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The Culture Interview – Duncan Alldridge, ‘Improv’ teacher, writer, performer.

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Author of ‘Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Last 80 Years’, Kate Monro has been taking Duncan Alldridge’s ‘improv’ classes ‘Playing on the Edge’. She described the experience as being ‘transformational’ in terms of her life. Here she decides to ask her teacher some questions.

It is surely no mistake that every time I try and text the word ‘improv’, my phone feels the need to auto-correct it to ‘improve’. Every. Single. Time. Both my phone and the universe wants me to be a better person, so somehow the powers-that-be have colluded to push me in the direction of improvisation classes i.e. getting up in front of other people and purposefully making a dick of yourself.

It took me a while to get there. Being exposed in this uncomfortable way isn’t my natural habitat but after floundering during a speaking engagement last year and getting Facebook pop ups from Duncan’s improvisation class every five minutes afterwards, I took the celestial hint and signed up. In the spirit of adventure (and my phone’s need for me to push myself), I put myself in the spotlight in the most vulnerable of ways. Six months on, I sat down with my teacher and we talked about what happens when people with no ‘thesp’ leanings whatsoever get together and play. The sound of Duncan’s epic laugh punctuated this interview so you’ll need to imagine that while you read.

K: To give you and your work context Duncan, what bought you to teach improvisation to people like me?

D: There is a rational answer. Which is, I was a drama teacher with a background in education and theatre, so why wouldn’t I teach ‘improv’? But the more interesting answer is that a few years ago, I had what we might call a series of breakdowns. I wasn’t sure if I would work again but out of that came a series of questions like ‘Well, what does work mean?’, ‘What will I offer now?’ and ‘What will that look like?’ A mutual friend had also said; ‘Duncan, if you did a drama or improvisation class for adults, I’d come. And I’d get some friends to come too’. At that time, I felt so far away from teaching anything, ever again, that it was like looking at the planet Pluto. And then a year later she said the same thing and ‘Playing on the Edge’ came from that.

K: Do you carry on learning about ‘improv’ yourself, even though you’re the teacher? What do you learn?

D: Two answers again. Because there is a practice going on here. The practice of creativity and storytelling and there are guidelines to help people to let themselves fall into story telling. So yes, I keep my own practice going. I work with other practitioners and I use that in classes alongside my own learnings. But on broader level, you learn about being able to hold a space where you can allow things to take place, even though you are not sure what’s going to emerge.

I’ve also learned the value of showing up. Because if it was a day at work, I might call in sick. But I’m going to run an improvisation class so if I just get there, I know that I’ll have a collaborator. Even if it’s just one person. In fact, one of the most beautiful classes was just two of us. So I learnt not to be afraid of it not working out as I wanted. And then everything else is a bonus. You learn that. Yeah.

K: That’s interesting. That’s a whole other layer that wouldn’t have occurred to me because I’ve been so immersed in my own experience. It has passed through my mind occasionally – I wonder what this is like for Duncan. Because you’re a very cool calm confident presence but you’re learning too, as well as holding the space as they say. The master of ceremonies.

D: I’m going to ask you a question Kate. Why did you turn up to the class – and what made you come back?

K: Initially because I did this talk last year and whilst I’m no extrovert, I’ve done lots of talks before and I’m usually good at it but I floundered with this one and it freaked me out. Alongside that, I’d kept looking at your class online and thinking – ‘I know that would be a really good thing for me to do’. Because I feel quite self-conscious but this doesn’t really feel like the real me. And it annoys me.

I also had this flashback to being eight years old and putting on a show for the end of term variety show at school. I basically nicked a scene from my favourite cartoon, Hong Kong Phooey, cast myself in the lead role, performed it for the 4th years and it got the thumbs up for the end of year show and I thought – what happened to that kid? A kid that worried a lot less about what other people thought. It was like a lens into a bit of myself I’d forgotten existed. And I thought I’d like to find that again. 

