In April 2020, as the coronavirus spread around the world, Monique Roffey published her seventh book.
She went with Peepal Tree Press from the UK, a small independent company focusing on the Caribbean, to publish The mermaid of Black Conch after the majors rejected their fantastic story of a mermaid from another time.
“Indie put me out in the eye of the storm,” says Roffey. “I did everything to get it noticed.”
The Trinidad-born author donated £ 4,500 to a publicist for her novel, but when the health crisis hit, she feared her mermaid story would go unnoticed.
She struggled to pay the rent while the Covid-19 crisis canceled book tours and festivals.
“Covid was potentially catastrophic for my book,” she says. “It was in danger of falling into the Covid divide.”
But then the lyrical story of loneliness, love and otherness caught the attention of the literary world and the judges applauded it. In January, the novel won the prestigious Costa Book Prize of £ 30,000, which the jury described as “extraordinary”, “compelling” and “full of mythical energy and unforgettable characters”.
And, bingo, suddenly everyone wanted to read about the mermaid Aycayia, says Roffey, who (quite frankly) attended the same school on the outskirts of Port-of-Spain as I did.
The story has sold approximately 60,000 copies in print and online and is being published in paperback by Vintage this month. That year, the novel topped the Times bestseller list for two consecutive weeks. Film rights could come next.
“Despite all the adversities I did well during Covid,” says Roffey from her home in London. “In 20 years of writing, with many ups and downs, I have not seen anything like it.”
Her novel about fantasy and folklore sparked the desire for reading and imagination in the dark days of coronavirus-induced lockdowns. Roffey joined many writers spinning online with book launches and literary festivals, which meant she gained worldwide readers.
“In 2020, the nation turned to books for comfort, escapism and relaxation,” says the Publishers Association, the UK trade organization serving book and magazine publishers. “Reading has triumphed, with adults and children reading more during the lockdown than before.”
Fiction revenue rose 16 percent to £ 688 million last year, while total UK consumer publications rose 7 percent to £ 2.1 billion, the UK trade organization says.
“Basically a book that was ignored, rejected, published in the first wave of Covid and that no one registered” has been reissued, says Roffey.
Since no one wants the book, billboards with its cover are suddenly popping up all over town, she adds.
This is the sixth article in a row for the blog exploring the impact of the pandemic on people and businesses around the world