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AofA People: Monique Roffey – Author, Lecturer

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Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born writer. Her erotic novel The Tryst, was published in the summer of 2017. Her novel House of Ashes, 2014, was shortlisted for the COSTA Fiction Award, 2015, as well as the OCM BOCAS Award 2015. Her erotic memoir, With the Kisses of his Mouth, caused controversy and critical acclaim in 2011. She is a Lecturer on the Novel MFA at Manchester Metropolitan University and has also taught creative writing and mentored emerging writers in Trinidad for several years, for COSTAATT, the OCM Bocas Literature Festival, and privately in Port of Spain.


Monique Roffey




East end of London and Port of Spain, Trinidad


I’m a writer and university lecturer


Cooler than I had expected.


A lot of life experience. I can call myself worldly. I have thirty-year-old friendships too; that’s amazing, when you know people and they know you for all your life.


I went out there, went to the buffet and tasted wheat was on the table. I’m so glad I did too. I’ve had many lovers and been loved and loved in return. I’m currently part of an advanced tantra group. I see myself as a sexual seeker, a sex positive lover, a tantrika, and very open to my body’s desires. I’ve developed the tendencies and the language of a tantrika to discuss sexual love.


Currently single. Last long term lover was a sex worker. We’ll see what happens.


Entirely free.


My work, my books, and that I have mentored emerging writers in the UK and in Trinidad. It’s important for me to give back. I’m a good teacher, too. In fact I’d say teaching is as much a vocation as writing.


Life! If you live a rich life and you have an active imagination, ideas keep coming.


In the summer, here in the UK and I’m always happy in my home town of Port of Spain. I love the sea too, a beach gives me so much pleasure. I just spent a week alone writing in a cottage by the sea in Tobago. I was visited every day by a small dog called Pepper. A cottage, a beach and a happy dog, that’s my idea of perfect contentment.


Into my books. I’ve also recently started drawing. I plan to do more drawing at the Royal Drawing school in Shoreditch near where I live.


I’m a Buddhist, a mitra (friend) of the Triratna order. My philosophy is that of non duality and of compassion to self and others. One of the meditations Triratna teaches is called the metta bavana. Metta means loving kindness in Pali. The meditation is about 45 mins long and involves sending metta to yourself, a person you care for, a person you find challenging and a person you hardly know at all. I think that’s so simple and yet very advanced humanity.


See above, I’m a Buddhist. Live well and when we die the soul moves on. The universal principal of creating karma in this life will decide what kind of life the soul moves onto.



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

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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.[amazon_link asins=’0993575862′ template=’ProductGrid’ store=’advaofage-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’c697c1c0-5833-11e7-8d9d-477f06c83fc1′]

L’Affaire Sandcastle

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January 2017, and I’m fifty-one years old and by all accounts in the middle of a full-blown, multi-dimensional mid-life crisis. I think I need to stop thinking about it; instead I need to get off my ass and out the door, and yes – out of my head. For most of the year before, my friend Charlie has been sending me a stream of information and invitations about improv classes with Imprology, run by his teacher Remy. I have been eyeing this information up, subconsciously, interested, and yet a little wary. I’d tried an improv class once, a few years back, a day with a friend who also teaches it, and I had spent that day feeling as if I’d lost my (very loud) everyday voice and my (very active and much used) imagination. I had encountered a mild but palpable ‘stuck’ feeling, all day. Concrete legs. I was amazed at how many of the others in the group were so much quicker and agile in their thinking and associations, and ideas. Not me. I was slow and blocked. Strange, because I make up dialogue and stories for a living. I’ve written millions of words which have accounted for several novels; I write all the time and have done for most of my life. But the page is one thing and the stage is another thing altogether. Even so, it’s January, the month of new resolutions and new beginnings, and so I think fuck it, sign up.

Do it.