D: And actually, maybe it’s always been there…

K: Yes! But I’d got all these stories about who I thought I was, based on the past and not all of them were good. And once I really started thinking back, I realised my Hong Kong Phooey stage experience came not long after my dad died in traumatic circumstances so you’d have thought I’d have been even more challenged at that age but actually, I was much more brazen and buoyant than I remember. So ‘improv’ felt like a way of re-writing a limiting story I had for myself. I also thought it would be a good way to short-circuit one’s need to get things right. To put myself in a place where I don’t know what’s going to happen. I instinctively felt that your class could be the place for that. I don’t know. I got a vibe. You made it sound fun Duncan! And if it all went wrong, it wouldn’t matter!

D: And going wrong is what always happens. Right?

K: Right. But it’s also the greatest forum in the world for finding out that when things do go wrong, it doesn’t matter. That if you’re not going wrong, you’re kind of not doing it right. Which feels counter intuitive to one’s grown up self! The first class was joyous. The second class, I did a scene and I gave what I thought was a clear signal – we weren’t using any words in this scene – and my partner didn’t pick it up. So I’d made this ‘offer’, as you call it and it wasn’t received. And I was left standing there, thinking shit, here I am, I walked into this scene, I made a move, I got involved, nothing has come as a result and now I’ve got no idea what I’m doing and everyone is staring at me.

It was pretty awful but at the same time, I noticed that the world didn’t end. I got the feeling that it was okay for me to have NO IDEA what I was doing. I vaguely considered never coming to the class again after that, but then I thought ‘no’. I’ve started and I feel compelled to continue putting myself in this position.

D: I really get that. That there doesn’t have to be a rational reason when you say – ‘I know it’s for me’. Listening to that voice in the body or wherever it comes from is a good thing. My experience from talking to people is that many of us are having that experience all the time! But you can learn to exist in a playful uncertainty. And of course there are rules of engagement in ‘improv’. I imagine you’ve learnt a few by now. So that when that situation happens, you think okay, I’ll put on this ‘rule’ that I’ve learnt, like a vest, and it’ll hold me whilst I hang out to dry here in front of everyone.

One of the joys I get from the class and why it’s so gorgeously funny in the most human way is that that vulnerability which you offer, whilst hanging out to dry, when someone has missed the cue you’ve given them (or ignored it!) and you’re standing there thinking ‘I don’t know what to do and I want to leave’ is a place that the audience LOVE seeing. Because we all recognize that in ourselves. And then something usually does happen as a result, that’s deeper, and human and ultimately more vulnerable. And it’s not ‘clever’, nor is it supposed to be ‘right’. I’ve seen many moments like that in this class and that’s what keeps me going. It’s not so much exciting as touching. And delightfully funny. It’s deeply funny. Not ‘clever funny’.

K: That’s an entire reframing of the vulnerability that we feel in the class.

D: And that’s because it is your absolute inability to be witty, clever or in control in that moment that draws us to you. I’m not saying that a funny line won’t be funny but a funny line is short-lived and not memorable. It’s a way of getting through. But what actually draws us to you is your humanity, of being lost in front of us. And then being found! Because someone will eventually join your scene and say – ‘Would you like an ice-cream?’ or ‘It’s cold today’ and you’ll say; ‘Yes, I am absolutely freezing!’

K: I have picked up some tips Duncan and one of those is to use what you feel in the moment to inform what you do next. So, if you’re shitting yourself and you can’t think of what to say, be an actor who can’t remember their lines. Or be a person who feels lost and confused and can’t find their way. Be that, until one day you think ‘maybe I’ll just dance a jig while I’m standing here and I don’t know what I’m doing’.

D: And I’m still lost and confused! I’M LOST AND CONFUSED. I mean how many different ways can you say that single line for example! You could just keep saying that. Bringing that sort of authenticity of how we are feeling in the moment into the safety of the rule playing scene, it has another depth altogether for me.

