I’ve been lucky enough to ask Monique Roffey some questions after reading her brilliant novel Archipelago. I’d been thinking about doing a recurring interview feature on the blog where I pose six questions to authors, and sometimes bloggers, and I wanted to call it Dog Ear Half Dozen. So, it was fitting that I start the feature with a wonderful author who has written an equally wonderful book. My thanks go to Monique for taking the time to answer my inane ramblings.
1. Where did the inspiration for Archipelago first arise?
Just before Christmas in 2008 my brother’s home was badly flooded. This novel was born in the moments I found him standing outside his ruined home, shocked, blue, shivering. We began digging immediately. But just how/what form the novel would take didn’t really emerge for at least a year later. I was worried if I wasn’t careful this novel could be a dreary rather earnest eco-thriller. It was a year later when I remembered Romany, my brother’s old boat. I rang by brother and asked him if he ever had the chance to leave town, jump on a boat and sail away, where would he go. ‘The Galapagos’ was his immediate answer. And so the novel was born, it had structure, a plot, it would be a book about the journey a man takes after he has lost everything, not a book about when and how and why he lost everything.
2. What steps did you take to put yourself into Gavin’s shoes and capture his outlook so brilliantly?
I knew Gavin’s character well. He is loosely based on my brother; I also knew the boat Romany well; it is the boat I sailed on many times in my youth. (Romany is now abandoned and rotting in the bay at TTYA, the yacht club in Trinidad). As for Gavin’s journey, I took most of it myself, travelling by boat and plane west out of Chaguaramas, Trinidad between November 2010 and March 2011. I had many adventures and a few accidents along the way. For me, it was also the trip of a lifetime.
3. Did you find it hard to capture the bleak subject of bereavement but still inject a slice of hope?
No. Having Gavin go to sea and be tested again and again and for him and his child to visit these wonderful islands and seas meant that the grief he’s suffering is somehow alleviated. Also, during the time of my travels there was a major earthquake in Japan. It sent a tsunami across Japan, but also another large wave surged west and hit the Galapagos a week before I arrived. This was also part of my trip and Gavin’s – to arrive and be met by the very thing he’s trying to escape – a natural catastrophe. And for that reason, Gavin returns home. Yes, there’s hope for him after all.
4. The world around Gavin – the seas, the paradise, etc – really pulled me in and immersed me totally. Was it difficult to capture such beauty in prose and were you nervous that the reader may not see it how you do?
No, it was a pleasure to write about the islands and countries I visited. I’m glad I have done them justice.
5. Who is your inspiration and what is your favorite novel?
My favorite novel is Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, a story about a man born as a man not a child, who is abandoned by his maker, who suffers the loss of father love, is rejected by society and doomed to live without a mate….grim stuff…but written with great heart and perception. Mary Shelley was eighteen when she wrote it. I’m also a great fan of Jean Rhys and the Wide Sargasso Sea. Daphne Du Maurier also inspires me, as does Earl Lovelace, the poet Aimé Cesairé, William Faulkner, Primo Levi, also Toni Morrison and Angela Carter and many other writers. I like writers who tackle big things: slavery, the holocaust, I’m also a fan of fairy tales and magical realism. I read lots of Caribbean, American and South American poetry and fiction. Loretta Collins Klobah, the Puerto Rican poet gets my vote big time.
6. What’s next for Monique Roffey?
Another political novel set in Trinidad, that’s about all I can reveal for now.