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Ingrid Persaud

T&T writers Monique Roffey and Ingrid Persaud have topped the Novel categories in the prestigious Costa Book Awards for 2020.

Persaud, a UK-based writer, artist and academic, won the Costa First Novel Award for Love After Love, a story about Betty Ramdin, her shy son Solo and their lodger, Mr Chetan.

Written in Trinidadian prose, the novel was praised by judges for “teeming with life” and being “full of unforgettable characters.”

Persaud, winner of the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and the 2018 BBC Short Story Award, commenting in an interview about the book’s title which it shares with a classic Walcott poem, said: “I borrow the title of Walcott’s poem with deference and gratitude. In the act of loving another, do we not often carelessly lose sight of ourselves? I’m sure everyone can identify with that challenge . . . We should all heed that famous last line where the poet directs: ‘Sit. Feast on your life.’”

Persaud, who left T&T at 18 and moved to the UK to study, began writing in her 40s, after a successful career as a legal academic and visual artist. She read law at the London School of Economics and studied fine art at Goldsmith College and Central St Martins. She taught law at King’s College, London and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and worked as a visual artist before becoming a writer. She has also written for National Geographic.

Roffey won the Novel Award for her seventh book, The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story. This was her second time on the Costa Novel Award shortlist—six years ago she was shortlisted with her third book, House of Ashes (2014), based the events of the 1990 attempted coup.

She achieved success with a dark love story that weaves together myth and magical realism. It is about a fisherman and a mermaid based on a legend shared by indigenous Caribbean people. Aycayia, a centuries-old mermaid, is drawn to the singing of a fisherman, David. But her curiosity is her undoing when she is caught by American tourists. David rescues her and hides her away, where she slowly, painfully turns into a woman.

The judges called the novel “a story of rare imagination” and “a glorious myth.”

Roffey is the author of six books, five novels and a memoir. Three of her novels are set in T&T and the Caribbean. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (2009) was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2010 and the Encore Award in 2011. Archipelago (2012) won the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Orion Award 2014.

Her memoir, With the Kisses of His Mouth, traces a personal journey of mid-life sexual self-discovery.

Roffey is a lecturer in creative writing at the Manchester Writing School, Manchester Metropolitan University, and tutor for the Norwich Writers Centre.

Launched in 1971, the Costa Book Awards is one of the UK’s most prestigious and popular book prizes and celebrates the most enjoyable books of the year by writers resident in the UK and Ireland.

The prize has five categories—First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book—with one of the five winning books selected as the overall Costa Book of the year. Each category is judged separately by a panel of three judges per category. The Costa Book of the Year is then chosen by a nine-member panel which includes representatives from the original panels who are joined by other well-known people who love reading.