Many people have asked what happened after I left Tuin, whether I ever returned, and how long Gerald, my husband-of-a-year, stayed on Badu Island after I left. More detailed answers to these questions can be found in Faraway – about a year on another remote island – but here’s what happened ‘Post Tuin’, in brief:
After my farewell to the island I loved – and which came close to killing me – I arrived a few days later in ‘civilisation’ (Brisbane, Australia) wearing nothing but a sarong. My feet were bare and I had a tobacco tin on a string round my neck containing only a few coins. But I did have a ticket back to Britain, courtesy of diary pieces I’d written on the island, which – to my surprise – had been accepted for publication in a Sunday magazine. And I was greeted in Australia by publishers who’d paid G an advance to write a book. They hoped to recoup their money if I wrote one.
The idea appealed – vaguely – but I was so overwhelmed at that time by all the ‘new’ sights and sounds and impressions coming at me – after so much silence and just one view on the horizon over the last 400 days – I didn’t take the suggestion seriously. I was far more interested in eating. There was more variety of edibles on one restaurent table than I’d seen in an entire year.
Back in the UK, I found that my mother and sister still seemed stuck in the unhappy condition they’d fallen into after my father left to start a new life years before. I’d ‘escaped’ family troubles as a child, by running away from both school and home. And my life had changed so radically on Tuin – my former values radically altered – that I found it hard to understand their stasis. If I’d learned one thing on my ‘desert island’, it was that if you had shelter, something to eat and water to drink, you were lucky. Anything else was a bonus. I loved them, grieved for them but – I came from another world.
So, although I’d planned to stay a while, I soon left – first flirting as an alien with the London underworld – then accepting the offer to write a book about my experiences on Tuin. I needed to ‘get away’ from ‘civilisation’ again, by revisiting my island through recording what happened there.
I wrote Castaway in a former Smokehouse converted by my father into a one-roomed cottage, next to where he bred quail. And I loved the writing process. All I did otherwise was bake, feed my little wood stove and go fishing.
But the publishers didn’t like what I wrote. It was full of rude words and mentioned tropical ulcers and marital disharmony. From their criticisms – and offers to help me re-write the chapters I’d sent- it seemed they wanted something more like Blue Lagoon. I had lived that year, however, and was not prepared to doctor my experience to suit what they felt ‘the market’ would like. The market, after all, consists of individuals and some people enjoy reading about reality. So, I did not excise the rude worlds and carried on as before. I was very lucky that someone passed my (rejected) manuscript under a table to another publisher – who didn’t want it changed at all.
When the book came out, I was whirled into the bizarre existence of being a minor celebrity – an ironic contrast to my hermit-like writing and castaway days. One part of me lapped up the attention; another longed to hide from it. I toured South Africa, America, Italy, Norway, Finland and the UK, appearing on chat shows (hair and make-up done to fit a desired image) and being interviewed ten times a day. It was a strange and often lonely time with lots of adrenaline rushes followed by some memorable lows. Occasionally, I’d asked myself on Tuin, ‘What on earth I am doing here?’ I asked the same question when dining alone from a silver platter in a suite in Boston with 3 beds and satin sheets, and posing on a London traffic island to please a tabloid photographer.
But I learned as I went along that it was possible to say no, and to express my own desires, so, when asked to tour New Zealand and Australia, I stipulated that I wanted time alone at the end to revisit Tuin – with no Press following.
Torres Strait Islanders from Badu, via relatives on Thursday Island, had heard about my presence in Australia and – certain I’d return to them, and Tuin – sent a boat to fetch me. First, I was taken to Badu, where I learned that, despite offers from local ladies, who’d told me they’d look after him – G had stayed only 3 weeks after I’d left, hoping to start a business in Australia.
15 Islanders then accompanied me back to Tuin – leaving me alone to explore the ghost-like remains of our camp, which had been hit by a cyclone. A shroud of sand covered our flattened shelter but to me, this was less a sad sight than a fitting end – the natural burial of evidence of our brief intrusion on an island essentially uninhabitable by humans. The goannas, turtles, pigeons and lizards were all doing fine.
I’ve not been back since and don’t plan to go. But I have heard from one of the children I played with on Tuin’s beaches. Her father, Ronald, was instrumental in saving our lives. When he passed away, she knew I’d want to contribute to the Tombstone Opening ceremony which happened two years after his burial. She was right, and in what will always seem a too-small way, I did. And she’s kept in touch. Leaving the Torres Strait as a young adult, she studied in Australia and – this year, 2014 – is returning to the islands as a teacher. I love this.
G remarried twice after a painless divorce from me, bringing his total of wives to 5. His first post Tuin marriage was a shotgun affair with a Catholic lass of 19, in Chile. Later her married a Western Samoan girl, when in his sixties. He left 9 children we know of.
He passed away from a liver condition when nearly 70. By no means an ordinary chap. RIP.
To learn about my life these days, visit my facebook pages, Castaway Lucy, and Lucy Irvine, author.
My new book, Cherries and other stories – inspired by my years in the Torres Strait, Solomons Islands and rural Bulgaria – is published on August 1st, for e-readers. Its not yet been sent to any print publishers.