Author portrait © Marlon James

Monique Roffey’s latest novel The Mermaid of Black Conch is set on an imaginary Caribbean island where a mermaid is returned to land and falls in love with a local fisherman. Their story is intertwined with that of benevolent but formidable local landowner Miss Arcadia Rain, and tackles themes of unconditional love, friendship, community, identity, rivalry, family and loss.

Where are you now?

Living in East London, writing a dark, kinky crime thriller set here. My family is in Trinidad, just outside Port of Spain. I travel back and forth a lot. I’m also under lockdown, care of Covid 19. I’m high risk, with an autoimmune disease called Churg-Strauss Syndrome and asthma and that’s scary.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

I write best between 8am and lunchtime, and I have no set rules about weekends. I write when I can, seven days a week sometimes, but I’m always done by lunchtime. I’ve been writing in my bedroom for twenty years and more. I’m not one of those writers who need to get out of the house. I’m incredibly lazy and just want to go from bed to kitchen, for coffee, and then to desk to settle straight to it. I’m often in trackies or pyjamas around the house till 4pm. Old school.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

FB, coffee, and lots of domestic chores to put off the time I need to sit and do it: washing up, making the bed, plumping pillows on the sofa. Once I’ve absolutely cleared all possible distractions, I can settle.

Full-time or part-time?


Pen or keyboard?


How do you relax when you’re writing?

I’m never relaxed when I’m writing. Writing is intense. At best, I might go for a walk at the end of a day or morning of writing. Red wine is good, too.

How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?

An indigenous woman, cursed for eternity to be a mermaid by jealous women of her tribe, is recaptured, rescued, falls in love and beats the curse. Sorry, that’s 26 words.

Who do you write for?


Who do you share your work in progress with?

Very few. One or two trusted readers, usually others who write professionally as well. My agent reads manuscripts at second draft stage.

Which literary character do you wish you created?

Frankenstein’s monster.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson. I also loved The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, about the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

Dear God, I have rows of books either read, to read, or half-read on a shelf near by bed: books on Buddhism, on London, the occult, by William Blake, poetry by contemporary poets I know, also a thriller called Night of the Jaguar by a friend called Joe Gannon. Most of the books I read are written by friends.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?

Anything by James Joyce. I’ve avoided him all my life. Also Proust.

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

The Plague by Albert Camus and of course Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I love Steinbeck too, The Grapes of Wrath, and Angela Carter I worship, much of my work uses old stories and myth. And I read a hell of a lot of Caribbean fiction and poetry, contemporary and of the past. The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jan Rhys must be one of my First Books. I read a lot of erotic fiction and non-fiction too, A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter is terrific. I also love If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a classic I’ve always loved.

What is the last work you read in translation?

Yeesh, I can’t remember. Camus?

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges.

What will you read next?

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd.

What are you working on next?

A kinky crime novel set in the East End of London, with a detective who has occult abilities to solve crimes.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Toni Morrison, Truman Capote, Harper Lee, William Faulkner and many, many more, all dead. Homer, Sappho too.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Working with fluffy animals. In fact, that is what I’m going to retire to anyway. I’ll be running an animal shelter when I’m retired. If I wasn’t a writer I’d be living with donkeys or llamas, and rescuing dogs and cats from distress.


Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidad-born British writer of novels, essays, a memoir and literary journalism. Her novels have been translated into five languages and shortlisted for several major awards, winning the OCM BOCAS Award for Caribbean Literature in 2013 with Archipelago. Her essays have appeared in The New York Review of Books, Boundless magazine, the Independent, Wasafiri and Caribbean Quarterly. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. The Mermaid of Black Conch is published in paperback by Peepal Tree Press.
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Author portrait © Marlon James

Read an extract from The Mermaid of Black Conch