Monique Roffey’s cultural highlights

A report by Kadish Morris for The Guardian

The Costa-winning author on enjoying Sade with a glass of wine, Line of Duty and why the Caribbean’s female writers need to be heard


Monique Roffey is an award-winning writer born in Trinidad in 1965 whose novels include The White Woman on a Green Bicycle and House of Ashes, which were shortlisted, respectively, for the Orange and the Costa prizes. She is also a senior lecturer at Manchester Writing School. Her sixth novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch, won the Costa book of the year and is shortlisted for the 2021 Rathbones Folio prize, announced on 24 March.

1. Art

Epic Iran at the V&A

Bottle and bowl with poetry in Persian
Bottle and bowl with poetry in Persian, 1180–1220, Iran. 

This may well be the first thing I go and see on 21 June. They’ve got something like 350 objects that go back over 5,000 years. I’m completely magnetised by Iran and yet, it’s so mysterious and so closed off to us. I’m obsessed with looking at artefacts. I saw the Buddhist display not long ago at the V&A and I loved that. I like looking at old things. At the Museum of London, they have tons of things they found in the Thames, from hairy mammoth skulls to Viking helmets to spoons.

Vital Signs, by Tessa McWatt

2. Fiction

Vital Signs by Tessa McWatt

It’s about a marriage in crisis. The wife has a brain aneurysm, the husband is deeply flawed, and so it’s about guilt and how things change between them over time. McWatt is Canadian-Guyanese. Her book Shame on Me is a memoir about her very mixed Creole identity. She’s someone who is under the radar, but I’d say she is one of our greatest black female writers. She’s a deeply thoughtful woman and deeply radical in her thinking. She’s not on the fence about her politics.

3. Film

Nomadland (dir Chloé Zhao)

Frances McDormand in Nomadland
Frances McDormand in Nomadland. 

The cinematography, the script – everything about this film appeals to me. It’s about an older woman on the road, the US, outsiders and different communities. I relate to the story of an older woman on a journey. A nomadic existence is something I am fascinated by. I always feel like I already know everything about the US through Hollywood, but because this is a Chinese director making a road movie in the US, I thought, “Oh, wow, this is going to be something really different.” It stars Frances McDormand and has just won a Golden Globe.

The Gift of Music and Song, by Jacqueline Bishop

4. Nonfiction

The Gift of Music and Song: Interviews With Jamaican Women Writers by Jacqueline Bishop

There’s somewhat of an erasure of Caribbean female writers, so this is a piece of fundamental literary forensic activism. Bishop interviews Jean D’Costa, Hazel Campbell, Velma Pollard, Christine Craig, Marcia Douglas and Ann-Margaret Lim. People outside the region don’t even know we have this amount of local talent. Bishop has been doing these interviews for years, initially published in the Jamaica Observer. She’s a tough interviewer. She’s like the Larry King of the Caribbean. She’s not letting these women be forgotten. I hope she does one on every [Caribbean] island. I hope she does Trinidad.

5. Music

Diamond Life by Sade

The singer Sade
Sade: ‘Still beautiful on every level.’ 

I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, and Diamond Life is the sound of my youth. It was released in 1984 so I would have been 19 or 20. Smooth Operator, Your Love Is King, Hang on to Your Love, they’re all kickass. She’s got this goddess stature, stage presence, delivery and voice. You can put this on when you’re frying onions and having a bottle of wine. I read in Rolling Stone recently that she’s making another album. I’m 55 now and she must be my age or older and she hasn’t changed! Still beautiful on every level – voice and image.

6. TV

Line of Duty (BBC One)

Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure in BBC’s Line of Duty
Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure in BBC’s Line of Duty.

I’m a die-hard fan. Cop shows are my guilty pleasure. The writing by Jed Mercurio is so good. What makes it so gripping is this whole idea of a department that spies on bent coppers that doesn’t exist [in real life], but feels really credible. Jed used to be a novelist. I was in a Guardian roundup of debut novelists 20 years ago with him, so I’ve had my eye on him. I’m interested in him as a peer, but also as somebody who’s making great telly. And Adrian Dunbar – I love watching him.

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