K: What do you think most people are scared of when they come to ‘improv’?

D: I think most people who come, who haven’t had experience of performance, and actually, it can be more daunting for trained actors. Because actors are used to having scripts and direction. What people are most afraid of is not being accepted. ‘I’m not enough’. I’ll make a fool of myself. People will laugh at me. What I have to offer isn’t enough I think is the fullest answer.

K: Do you see people transform that idea?

D: Yes, it’s the most beautiful thing to watch when people realise that whatever they have to offer absolutely is enough. And then people begin to take more risks and then they’re able to play. And then you get flowing humanity.

K: The word ‘play’ is key because it’s something we think only children do. But we get into too many well-trodden routines in adult life and forget how to make things up as we go along. So this was an extreme version of learning how to do that, of getting into a place where you can make your vulnerability into a joke. Or just say how you feel in that moment and for that not to be a terrible thing. That actually it’s a really human thing and people connect best with you when you’re honest.

D: Yes, and everybody is longing for that. The audience, the film crew, whoever, subconsciously or not, is longing for the people on the spot to say those things. Because it’s what we all feel underneath. And especially when we’re seeing it but it’s not being acknowledged, because mostly it’s – ‘how do we get through this together’ Kate. It’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s about the collaboration. How can we fix this together? One of the important things about these sessions is that the witnesses, the other people in the class who are inadvertently invited to watch, are watching with a view to joining. It’s not a passive watching or ‘it’s not my go now’. It’s – ‘if she needs you, jump in and help, even if you don’t know what you’re doing yourself.’ And when you get that, you’ve got a community. A group of people who can playfully help each other. It’s been delightful to watch that grow.

K: Another massive one for me, when I began, was that I thought I needed an entire story in my head in order to perform. But what I’ve observed is that actually, it’s the smallest things that delight the most. It’s when someone gets up and does something really quite tiny or insignificant but they throw themselves into it. They could be pretending to type. They could be a thief, moving booty across the floor, slowly and deliberately in a heist scenario – which was totally genius. The class was in stitches. Because the performer was so absorbed. It was as if we weren’t there. So it’s the C word – commitment. Go all in. Focus on a bit of fluff on the ground. It could be the most fascinating piece of fluff that you’ve ever seen. And if it’s the most fascinating piece of fluff to me, it’s interesting for the audience to look at that piece of fluff with me.

D: Got it! Be fascinated in what’s around you. Your imagination is an infinite resource for being fascinated by anything you want to be fascinated about! And the extension of the C word is commit ‘and’.

So, you’ve made the commitment. You’re fascinated by the fluff on the floor. Then 15 seconds later and you’re still fascinated but no one joins in. No one helps you. So keep being fascinated. Keep going! There is the commitment to the fascination. And half an hour later, you’re still fascinated. And that’s what happens in these classes. Know that it’s really really difficult right now – but I’m going to keep committing to the fluff on the floor and eventually someone’s going to come along, stamp on it or say – ‘this is just what I need to make new earplugs with tonight’. So yes, that’s a huge lesson for life. Commit – and see it through.  And maybe there is a time to stop as well. *The sound of laughter punctuating this last observation*…

K: That’s brilliant.

Are you and I late-developers Duncan? Or is culture not keeping up with the fact that people continue to evolve as they get older and learn new skills?

D: I would never have been okay about doing this before. I would have needed too much control a few years ago to run something like this.

K: That’s interesting. So I guess what I’m saying is, what do you bring to the table now, at the age you are, that you wouldn’t have done before?

D: It’s the slings and arrows of life that enable me to hold a space like this now, because I’m not attached to the outcome of where it’s supposed to be going. In fact, it comes from a place where I had no idea where it was going. So any outcome I attach is purely random. And out of ‘not knowing’ has come me starting a business, and taking it into team building exercises in the corporate world, some of my students have ended up becoming clients and all of that has come from something I had no expectation of.