I joined a beginner’s class with Imprology, taught by Remy Bertrand. The classes were early Tuesday nights at a studio new Warren Street. Very quickly, as in, immediately, it happened – I forgot myself. Remy’s classes are well devised; they can charm and entrap almost anyone, even a middle-aged author in crisis. There’s no time to think. First, we were asked to settle down and breathe. Next, we were thrown straight into games and the games are fun and absorbing and even the most self-conscious of us are provoked into action and, yes, dear reader, within minutes we were all out of our heads. The games are short and mostly done in pairs. Sometimes the games grow into three or fours or groups of eight. We were asked to partner up multiple times. I felt an urge to bond with just one other and the urge to hide, but there just wasn’t time to dwell on these urges. Play the games or be left out. The first hour of the classes is just that: games to elasticate the spirit, to stimulate the imagination, provoke curiosity, to think outside the box and to leave self behind. For example, we played a game called “Let’s” which is all about playing like kids, with the prompt “Let’s” being an invitation to play anything, the kind of thing we all said as kids – “Let’s stick a conker up our nose, etc.” This game is fun in twos and also fun when the whole class is doing it and someone shouts, “Let’s all be a fish!” and fifteen adults hit the ground and swim around on our stomachs.

There are lots of games. In a group, we play catch a half full bottle of water, we jump in the air and ‘zap’ each other, we stand in a circle and shout ‘fish, banana, horse’, a game of riddles. We play word games, hand games, games with no meaning whatsoever. Before I know it, an hour had flown. My spirits had lifted. I was happy. The edgy, resistant feeling, which I’d carried with me on the way to class had vanished. When chatting to others in the class, I found many of them felt the same, the adult fear of failure, of not being good enough, quick enough, funny enough or just not being able to improvise enough. Many of us felt edgy and came to the classes anyway. I think I knew this edgy feeling was what I was after or interested in, edge, the margin, or the sharp part of the margin, where you might fall. Every human is capable of art in this edge space, or ingenuity, or feral behaviour. In the edge, we can be marvelous, spontaneous, surprise ourselves and even entertain others. I think I may have lost my edge some time back, my braveness. While writing this article, I looked on the Imprology website and I found this:

“Failing is acknowledged as a sign of genuine risk-taking. Free from the need to appear bright and original, participants can test new ways to support and project themselves and interact with others in a playful and forgiving atmosphere.”

Yes. I agree, I felt I was taking a risk and that is a fresh feeling, a good feeling mid-life. The classes are not just games. Each two hour session was thought through and themed; and so there was a class all about silence, one about time, one about playfulness and then the edgiest of all, a class about status.

Top dog, underdog, we paired up and played roles. I found this nerve-wracking: how do I disappear completely and not play the part of who I think I am, myself – Roffey, the Invincible. I am a Caribbean woman; we don’t even think along the lines of who might be an underdog. Caribbean people are all alpha and all top dog and if you hadn’t heard that ‘God is a Trini’, you have now. I had encountered similar games in my tantra workshops during my 40s, the idea of practicing ‘saying no’ and meaning it. To a person from a hot country, this is ludicrous. But British people are extremely codified in their class system and also they are taught, from birth, to restrain themselves, to turn themselves down, to never show off and claim top dog status. And so I played underdog and pretended I wasn’t an alpha by blood and kinship. It sort of worked, until I was part of a group of eight and we were asked to play the “Let’s” game as a means of leadership. Someone shouted: “Let’s all make sandcastles,” and so we did. Within seconds, I’d shouted “Let’s all jump on them and smash them down!” I can’t remember too much after that, only that there was utter chaos and I found myself tearing the socks off a male class member and throwing them away. The chaos seemed to be mostly due to me, and the chaos is something I know well and have started around me many times. I had managed to get the whole group to not play the game, but to do something else and I’m still not quite sure what. I cringed in bed for three nights after that, just thinking about it.

What some of us noticed is that improv classes have a kind of cross-over effect. One person said he felt he was using things he learnt in class – in life. I nodded, especially after l’affaire sandcastle. I realised it had been years since I’d felt so exposed and at the same time elated. Though this isn’t the point of improv classes at all, they are also insightful into human behaviour and mirror back to us who we are or who we can be, better than any therapy classes. They are fun and inspire true creative thinking and they also reveal ‘deep character’, as we writers might say. There’s no cover. When there’s no time to think, the real you comes forward in all its glory and it thorns.

