Then & now Lucy Irvine, castaway

 

“WRITER SEEKS ‘WIFE’ for a year on a tropical island.” When 25-year-old Lucy Irvine answered this ad in Time Out magazine in January 1981, her life changed forever.

Within a year, the young Scotswoman had gone from working in a tax office in London to living on a remote, uninhabited island with a stranger twice her age. Gerald Kingsland was an English writer who wanted to live like Robinson Crusoe – all he needed was a young Girl Friday to join him on his sojourn.

Irvine was bored, restless and eager to do something different. But their 13-month stay on the island of Tuin, in the Torres Strait, between Australia and Papua New Guinea, was anything but idyllic. The couple had married in order to secure permission to live on the island, but they were deeply incompatible. Life on the island was harsh: food was scarce, and when the couple weren’t fighting, they were dealing with drought, illness and injury. Irvine reckons if it wasn’t for a tribe from nearby Badu island, who brought them food and water, they would have perished in their “paradise”.

Irvine’s island adventure is recounted in her best-selling book, Castaway. The book was also made into a successful film directed by Nicholas Roeg, and starring Oliver Reed as Kingsland and Amanda Donohoe as Irvine. Donohoe’s role called for lots of nudity – along with the modern luxuries and comforts, Irvine and Kingsland also went without clothes for much of their time on the island.

It was Kingsland who was hoping to get a blockbuster book out of the experience, but the public’s imagination was captured by Irvine’s side of the story. But she was uncomfortable with celebrity, and on her return to Scotland she moved to the isolated island of Tanera Mor, and wrote her second book, Runaway, which recounted her years as a troubled teenage tearaway. She never finished secondary school, but she was no dummy – she was a member of Mensa at age 16.

In 1999 she went with her sons to live on Pigeon Island in the Outer Solomons, after being commissioned to write a biography of a British couple who had settled there. She also began work on two novels, but single parenthood left her little time for writing. To give her children some semblance of a normal life, she tried living “conventionally” but calls it a “disastrous era” in her own life. In 2007, with two of her kids grown up and the youngest in university, she moved into an old mud-brick house in rural Bulgaria, in the foothills of the Balkans. A fire in 2009 destroyed the cottage, so now she lives in a caravan on the site.

Though she lives a hermit-like existence, Irvine still keeps in touch with the outside world. She has a Facebook page, Castaway Lucy, and has just begun posting a blog on her new website, lucyirvine.com. You can email her with any offers to live on a desert island.

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