I don’t know about you but I have lots of big ideas and it’s about me learning to take tiny steps. Because if I try and take big steps, it doesn’t work. It’s the tiny steps where I reap the most rewards. So teaching ‘improv’ and running a class like this has invited me to take tiny steps and really see what’s happening. That is one of the great advantages of age, to bring it full circle. For me, it’s to take smaller steps, and to wait each time and see what happens.

Because if you look at a tiny piece of fluff on the ground, it is tiny but if you look at it up close, there’s a whole universe in there.

K: Amen to that.

Duncan’s improv classes ‘Playing on the Edge’ are on Sundays from 11am till 1pm at The Grange Pub

upstairs, Warwick Rd, W5 3XH. Contact: duncanalldridge@gmail.comHyperlink for Duncan’s class:

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AofA Culture Interview: Susie Osbourne – Author

6 Minute Read

The inimitable club owner and author Sophie Parkin talks to writer, Susi Osborne. And helps us to not be so London-centric.

Susi Osborne, 69, was born in Winsford, Cheshire and still lives there, just not in the same house! She is married with two children. In 2006 she had her first novel published, in 2011 she started Northwich LitFest in Cheshire, just outside Liverpool. Angelica Stone – the tale of a young woman in care who has been sexually abused in her past, it also manages to be funny – is her 4th book, published on 8th Sept with a party at please RSVP HERE if you wish to attend.

I’ve always dabbled in writing. As a child I convinced myself I was Jo March from Little Women. I used to lock myself away in my grandmother’s attic in her rambling old house in Yorkshire and write short stories using that as my pen name. It was my favourite place on earth, filled with all kinds of treasures and was a source of great inspiration!

My next step towards the writing of an actual book came in the form of my actress daughter’s need for monologues. She has quite a specific casting and monologues were always in short supply so I started to write some for her – with great success! This sort of spurred me on. Well, this plus the fact that my mother had by that time developed Alzheimer’s and I was her main carer. That was tough – I cared for her for ten years but, in a weird sort of way, it was also a source of inspiration. If there’s one thing you need to hold onto when dealing with Alzheimer’s, it’s definitely your sense of humour. I have so many funny stories. And so, as a form of escapism almost, I started to write my first book.

What were you doing before?

Before this, for what seemed like forever, I worked in libraries. That does sound really boring and is the stuff jokes are made of, but we truly did have some good times in the libraries where I worked. We certainly had a lot of laughter – or maybe that’s just because I’m a bit bonkers and don’t like to take life too seriously! There was not a ‘Silence’ sign to be seen, nor a ‘ssshhh’ to be heard.

You always look so glamorous. Is this also something you took up later in life?

Well, thank you for the compliment! No, I have always loved clothes and style – really ever since my teenage years when I would get the train into Liverpool. It was the era of The Beatles and the place to be – a fashionista’s paradise, lots of trendy boutiques. Lucinda Byre in Bold Street was definitely my favourite.

But then I discovered London and Mary Quant and Biba. Actually Biba had a massive influence on me. I think Biba with a hippy edge is still my kind of style. I just love textures – crushed velvet, lace, silk and feathers – and colour (even though I do always seem to end up wearing black!)

What gets you up in the morning and makes you happy other than writing?

I really am not a morning person – although sunshine helps. Seriously, our two little dogs are always so overjoyed to see me in the morning that I couldn’t fail to be happy when I get such a waggly welcome. We have a cavapoochon and a chug – they’re both only just over a year old and so are still very much at the bouncy stage. We are just a little bit besotted.

What made you begin the Northwich Literary festival and when does it happen?

Having been to lots of other literary events throughout the country, six years ago I had this idea to start one locally – Northwich LitFest. It seemed like a good idea at the time – the fact that I didn’t have a budget or that I had never run a festival before just didn’t seem to come into it. Never have I blagged my way into getting so many things for free in my life. But it worked. Incredibly, Northwich LitFest has now gone from strength to strength – I organise about 15 different events and the festival runs throughout June annually. It is such hard work, but I have met so many interesting people because of the LitFest, many of whom have become good friends. It has opened up so many doors for me too – for instance, I wouldn’t be having this interview with you now if it hadn’t been for Northwich LitFest, that was how we got to know each other.

