Author Spotlight: Shakirah Bourne
|© Danielle Dottin
July 2, 2021
We are excited to feature author Shakirah Bourne and her debut middle grade novel, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA (Scholastic) coming out July 6. Enter to win an Advanced Reader Copy!
Illustrator: Ejiwa "Edge" Ebenebe
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Hello! I’m Shakirah, a Barbadian author currently residing in Barbados in the Caribbean. I’ve always loved mythology and folklore tales, and made up stories to scare my little cousins when I was younger. But I never thought of writing as a potential career until 2009, when I decided to take a chance and quit my job to be a full time writer.
Since then I’ve experimented with various forms of storytelling but I never thought about writing for children until I decided to enter a regional kidlit writing competition in 2017, where I wrote the first draft of Josephine Against the Sea. I re-discovered my passion for storytelling in writing this book, and it unearthed a love for writing fantasy. I was able to explore mermaid lore, showcase Barbadian culture and traditions, and I had so much fun plotting the adventure and mystery; I don’t know why it took me so long to realize writing for kids is an absolute delight.
Congrats on your debut MG novel, Josephine against the Sea! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you so much! My book is about 11 year-old cricketer Josephine, who thinks no one is good enough for her Dad since her Mum died, and so she creates booby traps to scare his dates away. Her tricks work until Mariss appears in their lives, and she does not scare easily! Josephine knows there is something fishy about Mariss, but she never expected that Mariss would not be human. She has to use her bowling skills and face her fear of the ocean to save her loved ones. It’s full of Caribbean folklore, addresses issues like overcoming grief, and Josephine's antics will make you laugh out loud.
I was inspired by a short story I read as a tween in English class about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. Though villagers warned him to stay away, he visited her everyday by the river, watching her comb her hair. 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 happened to them, and if any of his family members tried to find him. Josephine Against the Sea is my interpretation of those events.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
This is a good question and it depends on where one would pinpoint the beginning of the journey.
The road to publication would be relatively short if we start when I wrote the first draft of this book in 2017, because four months later, I signed with an agent and was a finalist in the writing competition. After doing revisions, I went on submission with US editors late 2018 and received an offer in July 2019 from Scholastic.
But before 2017, I spent eight years writing adult literary short stories, getting published in various anthologies and wrote and produced four feature films. I wasn’t thinking about getting traditionally published during this time, but I wouldn’t have developed the ability to write Josephine Against the Sea without spending these years developing my craft.
You wear a lot of hats, from filmmaker to author of various age categories, to playwright. Do the various mediums affect your children's writing? What projects are you working on now?
Writing in these various forms definitely had an impact on my kidlit. As a short story writer, I never thought I could write a book–it seemed like so many words, but when I was introduced to screenwriting I learned all about the Three-Act Structure, plotting, and of course how to write visually and progress the story through images. I was never an overly descriptive writer with flowery prose, and so screenwriting just seemed to fit my natural writing style.
Though playwriting is my least favourite of the forms so far, writing plays and musicals helped to improve my dialogue skills.
Writing kidlit combines all my favourite aspects of writing–dynamic characters, engaging plot, funny dialogue, and you can express thoughts in simple, but poetic ways.
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 that dies before they’re baptized.
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
I have this quote taped onto my wall:
“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.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
A lot more people may know about this now, but I am allergic to the sea! I recently found out it’s a mild version of a water allergy called Aquagenic urticaria. Isn’t it ironic given that I live on an island, and I write on the beach? Lol
Where can people find you online?
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
Shakirah Bourne is a 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.
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