The second hour of class is dedicated to sketches and using masks. Again, as a Trinidadian, I’m very familiar with masks, with masking up, and the concept of shape-shifting and playing masquerade. Our carnival is one of the best in the world, born from a tradition of masking up in order to take the piss out of the ruling classes. Even so, there is lots to learn and think about. Remy brought some theory to the second half of the classes. He had lots of very helpful information to impart, especially to us beginners. There were two types of mask, a large white alien type ‘larval’ mask with no mouth. Putting this mask on transformed the player into something so different it was unnerving to watch. Remy explained that most people new to improv find it hard to claim their space on stage and to remain still. He explained that most of us wanted to move around, flail our hands, make action happen. He encouraged us to do as little as possible, to see what kind of impact ‘doing nothing’ had on the audience. He explained that doing nothing, or not much, with intention, can be fascinating to watch.

Most of us had a go with the masks. Even so, it was clear, even in our class, there were a handful of natural mask players and extroverts. Again and again, the same people got up and the same people watched. I’m a natural extrovert and yet I found it hard to know which camp I was in. I’m quick thinking and quick witted – or so I like to think – but there and then – was I? No. Again, like the day of improv years ago, I felt slow. Too guarded, too thoughtful? Too in my head? Or was I also a little chicken shit? Something held me back, and yet also there was that desire to find my edge, be in it. I forced myself only once to ‘play mas’, or that’s how my Trini self thought. There were three of us, the less plucky types, and our short time together, in half masks, in a pretend art gallery, was messy and lacked a narrative to hang anything on, not one of us came up with anything good and so our sketch quietly died.

“It was like bad sex,” I said to Remy later, when we had taken our masks off and had done a mini-feedback session. “There was no chemistry.” Even though Remy had said many times, “use your partner”, or go to your partner for the action, and for dialogue, for anything, we had all forgotten that on stage and clammed up. Never mind. The death was minor and it was a learning experience. I felt pleased I’d had a go. Later, I realised it wasn’t a death at all, quite the opposite: it was the beginning of something. You see, being middle aged means you know, just know how things go when you practice a little and keep having a go. That’s how books are written, or at least, that’s how I write my books.

The course was seven weeks long and I already miss it. When you are in a full-blown multi-dimensional mid-life crisis there is some kind of half death happening, or so you feel, the death of learning and of newness. You are experienced and you have these experiences for company. I’d been worried the learning and the experiences and the risk taking had dried up. While I am still writing books, and still doing all sorts of good things and enjoying the pleasure of life long friends and relationships, I’d slowed down and there had been a sense of ‘nothing new’ to discover. For a creative person, this is the eye of the crisis, mid life, the well drying up. Or sometimes it does, for a brief time.

In short, I loved doing these improv classes. I also found this on the Imprology website.

“First we play to win.

Then we play to lose.

Then we play to play.”

Yeeha. The classes roll on and I will definitely sign up again and challenge myself again because I miss the edge I once had. The classes were fun because they are also well designed. Remy has lots and lots and lots of ideas to throw at us and also lots of experience. In fact, I’d say a key part of why these classes were so much fun came down to Remy and his assistant Pixie. Remy Bertrand is French with a back ground in playback theatre and much else; actually, it’s not hard to see he is an improv genius. Think a touch of Bill Murray and more than a touch of Ohad Naharin, plus a French insouciance mixed with a generosity of spirit. Pixie, blue haired and blue eyed and beautiful is half Prospero’s Ariel, half Peter Pan. They are a great team and make the classes fun and safe and more or less win win. Improv classes got me through a cold winter and they got me learning again. They got me taking risks, too. Mostly, they got me out of my head.