Who are your role models in life or writing?

Weirdly, as I’m talking to you, Molly Parkin has always been one of my role models in life. I love her attitude and her warmth – and her sense of style, obviously! A couple of other people I know, who I cannot name on here, are inspirational to me too – I’m always full of admiration for people who have come from nowhere, and have gone on to achieve great things in their lives while still remaining nice people.

In writing, it would have to be Marian Keyes (love her humour). Although I aspire to be able to write like Jojo Moyes.

Any regrets?

Yes, I totally regret not doing so much more with my life at a much younger age. I think you can get bogged down with the minutiae of life, thinking you have all the time in the world – and you really don’t have. You only have one life – get out there and grab it with both hands while you still can!!

What has been your favourite decade?

My sixties have definitely been my favourite decade – I feel as though I have achieved so much, met so many interesting people. And it really doesn’t matter now what anyone else thinks, when you reach a certain age you feel free to do what you want to do, to dress how you want to dress. You feel free to be you! As for my social life – it’s gone bonkers!!

Any future ambitions as you head into your 70s?

I do have another book bubbling away, although it hasn’t started to make its way from my head to the keyboard yet. I quite fancy the idea of writing a play script too. AND art. I’ve always wanted to paint.

Are you any relation to George Osborne and is he actually referring to you when promoting The Northern Powerhouse?

Hahaha!! Yes, I am the Northern Powerhouse – undoubtedly! I did meet George Osborne once and my husband started talking to him about ancestors. Don’t think he was too impressed!!

The Dance by Helen Cadbury

1 Minute Read

In the dream

I am younger,

the room is huge

and I dance

over a wooden floor.

I do it often. It’s what I do.

I have a huge room,

as high as a church,

to myself and I dance across

its beautiful wooden floor

again and again.


When I wake

the dance is still in me.

It lightens my limbs

moves me to the kitchen.

The coffee brews on the hob

and I dance back and forth

from the table

to the fridge

and I am young

again and again.

By Helen Cadbury, Crime Writer & Poet. Died 30th June 2017

AoA interview. Suzanne Portnoy meets Monique Roffey, Author of The Tryst

1 Minute Read

Suzanne Portnoy wrote The Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick-maker about her outrageous sexual explorations in her 40s after a couple of serious longterm relationships broke up. And they include many visits to Rio’s in Camden. While Monique Roffey has written both novels – White Woman on a Green Bicycle was short-listed for the Orange Prize, her last novel House of Ashes was short-listed for the Costa Prize – a memoir With the Kisses of His Mouth which charts her journey into both Craigs List and tantra as a six year relationship broke up and she is about to publish The Tryst which is an erotic novel that looks at a sexless marriage and sees what happens when a seductive, other-worldly Lilah comes along and intoxicates them both. Here they tangle and joust over the depths and morals of sexuality and writing.

SUZANNE: I know, to some extent, that The Tryst was actually based on a real-life relationship that you had. Bearing in mind that you have already written a memoir, so you were not afraid to be upfront about your own personal life, why did you choose to make this fictitious?

MONIQUE: Well, actually this book was started long before the memoir; this is a prequel to the memoir, which I started seventeen years ago. So my first attempt to write about my situation was fictional. The Tryst came before the memoir and it’s a story that was very similar to the situation I was in with Jane and Bill: we were a loving couple in a stable relationship. There was a lot of love in the relationship; it was a really well-matched relationship in many ways, but if I had to look back and say what was wrong, it is because I was such a young woman. I was a sort of innocent, and unrealised. I was a very, very, very under-resourced woman; that was one of the reasons why my relationship was so celibate; because I was like ‘where do I go to be me, to be the bigger me sexually?’.

