Book Birthday and Author Interview: JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA by Shakirah Bourne


Meet Josephine, the most loveable mischief-maker in Barbados, in a magical, heartfelt adventure inspired by Caribbean mythology.


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 spirit 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?



About the Author

Shakirah Bourne is a Barbadian author, filmmaker, and lover of ripe mangoes. She has written and produced four movies, including a comedy that she filmed during an earthquake and in a cave with bats.


She currently resides in Barbados, where she spends way too much time daydreaming and looking out at the sea.


​Twitter: @shakirahwrites



Interview by Payal Doshi

Hi Shakirah! I’m so excited to be talking with you today about your amazing book, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, which I absolutely adored reading! First off, congratulations! How do you feel now that the book is out in the world?


Payal! I can’t believe the day has finally come and I’m chatting with you about my (gasp) book release. Thank you so much for celebrating with me. I am full of emotions, but the strongest one is relief! I’ve been talking about this book for so long and finally I can watch it fly free.



Now, let’s talk about Josephine. I LOVED her as the main character! She has such a likability to her as well as so much spunk! What was your inspiration in creating her character?


Josephine is the person I wanted to be when I was younger; brave, determined and an exceptionally talented cricketer. I wanted to story about a mischievous and curious Bajan girl because I loved going on adventures and playing pranks when I was younger, and as I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series, I wanted to have a Caribbean character who could have similar adventures and bring joy and a sense of familiarity to Caribbean audiences.


Josephine is full of sass and attitude, and even as she navigates dangerous situations and characters, she does so in such a dramatic, sarcastic fashion that you can’t help but to smile.



So, I’m a daddy’s girl and I loved the protectiveness and jealously Josephine feels when her dad brings home a lady friend. I laughed out loud many times! You also poignantly and beautifully explore the grief and loss Josephine feels about her mother’s passing. What inspired you to write about tough topics like moving on from loss (as much as one can) and how did you manage to balance writing about grief while keeping it poignant but not making it too heavy for a middle school audience?


This is a great question. I didn’t consciously declare, “I want to write a book about grief and loss.” I knew I wanted to tell a story with a single Dad and daughter relationship, and when I was developing the conflicts–Josephine scaring away new girlfriends and afraid for her family structure to change, and the Dad unable to process his emotions, the theme of overcoming grief developed organically in those initial planning stages and the structure of the story. Also–and I am going to try my best not to give spoilers–various manifestations of the folklore antagonist have the ability to heal people from emotional trauma, should they desire to do so. It seemed like a perfect match of opposing, yet synonymous, goals.


In terms of achieving balance, I think I was able to best do so through Josephine’s voice. She is a hoot! As an 11 year-old, she doesn’t have the emotional insight to immediately identify defense mechanisms for repressed trauma (and many adults don’t either), so many of her observations are matter-of-fact, and at times, very humorous in their naïveté. For example, she isn’t aware that her tendency to create pranks and booby traps have risen out of a fear of being hurt, and as the story unravels through her eyes, this may not be immediately obvious to middle school audiences either. They’ll enjoy her antics and her humor, but as she becomes more self-aware about her inner fears, readers will also see the importance of honest and open communication as a first step towards healing.



I loved how you seamlessly wove Caribbean folklore into the story. It was such a treat to read and learn about River Mummas and Duppies! Why was it important to you to write about your culture and how did you decide what elements of the folklore you wanted to

incorporate?


There aren't many middle grade books set in the Caribbean, and I can't think of one traditionally published middle grade story set in Barbados, so I wanted to transport people to the island–the place behind the photoshopped posters. This will be the first glimpse of Barbados for many young (and adult) readers, and I’d love for them to learn more about the culture–the language, dialect and the people.


We have a tradition of oral storytelling in the Caribbean and many of stories about these characters are not written down, so I really wanted to document some of these stories to make them more accessible for everyone.


I wanted to showcase our superstitions; not just the extreme fantastical characters, but 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.


I wanted to see myself and the people around me authentically reflected in a story.




I’ve raved about how I love the secondary characters in your book. From the father to Ahkai, Miss Mo, and Miss Alleyne (to name a few) what are your tips to create memorable and well-rounded secondary characters?


Thank you! I love them all too. One of my favourite character creation techniques is to pick three personality traits: a mixture of positive and negative, or making at least two of them contradictory, and ensure that these traits are always reflected in the characters’ actions and dialogue. I try to create scenes where characters can display all the traits at once. I find it adds more nuance to characters.


Cricket plays an important part in the book. To many readers, it may seem like just another detail but coming from a cricket-loving country myself (India!), I know there was more thought given it. Why was it important for you to include cricket in your book?


Yes! Cricket is more than a game, you know it. Cricket creates bonds between families, members of the community, and even strangers. The game instills a sense of pride in West Indians, especially every time we secure a win against our former colonizers–beating them at their own game! A win can put the entire country in a festive mood.


When I was younger, I loved cricket so much I wanted to be more than a spectator–I wanted to be part of the game. Unfortunately, there were no girls cricket teams accessible to me and I never got to tryout for any team until university, and by then, I was very afraid of that extremely hard ball. I always wondered if I had the opportunity to train when I was younger, if I may have been a decent cricket player, so through Josephine, I’m getting to live out that dream. Maybe a young, aspiring female cricketer will read and admire Josephine’s determination, and as there are now more opportunities for female cricketers and more female role models, they’ll be inspired to pursue that dream too.



Okay, let’s talk villains! I don’t want to give too much away but I think it’s safe to say that all is not as it seems when it comes to Josephine’s dad’s new girlfriend, Miss Mariss. This character was such fun to read about because she was always one step ahead of Josephine and her sass and cunning was a thrill to read! Miss Mariss also does not read like a conventional baddie in a book. What was your process in creating her character?


It’s really hard to talk about the process of creating Mariss without giving away her identity lol. I can reveal that Mariss changes from a hero to a villain with a flip of a coin. That’s the dual nature of many folklore characters–they are morally gray, unpredictable characters who can expose flaws and change perspectives. It’s very exciting to explore those traits in a story.

Also, our Caribbean folklore characters are mainly rooted in West African mythology, and these stories survived the transatlantic journey during slavery, and took on different manifestations depending on the unique features of the respective Caribbean island. For example, a lot of the folklore creatures live in forests and rivers, but we don't have many of those in Barbados. However, we have the ocean–I got to imagine how would the abundance of salt change a character’s personality.


I examined the Barbadian landscape–the geography and the cultural traditions, and re-imagined new skills and abilities for folklore characters that would bring the most conflict to the story.


What do you hope readers will take away from this novel?


I hope that readers will get a glimpse of Barbadian village life and recognise that the island is more than sun, sand and sea. And if this book brings a laugh to readers or a bit of joy in seeing Black children having adventures, being mischievous and having fun, then I've achieved my goal.



Thank you so much for chatting with me, Shakirah! I’m excited for kids to meet Josephine and go on her incredible journey!


Thanks so much for the insightful questions Payal! I hope everyone loves both Josephine and Rea.


One last fun question: If you could shapeshift into any being from Caribbean folklore, what or who would you choose to be?


I would shapeshift into a River Mumma for sure! I want to explore the depths of the ocean to see what undiscovered creatures lie beneath. :)


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Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two-year-old daughter. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book in the Chronicles of Astranthia series is her debut middle grade novel. ​Twitter: @payaldwrites Instagram: @payaldoshiauthor Website: www.payaldoshiauthor.com