Imprology classes can be found at

Lotus, Nun, Mysterious: some brief notes, at 51, of a hetaera woman

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Years ago, while in psychoanalysis, and, luckily, fairly early on in this five year period of my life, my shrink suggested, quite casually, that I might be what he termed a ‘hetaera’ woman. I blinked at him. I’d never heard the word before. He directed me to a little known, but seminal paper written in 1951 by Toni Wolff, Carl Jung’s lover, long-term collaborator, his ‘mystical sister’, ex-analysand and fellow analyst. Wolff was a great analyst too, in her own right, and she analysed Jung during his famous creative breakdown/breakthrough and the production of his most famous piece of work, the Red Book.

Hetaera was a type, or archetype Wolff herself identified with. It is the word for ‘companion’ in Greek and refers to a kind of educated courtesan found in ancient Greek society, an archetype directly opposite to mother in Wolff’s reckoning. In Greek antiquity, women who were mothers remained indoors, with little freedom to go about in public life, let alone the world of politics. The hetaerae, by contrast, mostly slave girls given an education, were allowed to attend the symposium and be part of things; some, such as Aspasia, the companion of Pericles, were even influential. The hetaera was free, and yet, yes, she was expected to offer sexual favours; she was a kind of man-made female companion, friend/sexual partner who enjoyed some freedom, who had been given it by men, and who, depending on luck and how she played her cards, could even fare well.

Soon after this comment from my shrink, I found as much information as I could about Wolff’s little known paper, Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche, which identified four basic female archetypes: mother, hetaera, amazon and medial woman (a woman who can commune with the spirits). I found an examination of the paper in a book called Four Eternal Women, by Mary Dian Molton and Lucy Anne Sikes, a book I highly recommend. To begin with, I didn’t even bother reading about the other three types because they were so well known to me; all I wanted and needed was to read about this hetaera woman, who was she? And was she me? If so, was the news bad? If not bad news, what was the low down, what was the news? I read on. Looking back, it was probably the first time I had a sure feeling of being known and ‘got’, sync-ed in, understood, by another person, another woman too. High Five. Thank you Toni Wolff.

Her overall definition of hetaera sounded like a definition of me and many of my friends, of herself too, a woman who had a deep conviction about her own creative needs and ambitions, her life’s work, her own sacred space, her growth, personal development, her time to think, make work and to be in the world and, to in some way, to contribute. Wolff’s examination of the hetaera was written in between the first two major waves of Western feminism. Mostly, it was this: the hetaera was a woman for whom marriage meant certain death. I understood this, implicitly. For many years I had a recurring dream of being walked up the aisle of some stain glass-windowed old church, only, once reaching the altar, to faint or scream or bolt away, veil trailing.

Death. The death of me and my dreams of being the thing I most wanted to be. To write, and to read, and to be left alone to do as I pleased. I like men, but none of that other thing, the marriage thing. None of that; not for me. Even now, aged fifty-one, I can feel breathless and suffocated by the idea of a lifetime of monogamous sex. Dear God, what a hellish idea, what a huge price to pay for one’s very dear life. In the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, Psyche is also to be married to Death, a great joke, and this part of the myth also echoes my life long fears. Except in that myth Eros pricks himself with his own arrow, falls in love with Psyche and later, Psyche falls in love with him, though she is not allowed to “look at” i.e., know him, she is set impossible tasks, which she completes, and they have a huge and happy wedding. The moral learning of the Eros and Psyche story is that Psyche, learns to commit to erotic love and to mature within marriage; in short, she learns the great art of compromise, she softens in motherhood and she succumbs to Eros, who plays the role of master in her life.

Fuck that.

Dear men reading this, this story of Eros and Psyche is embedded in your collective unconscious too. Many of you yearn to meet Psyche and to have her commit and surrender and soften to you as master. Eros and Psyche is THE great heterosexual love story handed down to us from antiquity. It’s a sexy story too, however, the myth has no “after the wedding” part, the part where poor Psyche, once wed, gets to spend the rest of her life indoors, minding babies, while Eros, the lover, is out all day and night, being a hero and a God and having a God’s good life. Poor Psyche, there simply isn’t an ‘after the wedding’ part of the myth. Death, you could say, finally, wins.

So, fast forward a few thousand years; along comes 20th century feminism. Equal rights, and all that; women get to go to The University, and well, Psyche gets an education, Psyche now wants to do a PhD in neuroscience, write poetry, fly to the moon, drive cars, and God for bid, take part in the life outside the home.