SUZANNE: Do you think that is kind of a generational thing, because certainly when I look back on my 20s either we didn’t know to ask or we didn’t think it was okay to ask for what we wanted sexually.

MONIQUE: Is it marriage? Or sometimes the sex we get within marriage; it’s very much a lucky dip, some people luck out, some people don’t. One of the direst outcomes of a life would be marrying somebody, agreeing to be with that person for the rest of your life, and quite soon into it, you realise that the sex has died or it’s dead, or it wasn’t strong enough. The sex could die for a number of reasons and our mothers’ generation would often stay in a celibate marriage for years, decades; a lifetime in a celibate marriage! So, we are just a generation after that. I think women like you and I have the desire to be out there in the world, to have adventures. My sex drive and my creative drive are very much linked.

SUZANNE: I think probably there is something to be said for very creative people being highly sexed people because sexuality is an expression of creativity and that you can be creative within a sexual relationship. I started reading a little bit about the Lilith character and about her being the first wife of Adam. Originally she was a Jewish woman but you cast her as a Southern Belle, which seemed an odd choice. What was that about?

MONIQUE: Good question. It comes from having met an American woman years ago; someone not too different from you, actually. I met this woman years ago that did come from the Deep South. She was really small and she was just on fire. She was on fire sexually. She talked like a policeman, she would laugh her head off; she sat with her legs open and you could tell you couldn’t leave men alone with her, for a moment. She would eat them alive. She was also very talented. That’s where Lilah’s ‘play persona’ came from, the one she uses on Jane and Bill: in the book, she adopts different personas to entrap innocent couples, and she has this Miss Alabama act going on for Jane and Bill.

SUZANNE: I was challenged by the idea of this predatory woman probably because I look at myself and I don’t want to think about myself in this way, but I also think, having been in relationships with people who I knew were either in celibate marriages or just in open marriages I never saw myself as a kind of ‘devil’ character. I always thought the only person that is making the choice here, the moral choice, is the man. It’s not me; I am just going about my business being my usual single self, and you are making a choice to be with me. You’re attached and I am not, but you seem to cast some of that blame on her.

MONIQUE: First of all, I see Lilah as a change agent and a harbinger of chaos; that is her fetish that’s what she likes to do, screw up the lives of these innocent couples. She’s kinky, but she doesn’t want to go and play with some experienced Dom or Sub – she likes these innocent people, the Mr. and Mrs. Everyday.

SUZANNE: But that is a really negative connotation of women.

MONIQUE: Really? I think all three people in this triangle are out of balance. The couple who aren’t having sex are out of balance, sexually. But the predator is out of balance too. In her love thing; she is too sexual. They have no sex, she is too sexy; they love each other, Lilah doesn’t know what love is. However, they all underestimate each other. Lilah thinks she’s just going to have a one night and they are completely out of their depth with her. Lilah is a descendant of the Lilith and she comes from a race of lovers who are much more pragmatic about love. They don’t really have love in this underworld. In a way, Jane is a bit like how I used to be years ago. My erotic life was only alive in my imagination: I dreamt Lilah up, I wrote her and Jane also was dreaming her up. The only part of Jane that is alive was her imagination, and she is dreaming about all these sexy trysts. I was doing this too. She literally dreams this pest up; she manifests this woman who comes in and she is the change agent Jane is looking for, she even invites her home. But Lilah is an evil person, who hasn’t a good bone in her body and she is also kind of human. She is a different kind of being altogether.

SUZANNE: The thing is, as women, we are confronted by this image of the slut, the slag, these women who are just up for sex. Women put other women like this down all the time. I always feel that the slut kind of persona is really difficult to manage, successfully, because there is so much weight attached to our own feelings about that type of woman. Even though you and I both know that we can just ‘do’ casual sex and walk away, that we would be completely comfortable about it.

