An Irish Castaway…

Catherine Kullman’s opening description of Ireland caught my attention when I realised that Tasmania, the tiny island on which I live, a state of Australia and to the south of the mainland continent, is actually larger than her whole country. Like Catherine, I live on the fragrance of the sea and its many moods. It was with interest that I read her choices of books for her castaway time. Even more intrigued when at the end, she eschewed Ireland for somewhere quite remote…


I live on an island. At its widest, Ireland measures 275km (171 miles) from east to west, so the farthest from the sea you can be is 137.5 km or 85.5 miles) but I need only walk about ten minutes to reach land’s edge. I am used to the whiff of the sea and wonderful cloudscapes as the winds from the Atlantic drive the rain before them.

When I think of desert islands, I think automatically of a shipwreck in tropical or subtropical waters with the survivor washed ashore to a completely strange environment. How would I cope? My first book, The Swiss Family Robinson, would be my guide. It is a childhood favourite that I still reread, although no copy can rival the battered one with onion-skin paper that my father brought home one day from a Dublin book stall. It was here that I read of the duckbilled platypus and the donkey-eating boa constrictor and learnt all sorts of useful things like how to subdue wild bees with tobacco. I hope that I would be as resourceful as they were.

In my teens I read Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen—two authors who have remained with me all my life and whose influence is apparent in my own novels. I must have one book by each. It was easy to select Jane Austen’s—Persuasion has been my favourite of her books for many years and I enjoy it all the more now since we visited Bath. We had an apartment on Great Pulteney Street and it was wonderful to walk in Anne’s footsteps. This copy first belonged to my father. It is one of a mid-twentieth century edition of Jane Austen’s novels, each with an introduction by a famous woman author of the day.  Persuasion is introduced by Angela Thirkell, whose contemporary novels were set in Trollope’s Barsetshire novels, describing the lives of the descendants of his characters.

With Georgette Heyer the choice was more difficult. In the end I have plumped for The Grand Sophy for its resourceful heroine, its portrait of the London Season and the masterly denouement. My copy has long since lost its dust jacket and as the cover is plain, I am showing a picture of the title page.

Dorothy L Sayers was another great discovery of my teenage years and I was fascinated to see her detective stories turn into detective novels as the interaction between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane became as, if not more important than the mystery itself. In 1998, I was thrilled to discover Jill Paton Walsh’s masterly completion of Sayer’s unfinished novel Thrones, Dominations which continues Peter’s and Harriet’s story. It was like catching up with old friends again.

J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is another must-have from the time before I was married. I remember sitting up until the small hours to finish it the first time I read it. My first copy was read to pieces by our sons and I have now treated myself to a beautiful boxed set.

I moved to Germany with my German husband after our marriage in 1973. The world of the seventies was very different to today. Air travel was very expensive and there was neither internet nor Amazon to feed my book hunger. I had to be satisfied with a limited and expensive stock of English books in Bonn and Cologne and the odd treasure I found on the second-hand book stalls on the Kaiserplatz in Bonn. Later, I discovered the Good Book Guide that offered a mail order service from the UK and when our sons grew older we made regular day-trips to Brussels, a two-hour drive away. Here we could stock up on English books at W.H. Smith, Dunhill tobacco for my husband as the excise duty was much lower than in Germany, and Belgian chocolates.

 For my island library I have chosen The Beacon at Alexandria, the superbly told story of Charis who is forbidden to study medicine because she is a woman. Charis’s journey takes her from the hot-bed of intrigue that is Alexandria in the fourth century AD to an outpost of a threatened Roman Empire. Finally, her destiny is fulfilled in a surprising but very satisfactory way.

My last three books are non-fiction. The Harenberg Opernführer or Opera Guide will remind me of past pleasures.

As will John Julius Norwich’s anthology A Taste for Travel.

And, alone on my island, I shall at last have time to study the Art and Architecture of Florence in greater detail, while remembering my visits to that beautiful city.

Madam Moderator has kindly allowed me one luxury book. I have decided on the largest hardcover blank book possible so that I can keep a journal and also continue with my own writing.

(And this is probably, along with a never emptying pen, the idea that truly does appeal and is so far unique amongst all my Castaways!)

And where is my island? Would I really be happy on a tropical or subtropical island? I have very pale Irish skin that is prone to sun-burn and freckles. I wilt in the heat and react badly to insect bites and stings. Might there be somewhere more suitable to a lady of advancing years? It did not take long for me to think of my dream island—Garnish Island, in Bantry Bay, Co. Cork. It is now owned by the Irish state and perhaps I could agree with the Office of Public Works that I would be author in residence, remaining alone on the island after the day visitors have left.

However if Madam Moderator decides this is cheating, I shall find another uninhabited island like Dinish Island in Co. Galway, among the hundreds scattered around Ireland and remain in the landscape and seascape I love and the climate that suits me best. (Dinish appeals to the moderator, I’m afraid. That view…)

Thank you so much, Catherine, for not just giving us an unusual list of books, but also opening your soul. Thanks also for telling us about Dinish and Garnish Islands. Coming from an island myself, I am a big believer in what is called the ‘island mentality’. It’s something I would love to talk to fellow islander writers about, one day…

If you would like to find out more about Catherine’s list, go to