Ask the Author: Shakirah Bourne
What would you like readers to know about you?
I am a Barbadian author, currenting residing and writing from the south coast of Barbados. For most of my life I wrote adult literary short fiction, and then later on I wrote and produced feature films, then I also dipped my toe into writing plays and musicals. When I challenged myself to write a children’s novel for a regional competition called the BURT Award for Caribbean YA Literature, I fell in love with writing for children. That book actually got shortlisted for the competition and was published in the Caribbean as My Fishy Stepmom. The US version of the novel, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, comes out with Scholastic in July. I once heard someone in an interview say “the one thing I’m not is one thing” and that phrase encapsulates my work; I’m always looking to experiment with style, theme, plot so each of my stories may bring a different reading experience.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA is great for fans of Tracey Baptiste’s THE JUMBIES, and R.L. Stine’s THE GIRL WHO CRIED MONSTER.
Eleven-year-old Josephine Cadogan loves two things above all else:
1) Playing cricket
2) Scaring away her fisherman father’s new girlfriends
That’s why she’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team. She’ll get to play her favorite sport AND make sure Daddy is too busy attending her matches to date. But then Coach Broomes throws a wrench into her plan and announces that girls can’t try out for the team. Frustrated and unsure where else to turn, Josephine makes a wish in front of the powerful silk cotton Tree. But instead of solving her problems, an even bigger one arises . . . .
That afternoon, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, this one doesn’t scare easily. Josephine can tell there’s something fishy about Mariss — she sings in a strange language, eats weird food, and seems to exert mysterious control over everyone she meets. And even worse, she seems to be turning Daddy against Josephine.
Josephine knows that Mariss isn’t what she seems . . . she might not even be human! But who’s going to believe her? Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s dark magic before it’s too late?
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
When I was twelve years old, I read a story in English class about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. One day, the villagers found his clothing on the riverbank and neither he nor the mermaid was ever seen again. It was a short story in an anthology so I never got to find out what happened to them, and that thought lingered in my mind for years, so when I had to decide on an idea for the competition, those two characters pushed all the other story ideas aside and begged me to tell the tale. I am also a huge folklore fan so I wanted to tell a modern Caribbean mythology story, and one with a positive Daddy-daughter relationship at its core.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
This is really tough to answer because there are SO many scenes that I enjoy–Jo and her antics constantly have me cracking up. I’d say writing the prank scenes, especially the ones that backfire, were very enjoyable for me. I had to tap into my old prankster brain, and then think about how she would use her bowling skills to devise epic ruses to scare people.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
As a kid devoured everything Enid Blyton, especially The Naughtiest Girl in School, the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, but I didn’t think about writing my own stories until the library ran out of books like Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley and I decided to write my own. I also read every R.L.Stine and Animorph book I could get my hands on. Even though I was writing what I now know as fan fiction, it didn’t occur to me that I could have a serious career as a writer until I started to read other books from Caribbean writers, such as George Lamming and Olive Senior, whose books were set in the Caribbean and reflected my own culture.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
One of my favourite quotes is from Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit”. If you want to write a book, then dedicate that “butt in chair” time to do so, even if it is for 30 mins, two days a week. Eventually if you keep at it, then a draft will be finished. It may not be great, but then you can’t revise a blank page. Take time to study the craft and story structure, get involved in the writing community, and share your work and be open to feedback and revision suggestions. Write the stories that are important to you and once you remain passionate about the stories, that love will help you get through the publishing journey.