MONIQUE: I have had lots of no strings attached sex, in the past. I’m not sure about casual sex these days, though. I’ve lost the knack or the appetite, or something has gone, completely.

SUZANNE: I lost some friends during that period of time when I was doing that kind of activity because they just really didn’t like it; it was too much.

MONIQUE: Maybe it was too much, for the average women, yes. Is society ready for somebody like you, like me, like Lilah, who is a bit too much? Lilah comes from the underworld, so she’s kind of a magical character.

SUZANNE: Well that’s how you get away with it.

MONIQUE: It’s not just I get away with it, Lilah isn’t the solution, that’s really what I think. She isn’t the answer. Bill fantasies about keeping her locked in a cage as a kind of sex slave. She is almost all sexuality and they are unsexual; they are locked up in their own stalemate, and this s very common amongst couples and carries lots of shame. I have been writing a blog about ‘There is Always Five Couples in the Bed:’ mommy, daddy on both sides, all the things mommy and daddy said; ‘don’t touch daddy’s penis’, ‘don’t do this, it’s bad’; it’s all in the bed with you. They are dealing with that shit; they are not getting it on because he has married his mother and she has got an alcoholic father and so married ‘nice’ Bill and they are stuck; you see it everywhere. There are intimacy problems, so they are not shagging. In this other very highly sexed, very powerful, very malicious sprite, Lilah, of course, I’m using this malicious sprite archetype; all through literature, all through Shakespeare, we have sprites that are fairies, pixies; they mean no good, they are precocious and they steal babies, lead people astray. It’s their job.

SUZANNE: Just to make mischief essentially. Now that you’re older, did you find writing the sex scenes easier than, say, when you wrote your memoir?

MONIQUE: I still find it as easy to write sex! I have been writing these sexy blogs recently and I have been surprised how I still find it easy to talk about fucking. I have a tantric and poetic feeling for language about sex and sexuality. Sometimes when I write about sex it can also be about fucking; good hard fucking, but more often than not, my opinion and my attitude to sex has been very influenced by tantra. For example, I’ve just written something for The Amorist magazine about a horny thing that happened not that long ago when I invited a man home. We just fooled around and kissed on the sofa, but I could feel the ‘kundalini’ rising in the both of us; that is how I would talk about desire these days, in tantric terms. I still find it easy to write about sex and to talk about sex. I like what you said the other day; that if you’ve been in the ring, in the arena and played a lot and been with people who are sexual, if you are willing to throw yourself out there, if you want to ‘go to the buffet’, taste everything, every dish, then you come back laden with treasure. I’ve got lots to say, and that’s because I’ve got lots of experience to draw on.

SUZANNE: Is it possible to be in love with someone while in a celibate relationship and how important is sex in a relationship. My question is how do you feel about that; is it possible?

MONIQUE: There are big differences between male and female sexuality. For example, we all go to sleep; we all go into REM sleep about six or seven times in the night. That’s when we’re paralysed. Men, they’ll get a boner every time they go into REM; so they get a boner six or seven times a night even when they are paralyzed and this has been proven. Men get turned on in their dreams. Men also usually wake up every morning with a boner; that is only one very common and natural aspect of male sexuality. Anyone sleeping with a man knows you wake up next to a horny man every morning, especially when he’s young. What do we women do about that? We don’t always wake up every morning, ready for action.

SUZANNE: I do, that is my time; I am not an evening person at all!

MONIQUE: Okay, you are very lucky. Also PIV sex, (penis in vagina sex). Loads of women do not orgasm through penetration; eighty percent, a high percentage – so those two things alone bring a lot of incompatibility to the average couple. Then there is childbirth. Throw that in, general fatigue, too; there are many, many reasons why the sex dance just collapses in a relationship. People go through patches of it; that’s kind of normal. Also, many women don’t know themselves. Many women I know have never used a vibrator, don’t masturbate. There are tons of women who’ve never touched themselves. I’ve been in many tantra workshops and seen women sob about their sexual lives or lack of it. There’s an issue around women not talking and not sharing things and not going, “you know what, my husband’s cock was really big and he hurt me; I should have said something and I should have stopped him.” Women keep quiet about their sexual grief.

