The Momus questionnaire — Monique Roffey

Monique Roffey’s new novel, The Tryst, is a raw, powerful and sexy novel which echoes writers such as Angela Carter and Anais Nin. Written over a period of 15 years, the novel builds on themes of celibate marriage and sexual experimentation explored in Roffey’s memoir With The Kisses of His Mouth, reimagining them in a mythical, magical realist framework. Her previous novels include Archipelago, winner of the OCM BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Orange Prize shortlisted The White Woman on the Green Bicycle.

The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.

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Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?

Oh yes! I wanted to be a ballet dancer, to be honest, that was my first love, dancing, and my father flatly told me ‘no’, that he would never support dance school. That I would never make it. I think, generally, my parents had quite low expectations for me, hoping I’d marry, get a good job, settle down, not do much. I became an author and two of my books are about sex, so that has taken things into a different realm. Recently, I started to draw, too, I’ve taken myself off to art school and again I had from a friend “that’ll lead to nothing serious”. I was furious. I’ve had that a lot, the ‘don’t even try, you’ll get nowhere’ attitude. When people say that kind of thing they are really projecting their own feelings of inferiority onto me, and I think “*** off, I’ll do what I like and I may even succeed.” It takes rebellion in the blood to live a creative life.

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?

Oh, I’ve done things ‘my way’ from day one. I’ve never listened to anyone, especially figures of conventional authority, like parents and school teachers. Being a writer is all about being independent of mind and spirit. I was independently minded and spirited from childhood. I’m what you might call “difficult”. On the other hand, I’ve also sought out my own teachers and guides, from my thirties onwards; I found good writing teachers and mentors, and I was lucky that way. I have been on the receiving end of good karma early on. I sought out tantric teachers and good therapists too, in my forties, so there have been people I listened too, but they tended not be very niche people who are in the margins and not the mainstream. I’ve very much needed to do things my way, out there on the edge. I’m part of a Buddhist community too, a sangha; they are my way or I’m their way. I have needed to find my own path in life.

What creative achievements are you most proud of?

My books, I guess. And I’m currently learning to draw. Both writing and drawing are very satisfying.

If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?

Getting ill when I was thirty, with an autoimmune illness called Churg-Strauss Syndrome. It struck me down for months and I was unable to walk for almost two years and it has defined my life, in that I’m still ill with it and can be very deaf. It got better, but it’s a syndrome and it hasn’t gone away. I still limp a little and have all sorts of other ongoing symptoms. It was a reality check and still is. I was very ill again at the end of 2015. The NHS have been amazing and literally saved my life. If I hadn’t got ill, I might have lived a different life; everything began when I started to recover. I went to Jerusalem, met a writer, started writing classes; the rest is history.

If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?

Sorry, I couldn’t. I think another would have to do that, ask my poet friend Rose Rouse. I’m a Taurean, and can be bullish, and whatever charm I have, may be to do with that I own my shit. I can do wrong things, hurt others and I always say sorry.

Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?

Artistic integrity, yes, every day and it’s ongoing. Like I frequently have little money and sometimes barely enough to eat, and generally I’m used to going without in order to write. Over decades, I have put my writing life first. I was homeless ‘til I was forty-seven. I lived hand to mouth for years, always following my artistic instincts. There’s no second income in my life and no bank of Mum and Dad and no hidden funds; it’s just me and what I earn and can do and so I have developed the necessary creative and pragmatic habits of a writer regarding life choices and money. No holidays. Gap is my idea of a designer label. Thrift shops and vintage clothes. Keeping good company and always having money for wine. Fuck the pension. This has been my code of life ethics for decades. I plan to die youngish.

Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.

I really respect Jeremy Corbyn; he’s a hugely admirable and credible political figure; he was my MP, too, when I used to live in Islington. I think his political career is exemplary. I’m a socialist, the old fashioned kind. I wish I had been as honest and spotless, morally, in my career. JC hasn’t even stolen a pen. Whereas I used to shoplift and have stolen many things. I’d least like to be someone full of hatred like those Ulster Unionists or Donald Trump. I admired the Buddhists, Yogis, Sufis and tantrikas, the lovers and the peacemakers and the tireless peace and eco-activists. I shy from Western anger, blame and retribution; it all feels so biblical. I’m much more influenced by Eastern philosophies and ideas of karma than by the Christian ideas of how to live well in the world, even though Jesus was a radical and a compassionate man; somehow his preaching of ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘love others as we love ourselves’ isn’t acted out much in the Christian world. I also admire the current Pope. He’s an ecologist and he gave Trump a copy of the Paris agreement, or something like that. Funny man, always caught smiling.

If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?

My asthma inhaler, just in case I still have asthma in my next life. Hieroglyphs of family and friends; I’d like a good bottle of Nile Valley malbec, my pharaoh’s yoga mat, and of course the Diaries of Anais Nin and Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, the poetry of William Blake. I’d like to know I was a bit of a hippie in my pharaoh’s life! I’d take my mala too, to remind me of the dharma. I would want something to read in my post pharoah’s life, which would fill me with light and laughter and wisdom.

Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?

“Be here now”, by Ram Das.

“Desire is stronger than the ego,” my shrink said that.

What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?

My friend, the Trinidadian artist, Che Lovelace painted a picture of his anima escaping, it’s a weird psychological portrait and it’s on my wall at home, a huge thing. I love it, and love living with it.