Actually, yes, the Gods did forbid it.

Married women were for the home and the home alone, that is except for those called hetaera, the ones given an education, by men. It took 20th Century feminism to liberate the modern hetaera type, and many of these hetaera also married, is my thinking, and had children; some fared well within marriage, some struggled. The ‘have it all’ woman: job, babies and marriage are stories that are rare but do exist, I know a handful of these women. Good for them. Marriage? For me, the idea of hieros gamos, the sacred marriage written about in many myths, or, the notion Plato wrote about, that we are creatures split in half, forever doomed to search for our other half, is questionable. Life isn’t about finding an outer soulmate; rather, it is about loving and nurturing the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine principal within.

You see, for me, being hetaera has been a primary ego choice, my truthful motivation of how to live and be. It is the direct opposite ego choice of mother; in fact, mother and hetaera is a dynamic pair of opposites. They are both strong ego preferences and there is a strong tension between us, as I have experienced, many times, and still do, when I walk into a room full of women who are mothers. I set them off, sometimes, and they can make me feel awkward, too. I like children, and find them original, but caring for one, for what – fifteen years – would have been disastrous. I am a woman who has killed a cactus. I have given away much-loved hand-reared cats. I have abandoned men in one country, to follow my work in another, only to fall for a man in that country and then leave him behind too, to follow more work. My work has always come first.

While I am capable of loyalty, compassion and good friendship, marriage would have stifled me and my children might have ended up applying for someone else, another mother. I wouldn’t have been ‘the right sort’. My children might have liked me but needed more help.

A modern day, 21st Century hetaera woman, such as myself, has evolved from the ancient lineage, from these hetaera of old, who were then, given an education by men, and for men alone, however, we are women who flourished in modern times, thanks to feminism. We are women who prefer our freedom over the bond of marriage, women for whom having children is not a priority.

When Toni Wolff died in 1953, Jung was distraught; his life long partner, creative collaborator and mystical sister had gone. In a garden, he left a small stone memorial for her with the words ‘Toni Wolff, Lotus, Nun, Mysterious’ written vertically in Chinese letters; these were his words for her. They are good words, too. Since my archetypal discovery and self-naming, I have thought about Wolff a lot, and Jung’s names for her. I would love to write more about Wolff because there is surprisingly little written about her even though she was such an important figure in the history of psychoanalysis, and in such an important man’s life. My guess is her family has guarded her estate and her letters very closely. To date, there is no biography of Toni Wolff, and there should be. Suspicious, no?

When I received this valuable tip from my shrink, I had been ‘releasing’ information about the ups and downs of my affairs of the heart. I had been dating a well-known sex worker, and he was a queer, polyamorous man, an anarchist, a Scorpio, and a professional lover man. It had been tough going, (it was my first experience of trying polyamory) and yet it had been a love bond and a friendship too and I had known, unconsciously, that I had picked this man to help me grow. I had wanted to be like him, you see, somewhere, dimly, a lover and a person who could love openly more than one person. I wanted a role model and a mate. I hadn’t picked and pursued this man for babies and marriage, that was for sure. This is a common trait of hetaera women, picking partners (male and female) to help them fulfil their potential. Finding out about this hetaera archetype helped me to understand my own past patterns when it came to relationships and what motivations lay behind my significant relationships. At forty-six, (then), I’d remained happily unmarried; free to be myself in the world. I had avoided the dicey subject of children, and, I had chosen men who had helped me, in Jungian terms, individuate.

My six-year relationship, in my thirties, with a fellow writer was a passionate love affair and also a creative collaboration. We were both writers and ran a writing centre together and our time together was full of books, learning and helping each other write. It was much more, but, hey, there’s a memoir out there with all those details, so I won’t elaborate. My four-year on/off, lover/friend/lover relationship with a sex worker in my forties, was similar in that it brought two enquiring seekers together. Both these relationships had been about thinking and living and being in a creative, ongoing dialogue about work and not about kids, and when/if we were going to get married. The hetaera woman makes a good long-term creative collaborator with a man and or another woman, or even a good short-term dynamic relationship. The hetaera is a good lover and co-creator; she is an intellectual and she is creative and she seeks dynamic relationships in which Eros, the lover, is also an intellectual friend, not a master of any kind, a relationship in which she and Eros are equals.

