Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Shakirah. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to talk with you today. Your debut book, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA will be published on July 6th with Scholastic. Can you tell our readers what it’s about, please?
Shakirah: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie!
JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA is a contemporary fantasy about 11 year-old cricketer Josephine, who is very overprotective of her Dad, and sets booby traps for his dates to scare them away. She knows she can distract her Dad from dating by getting on her school’s cricket team but the Coach says only boys are allowed to play. But then her Dad brings home a new catch – Mariss, and unlike the others, she does not not scare easily. Josephine discovers that Mariss is not what she seems, and has to convince everyone of her true nature before it’s too late. It’s a Barbadian with a sweet single father-daughter relationship, addresses issues like overcoming grief and is full of Caribbean folklore.
Kathie: This is a story I would highly recommend for fans of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, and I know she wrote a blurb for your book. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for it?
Shakirah: Sure! There were several story seeds that inspired the growth of this tale, but the first sprout occurred in English class in secondary school (high school) when we read a Caribbean short story about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. She would sit on a rock by the river, combing her hair and singing. Though villagers warned him to stay away, he’d visit her everyday and soon she took over his dreams; he stopped eating, providing for his family, and one day, the villagers found his clothes on the riverbank and he was never seen again. I wondered, who was that mermaid? What happened to that fisherman? That story haunted me since I was 12 years old so when I decided I wanted to write a folklore story, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA became my answer to those questions.
Kathie: Did you enjoy reading or listening to myths and fairytales as a child, and did you have a favorite one?
Shakirah: I have always been infatuated with myths and fairytales about princesses, vampires, mermaids and other sea creatures, Anansi the Spider, Greek mythology, you name it, so it would be torturous to try to pick a favorite one. But one local folklore character that is very well-known is the Heartman, a cloaked figure that patrols the streets at night in a hearse, looking for naughty children who are outside after dark. He rips the hearts from their chests and offers those organs to the devil. In other tales, he steals the hearts because he has none of his own. Of course this was a story used to scare children so that they would get home early, but in my research I discovered that the legend was based off of a real serial killer!
Kathie: Josephine and her dad both come to terms with the loss of her mom in this story, and Josephine also comes to accept that her dad might need more than watching cricket with her in his life. What’s one important thing you hope readers will discover while reading this book?
Shakirah: Josephine and her Dad have a special bond, and he does his best as a single Dad to raise her and fulfil her needs, but in his inability to talk about her Mum, and also deal with his own grief, Josephine is left to make incorrect assumptions in an attempt to protect his heart. I hope readers will understand the importance of communicating feelings, because confronting and sharing emotions is the first step to healing.
Kathie: Josephine desperately loves cricket and wants to play on the team but has several obstacles to overcome. Did you enjoy cricket growing up, and if so, what position did you (or would you want to) play? What words of encouragement would you give to a young girl in Josephine’s position?
Shakirah: I made the assumption that because I loved watching cricket, I naturally would be skilled at playing the game. I had imagined myself to be an amazing bowler, but I discovered how wrong I was when I tried out for a girl’s cricket team at college, ran to catch the ball and it felt like a rock had shattered my knuckles. Those balls are HARD! Through Josephine, I’m glad that I can still contribute to the game in a safe, pain-free way.
Josephine goes to extreme lengths to prove her bowling skills. Sometimes, people who are supposed to be your role models aren’t very supportive, and I would encourage young girls to find creative ways to overcome challenges, continue to develop their skills and never give up on a dream.
Kathie: Although Barbados is home to you, many young readers may not be familiar with it. What would you like young readers to know about it?
Shakirah: This is such a great question. Firstly, I’d love people to understand that the Caribbean is made up of several different countries, and all of us are not from Jamaica or the Bahamas. 🙂 Barbados is tiny–it’s only 179 square miles, which is just over half the size of New York! Without traffic, you can drive from the top to the bottom of the island in less than an hour. Though Barbados is small, we’ve made a big impact on the world. Fun fact: Barbados is the birthplace of the grapefruit. It was actually an accident–a cross pollination between the orange and the shaddock, but I’m sure the world is grateful for this delicious fruit.
We’re more than white sand and beaches, or a stop on a cruise ship; it’s an island that is rich in culture and history. For instance, Barbados was the only country George Washington visited outside North America!
Kathie: How has the pandemic affected your writing routine, and are you currently working on another book?
Shakirah: The pandemic has definitely made it more difficult to write, because my brain is constantly in alarm mode. I have to keep up with continuously shifting COVID protocols, and still be productive and meet deadlines. I’m currently working on a middle grade horror called Duppy Island, about a young filmmaker who follows her family to a silent retreat, and discovers that the island is haunted by douens (children who died before they were baptised). Duppy Island is surrounded by a thick fog, and always looks gray and overcast, and ironically, Barbados recently experienced some ash fall from La Soufriere volcano eruption in St Vincent, which made the atmosphere similar to that on Duppy Island! It’s definitely more challenging to focus on writing when mother nature seems to be at war with the world.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Shakirah: You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @shakirahwrites, where I cheer on fellow authors, post about publishing and writing, art and random things that make me laugh. You can also visit my website at shakirahbourne.com
Kathie: I wish you every success with your book’s release, Shakirah, thanks for chatting with me today.
Shakirah: Thank you so much Kathie. I really appreciate the support that you’ve given to authors on your wonderful platform.
Shakirah Bourne is Bajan author and filmmaker. She once shot a movie scene in a cave with bats during an earthquake, but is too scared to watch horror movies. She enjoys exploring old graveyards, daydreaming and eating mangoes. She currently resides in Barbados in the Caribbean, and spends most of her time staring out at the sea thinking about new stories to tell. Her debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, will be published by Scholastic in July 2021.