Monique Roffey is an award-winning writer, lecturer and activist. Monique has published seven books, her most recent one, Mermaid of Black Conch winning the Costa Book of the Year Award. Monique Roffey teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University as a Senior Lecturer. We were really pleased to be able to interview Monique Roffey and learn more about her reading habits, as well as her methods for writing.

Congratulations on winning the Costa Book of the Year Award for your latest novel The Mermaid of Black Conch. When you were writing it, did you have a feeling it would be so well received?

Nope, not at all. I figured on a very quiet life for the mermaid, in the margins.

Talk us through a typical day for you…

Wake up, pee, feed my cat Fancy, make coffee. Take coffee to bed again, stare at my phone for news, weather and social media stories, talk to and play with the cat. Start work around 8-9 am. Work, lunch, more work, from 4 pm, run/do HIT training. Pre–lockdown I’d go out most evenings. Since the 2nd national lockdown, there’s been a lot of Zoom meetings and Netflix most evenings. Sometimes I read in bed but not enough. I have regular evening meetings with my Buddhist study group and with friends.

the snow line recommended by Monique Roffey

What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?

The Snow Line by Tessa Mcwatt, out in July, set in India and the Himalayas. She’s a friend and a great writer and I’m reading it so I can offer an endorsement, but I’d read it anyway. McWatt is a master of nuance and writes with grace and immense wisdom about race and about love and what we all have in common.

Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?

Amazon Adventure by Willard Price, one of my brother’s books.

Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?

Both.

When did you fall in love with reading?

As a child…..we had no TV; I read voraciously.

Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?

A composition at school, I loved writing them. Cannot remember anything specific. Often they were adventure stories.

If you could gift yourself books at age 16 and age 25 – what would they be and why?

At 16, The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and at 25, The Dhammapada.

Can you talk us through your writing process, from the first spark of an idea, to having your first completed draft?

I do lots of research before I write anything, and then it’s a process of drafting. I make sure I find time every day for a bit of writing, say 500-1000 words, when I’m carving out a first draft.  Be consistent with output and no big edits till a whole first draft is done.

For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?

I’d say read all the time, generally, everything of high quality that you can….build your own library of great books, ones that are meaningful to you and read things you feel resistant too as well, but be aware of Jung, what he has to say about symbols and archetypes. Read Orhan Pamuk’s book of essays, The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist and be aware of myths and old stories. They will always provide you with bone structure of a plot for the story you think you’ve just dreamed up. You haven’t dreamed up anything…all our stories have already been dreamed….just not by you. Stalk the myth and you’ll find your plot.

If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?

Toni Morrison, for everything, for breaking all the rules, Mary Shelley, for her genius, and the monster, Angela Carter for her feminism and rewriting of myths, (applies to the last three too),  Mary Karr, as I love her memoir, The Liars’ Club, and Patti Smith, for her poems, songs and memoir Just Kids.

What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?

The Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin, because she is fast becoming a legend in Caribbean contemporary literature. She is essential reading, her work is out of the box good. She’s inventing her own thing. Breathtaking daring as a poet.

What is your favourite thing about reading?

Losing myself not just in the story but in the language as well. I LOVE reading a good book. I have a fetish for words. Electric. Freckle. Yum.

poor recommended by Monique RoffeyWhat’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?

Poor by Caleb Femi. It’s a collection of poetry, mostly written about life on an estate on North Peckham; it’s urban, essential and beautiful too.

If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?

I’d love to be aboard the Terra Nova in The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard; I’d love to be a part of that real-life adventure.

What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?

1) Write a little every day. 2) Novels need planning. Do tons of planning and research before you set off to write 90, 000 words.

What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?

East of Eden by John Steinbeck, another adventure story. I read it in my early 30s. I loved it so much when I finished it, I decided I would write too. I wanted to write exciting books like that.

Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?

Fortune by Amanda Smyth, also published by Peepal Tree press, it’s a rollicking adventure story, love story, set amidst the early oil fields in Trinidad. It’s out in June. Smyth is a master writer and I’m sure it’s going to be a huge hit.

If you liked to learn more about Monique Roffey, you can find it on the website and on Twitter.

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