By Ashley Wells
Today we’re pleased to welcome Natasha Bowen to the WNDB blog to discuss Skin of the Sea, out now!
A way to serve.
A way to save.
Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata—a mermaid—collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.
But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable—she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it.
To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail. . . .
Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.
West African mythology is woven into Skin of the Sea—what made you choose this topic as inspiration?
It started as wanting to write a book about Black mermaids and highlighting their African origins. I wanted to create a story where the magical creatures are not the usual Euro-centric ones. To stay true to this, it became important to me to incorporate West African mythology, traditional spirituality and tales that have spread across the diaspora. Black mermaids were the starting point, but the world of Skin of the Sea grew to encompass orisas, Senegalese fairies, the shape-shifting bultungin and monsters such as the Ninki-Nanka and the sasabonsam.
What led you to hone in on exploring the deity Yemoja and her Mami Wata?
My father is Nigerian and Yoruba and so, as Yemoja is a deity from the Yoruba Ifá spiritual belief system and tales of Mami Wata are prevalent across West Africa, writing about them both was a connection and a way to explore my ancestors. To honor stories that have been passed down by generations, and to represent Yemoja, Mami Wata and legendary creatures that are not often explored in fiction, was a big motivation for me.
Did you create the characters first and develop the plot around them, or were you inspired by the mythology and developed characters to support the plot?
The plot and characters were inspired by the fact that Yemoja was said to have followed the first enslaved West Africans. There are stories of her accompanying them to offer comfort, while others believe she wrecked the ships and some think that she gathered the souls of those who passed at sea and returned them back to their homelands. It was this last belief that intrigued me. What if she created seven Mami Wata to help her do this? And what if one of them found a boy thrown overboard and saved him? The plot unfolded from there. I wanted to showcase Simidele’s vulnerability but also her strength and passion. Her courage in saving Adekola and fighting to make things right were important elements of the book, as was the celebration of West African invention, culture and history.
What books do you see Skin of the Sea in conversation with, related to the theme of African mythology and folklore?
The Gilded Ones and Raybearer are the first books that come to mind! Inspired by West Africa, they also share parallel themes of magic and mythology. Namina Forna and Jordan Ifueko also create rich worlds that showcase beautiful lands as well as strong and compelling characters.
What inspired you to become an author, and what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I was inspired by my love of reading. I use books, to learn, to escape, to be entertained and often find myself absorbed into different worlds. To be able to create stories that do that for readers has always been a goal of mine. With Skin of the Sea, I wrote the book I wanted to read.
My advice for aspiring writers is to read, read, READ! Read across genres with a focus on the one you are most interested in. Perseverance is also key. Do not give up. Every word you write counts.
What’s the hardest part of the writing and publishing process for you? The easiest?
The hardest thing is the amount of time it takes! I think people think that you write ‘The end’, get an agent, sell the book and then it’s published straight away. But this whole process can take years. Again, this is where patience and perseverance are important.
The easiest, for me, is the first draft. When the story is just mine and I don’t have to share it yet. It’s the excitement of the promise of the book. What is also integral is an amazing publishing team. While authors are the creative face of a book, there are lots of people whose hard work goes into what you see on bookshelves.
Skin of the Sea is your debut novel—what’s next for you?
I’ve just finished writing book 2, which is a sequel to Skin of the Sea! I also have at least two more books that are set in that world swirling around in my mind.
What books would you recommend to young readers? Are there any upcoming YA releases you’re excited about?
I am very much looking forward to Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye. A Nigerian Canadian author, Deborah has written a story of magic, survival, and revenge. The fact that her book has orisas in it also has me excited!
Natasha Bowen is a writer, a teacher, and a mother of three children. She is of Nigerian and Welsh descent and lives in Cambridge, England, where she grew up. Natasha studied English and creative writing at Bath Spa University before moving to East London, where she taught for nearly ten years. Her debut book was inspired by her passion for mermaids and African history. She is obsessed with Japanese and German stationery and spends stupid amounts on notebooks, which she then features on her secret Instagram. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, watched over carefully by Milk and Honey, her cat and dog. Follow her on Twitter at @skinofthesea.
Ashley Wells Ajinkya is an avid reader, book collector, and writer based in Minnesota. She also works in self-publishing and serves as an Ambassador for The Pad Project. In her free time, Ashley can typically be found buying more books, finding vintage treasures at thrift stores, or planning her next trip.