I like to know the beginning, turning point one & two, midpoint and ending of a story before I start writing. I plan as much as possible because I find that writer’s block occurs when I don’t understand the story or know where it’s going. However, my outline is for peace of mind and it’s just a guide. I still leave room for characters to surprise me and I am flexible enough to include new scenes or other plot elements that appear during the writing process.
I find the best way to tackle writer’s block is to stop thinking about the story. I either read a book or watch a series, and it’s guaranteed that I’ll be inspired again by a scene, a line of dialogue or even an interesting location.
Yes! Stepping away is sometimes the best thing you can do. And high fives to a fellow Plotser! 😀
Any hints about your next book project?
Yes! It’s called DUPPY ISLAND and it’s coming out in 2022. It’s about a young filmmaker who follows her family to a silent retreat on a mysterious island to get footage of a rare butterfly, and discovers that the island is haunted by faceless children. It’s inspired again by Caribbean folklore–a douen is a child who has died before they’re baptized.
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
I am constantly learning about publishing challenges and obstacles, especially for marginalized authors. However, a really surprising and delightful part of the journey is connecting with other debut authors, and realizing that some of your new favorite writers are now your peers. I did not expect to suddenly have access to so many amazing books and people.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading and enjoying:
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit” – Richard Bach
This is my favourite piece of advice to encourage people to keep going, keep learning, keep improving and to never give up on their dreams.
Always, always, always!
Thank you so much for joining us, Shakirah!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA!
It hits shelves on July 6th!
Click here to enter to win a copy of JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA!
Contest ends Friday, July 2nd at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!