So, when my shrink made this comment about me and my type, I nodded, I did some research and never really looked back. An actual bone fide type for the woman that I feel I am, had always been; there is even a lineage, a long one, in the creative arts and sciences, too, for women like me, stretching back to antiquity. Here are a few examples of other hetaera women: Mary Magdalene (Christ’s companion, of course, but not wife), Aphrodite (as opposed to the virginal ingénue Psyche), Calypso, Cleopatra, Sappho, Circe, Delilah, Innana, Lilith (the insubordinate who refused to lay down under Adam and was banished to the desert) and more recently, of course, women like Madame Curie, Georgia O’ Keefe, Yoko Ono, Anaïs Nin, Freda Kahlo and Simone de Beauvoir and many, many more . . . all hetaera women.

In a rapidly changing, modern world where people are trying (rightly) to self-identify and explain themselves, I had already found a list I was happy with: tantrika, sex positive, kinkster, bi-curious, hetero-flexible, etc. But this new name hetaera felt like the one that landed best. I even had a chain of women to look back at, and yes they all checked in as friendly towards my past and current way of life; all of them felt like sisters-in-arms. Most of these women were single; they hadn’t been mothers or felt drawn to mothering. For them, mothering wasn’t a priority. So, with one casual suggestion from a man, (and yes, I get it, a man?), I came to look on as a guide and a person of immense compassion and wisdom, one word, and clunk-click, I’d found my status amongst my fellow womankind, my true archetypal identity in this crazy, busy, over-informed and under-educated contemporary world we live in.

However, there are shadow associations, too, for the hetaera woman, of course there would be. Of course, we also get a bad rap.

  1. Selfishness/narcissism. Oh yes, I’ve had this levelled at me many times, mostly by my own mother, “You never had children, you’re selfish.” Ah, well, there’s as essay here in this alone. As I mentioned, it has been a strong silent motivation, for me, to live the life I have lived, sans the bonds of marriage. I never declared anything outright; it was more like an instinctive dodge. Do we call men who pursue their vocational dreams selfish or narcissistic? No. But for men marriage is a bonus; they gain something, lose nothing; it is a status symbol to have a wife, a family. For women, we lose the freedom we once had; we go under, for years, into motherhood. Is it a selfish thing to protect the self? If so, then yes, I am selfish. And as for narcissism, well, all creative people have that element to their core modus operandi, that’s how we make our books, art, music; it comes from a strong need to make a mark. Often it is narcissistic rage, sometimes it is just a strong need to create. Yes, we creatives tend to be the narcs; we are the ones who say ‘me no fuck give’ and drive empaths mad with despair at our lack of concern for them; and yet all empaths want to sleep with us, make us better, heal us. It’s a bittersweet this thing called erotic attraction, but hey, that’s another essay too.

So, to my mother, who has never been able to understand me, I say, “Okay, yes, I am selfish and narcissistic.” AND, I have never once hurt or offended women who are mothers. I respect mothers, deeply, and ask only to find my place amongst them.

  1. The hetaera is man-obsessed. We live life for our relationships with men. Toni Wolff was Jung’s helpmate, collaborator and colleague; more than anything, she wanted to make work together with him. This meeting of minds that they shared also ignited Eros; it was a deep love they had, a clear and honest respect charged with sexual attraction. I’m wondering if this describes the love I have always yearned for too and even enjoyed more than once. Is this, then, man-obsessed? To want to cultivate this kind of bond? Respect + Eros, to me, feels like a very healthy and dynamic combination.
  2. The hetaera is bad with other women, mostly women who are mothers. I reject this. This is a patriarchal critique. Men like to think we women are cat-like creatures and spend our loves plotting each other’s downfall and competing over men. But leave all us women alone and we find our own way towards each other. Yes, that is key: red tents, women’s groups, even Suzanne Noble’s hot tub evenings, these are powerful places of female love, bonding and cross-connecting and they have existed since the dawn of time and, yeah, leave us alone together and there is nothing more powerful than a bunch of women hanging out, without men. It is a vibrant space and any woman who has enjoyed this space understands what I mean. A hetaera woman, such as myself, an unmarried, childfree, creative, a hopeless narc and a lone wolf? I have often felt so very happy to be amongst my sisters in these times, married women and mothers. There, I have felt accepted too, for all I have achieved and for all that I never have achieved, which is fine re children.

