Posted: by Monique Roffey

My Achilles’ heel is the old-school writing habits I’ve never abandoned. Most writers get themselves an office or room of their own to write in, but I’ve always worked in my bedroom, in my pyjamas. Grown-up writers go to the British Library or Poetry Library – I’ve seen them there, hundreds of them, all working away. I could never do that. Some days I don’t get dressed at all, or not until I really can’t avoid it, when I might throw on a track suit to go to the shops.

It started when I began writing over 20 years ago, and now it’s part of my process. If I can’t go from bed to desk to bed to desk, in my PJs with my birds’ nest hair and my coffee and toast, I think the whole edifice of my career would collapse. Also essential is the cork board above my desk. I think of it as my garbage patch, a visual Sargasso Sea of detritus and images that I feed off, that keep me in touch with my unconscious. Coffee plus cork board – that’s all I need to get me in the mood. It’s those habits that make the magic happen – despite my terrible writers’ eyesight and hunched shoulders. Fuck health and fitness – it’s the writing that’s important.

If I can’t go from bed to desk to bed to desk, in my PJs with my birds’ nest hair and my coffee and toast, I think the whole edifice of my career would collapse

So it’s a shock to the system when I have to do something grown up. When I had a flash of success on the Orange shortlist my friends forced me to go shopping so I wouldn’t turn up to the prize-giving looking like a bag lady. They took me to Next and Harvey Nicks and made me spend a fortune on clothes and makeup. Now I’ve won the Costa it’s happening again, but at least I don’t have to go out this time because all the interviews are online.

But my computer’s in my bedroom, so when I was talking to the BBC on Zoom I kept wondering – Oh my God, is my hairbrush or face cream in shot?

The Mermaid of Black Conch is based on myth, which comes from the collective unconscious. Back when I started writing I used to think that if I hadn’t made my bed it was a positive sign that my unconscious was unruffled and able to affect my work. Aged 55 I still think that.

The more ‘of the bed’ I am the better the writing. I really believe that. Ideally I would write in bed all day on one of those trays and people would bring my food to me and all the coffee I need, so I never had to get up.

 

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Monique Roffey is a Trinidadian-born British writer and memoirist. Her six novels have been much acclaimed. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and Encore Awards in 2010/1 and she won the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature with Archipelago. The Mermaid of Black Conch (Peepal Tree) won the Costa Book of the Year award in 2021.

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