SUZANNE: Again one of the big things in the book is that Lilith comes in and she forces them to confront the inadequacies in their marriage and she is that disruptive character so she just definitely makes them…it’s a wake-up call for them. And often affairs are a wake-up call for marriages.

MONIQUE: Affairs can save a marriage.

SUZANNE: I think it can go either way, but I think what affairs do, is they open up a conversation that previously wasn’t happening.

MONIQUE: Sometimes it opens up a conversation for a brief time, only, and they go back to how things were before; it depends on how brave the couple is. I think it can be rare for women to take the lead around the sexual relations. Also, I think women are very monogamous in their heart and once they’ve had a child or two, they’re done. In some Latin American couples, you see this working out really well. ‘I’ve had your babies, I was hot and sexy once, I’m married, here is the ring; I have the house, I have the name, I have the car, and now I’m past menopause. You need to go and get fucked somewhere else.’ In the Middle Eastern/Muslim culture, men are allowed four wives; it doesn’t just benefit the man, the wife thinks “Phew”. The new wife can see to his sexual needs now, I’m done.”

SUZANNE: It took you a long time to write, so was it just gestating for fifteen years for a reason?

MONIQUE: It was a combination, I started it when I was an inexperienced writer and also it was so personal. There was a lot of shame and taboo around this big secret when I was in my thirties and I sort of left the novel. I wrote the first draft fifteen years ago. It looked very different; it was one long story, then another long story and then another long story. It wasn’t chopped up like it is now.

SUZANNE: I was going to ask that, when you went back to it because I’ve got loads of writing sitting on hard drives and honestly when I read it back, it’s like I am looking at somebody else’s stuff; it’s like I don’t recognize this person.

MONIQUE: I started it when I was a younger woman, sure, still invested in patriarchy, still a little bit cautious, and still with a great feeling of failure around that relationship and just not as confident a writer. In the last fifteen years, I’ve had about three different computers, so it has gone from a massive desktop to another laptop, to a Mac. I had a floppy disc at one point. I always knew that I wanted to hang on to The Tryst; I always knew I had something. I thought it has got universal appeal; I’ve got to hang on to that story. It had spurts; I started it in 2003, I left it, I think, until maybe in 2006; I had blitz on it then. Then in 2012, I had another blitz on it and then we sold it. We sold it twice; we sold it to Simon & Schuster; they bought it, then they got cold feet and they dumped it. Then we sold it again, to Dodo Ink, my current publisher. The more The Tryst was knocked back, the more I wanted to see it published.

SUZANNE: In fact, I think sometimes these things happen for a reason at a certain time; you think people are ready to have these conversations now.

MONIQUE: People have had ten years of social media.

SUZANNE: That is right, absolutely! I think this kind of book, people are ready for it now and I don’t think people are reading it now and thinking oh my God, how dare she, how dare she; what’s wrong with them or …

MONIQUE: or, she, that Monique Roffey is anti-marriage, she hates us, and she hates me! No, I don’t hate you, I was you; I was just like you. Women like you and I are trailblazers. Let me show you something I received last year; this is about my memoir and this is the best piece of fan mail I’ve ever had, from a man called Michael, who I did meet once on a tantric weekend. This is what he said; “Hey Monique, I just wanted to say I’m getting married to a tantric female in three and a half weeks’ time. It wouldn’t have happened without your book and I think of you with love and gratitude; our lives have been revolutionized, take care.” So, I revolutionized a man’s life with my book, about my sexual journey in my forties! That is why I think you are right; people are ready to read about sex now, and female sexual desire at its meekest and most repressed and at it’s fullest and baddest. Both are here in this novel. The old Monique, and a wicked side. I identify with both Jane and Lilah, for sure, and both live in me.

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