In April 2020, as the coronavirus spread around the world, Monique Roffey published her seventh book.
She teamed up with Peepal Tree Press, a small independent Caribbean-based company, to publish The Mermaid of the Black Conch after the majors dismissed her fantasy story of a mermaid from another era.
“Indie released me in Eye of the Storm,” Roffey says. “I did all I could to get it noticed.
The Trinidad-born author funded £ 4,500 for a publicist for her novel, but as the healthcare crisis set in, she feared her mermaid story might go unnoticed.
She struggled to pay rent as the Covid-19 crisis canceled book tours and festivals.
“Covid has been potentially disastrous for my book,” she says. “He risked falling into the abyss of the Covid. “
But then the lyrical tale 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, with judges calling it “extraordinary”, “captivating” and “full of mythical energy and unforgettable characters”.
And, bingo, all of a sudden everyone wanted to read about the Aycayia mermaid, says Roffey, who (full disclosure) attended the same school as me on the outskirts of Port-of-Spain.
The story has sold around 60,000 copies in print and online and this month it’s released in paperback by Vintage. For two consecutive weeks this year, the novel topped the Times bestseller list. Film rights may well be next.
“Against all odds, I did well during Covid,” says Roffey from his home in London. “In 20 years of writing, with a lot of ups and downs, I haven’t seen anything like it.”
Her fantasy and folklore novel drew on a desire for reading and imagination during the dark days of coronavirus-induced lockdowns. Roffey has joined many pivoting authors online with book launches and literary festivals, winning him readers around the world.
“In 2020, the nation has turned to books for comfort, escape and relaxation,” says the Publishers Association, the UK trade organization that serves book and journal publishers. “Reading triumphed, with adults and children reading more during the lockdown than before.”
Fiction revenue rose 16% last year to £ 688million, while total mainstream publications rose 7% in the UK to reach £ 2.1 billion, according to the UK trade body.
“Basically a book, which was downright ignored, rejected, published during the first wave of Covid and which no one has recorded,” has been relaunched, says Roffey.
No one wanting the book, billboards of its cover suddenly appear in the city, she adds.
This is the sixth article in a series for the blog that explores the effects of the pandemic on people and businesses around the world.