And here, a note. I have never slept with another woman’s man or a married man, a high point of principal. This feels like a serious moral crime; I have a deep allegiance to the sisterhood and consider it the lowest of the low to steal another woman’s man, no matter how unhappy he is or they are together. And besides, like Khalo, many hetaera women are bi-sexual and have a love of women, so ‘no’ to this third shadow area.

  1. The hetaera doesn’t have her own career; instead she dedicates her life to supporting a man’s career, often a famous man. This could well have been true prior to the 20th Century feminist movement, when it would have been hard, if not impossible for women to find their way into education. This is an old critique, pre the women’s movement. End of.
  2. The hetaera woman is a prostitute. Ah, women of the light! Sex workers, yes, I am of their lineage, make no mistake about that; I am of their type, I am their offspring, come down from Adam’s first wife, Lilith, banished to the desert for being insubordinate, yes, that’s me. I’m of that line of womanhood. Mind you, Eve, Adam’s second wife, (taken from Adam’s rib, urgh) didn’t make much of a good wife either, did she? What with causing the actual ‘fall of mankind’ with that apple and eating from the tree of life. So Lilith and Eve, no matter which type a woman identifies with, the wife or the banished harlot, eventually we are all aligned with man’s downfall; we are sisters of sorts. One type is just a lot worse than the other. Lilith, the first model had wayyy too much sexual agency, and Eve, well, she also had a mind of her own. Bad us. Few woman, mother or hetaera, get through life without being reprimanded for our sexuality, or called a slut.
  3. The hetaera is a spinster. Being unmarried, we have a lack of status in the mainstream world. We have, in some way, been left on the shelf, not been picked. We have gone unfulfilled, i.e. we have not been filled, (oh the receptive vessels that we are), by a man’s sperm/bank account/status etc. One of the happiest results of my hetaera lifestyle has been that, over time, I have created and shaped my own status: writer. It has taken a long time, and often I walk into a room alone, without a man on whose arm I hang; it’s just me. I go with my own life/world/ways and I do not feel in any way a less significant woman to my married female friends. I am not, in any way at a ‘loose end’; rather I go home when I like and with whom I like.

So here I am, age fifty-one, gently ageing and living a life full of good friends and good work. My future plans include more writing and more books, and also more mentoring of emerging writers, probably and especially women. I will hang with the Buddhists and the yogis, and hopefully get to northern India and Nepal some time soon. My feeling is that 20th Century feminism, amongst many other benefits, has made it easy for the hetaera to flourish in the world and gain acceptance, carve out our lives. I am not at all alone in this hetaera thing either; I have met a lot of others and spy them everywhere, especially in my creative writing classes, for all women who want to write have the same drive towards freedom.

In the near future I will also see my own mother die, come to terms with her death and also the end of the chain, for I have no daughter. The great actual lineage of women I am born from, Yvette, my mother, Maman, Laure Garrana, my grandmother, Irma Mifsud, or Nona, my great grandmother, are awesome women. They all married and they all had daughters and I am the end of the line, a hetaera. And my books will outlive me; they have been my creative progeny. And, maybe, in the future, I will make a trip to Vienna and find the garden in which the great Carl Jung erected the memorial to my other mother, my creative mother and mentor, role model, Toni Wolff, the woman who showed me who I am. And maybe, just maybe, I will find a way to talk to the Wolff family, persuade them I’m the right person to write her biography. And I will call it Lotus, Nun, Mysterious.

Surprise Me

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