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27Jan

'I'm flabbergasted': Monique Roffey on women, whiteness and winning the Costa

The Mermaid of Black Conch’s author explains why she expected ‘a quiet life’ for the formally daring, magical realist novel that has been declared book of the year

After two decades of splashing around in the shallows of success, Monique Roffey was taking no chances with The Mermaid of Black Conch. The novel, which won the Costa book of the year award on Tuesday, is written in a Creole English and uses a patchwork of forms, from poetry to journal entries and an omniscient narrator, and “employs magical realism to the max”. Even its title was against it, she realised. “You’re either going to read a novel about a mermaid or you aren’t.”

Any one of these, she says, would scare away most publishers. So when one, the independent Peepal Tree Press, did bite, she launched a crowdfunder to enable her to hire her own publicist. It’s a mark of the esteem in which the 55-year-old author and university lecturer is held by those familiar with her work that 116 people chipped in, raising £4,500 within a month. Then, two weeks before the novel was due to be published, the UK went into lockdown, shutting bookshops and forcing the cancellation of a tour that was particularly important for a writer who has always swum between two continents and two cultures.

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