Carolyn Lee’s story on how surviving a shipwreck gave her the strength to change her life.
Carolyn Lee, a British novelist, had a dysfunctional childhood with a mentally unstable mother and was looking for an escape until she met Raymond, a Hong Kong boy who promised the prospect of a new, adventurous life. Carolyn and Raymond relocated their family to Hong Kong in 1994, where Raymond began a job in investment banking while Carolyn cared for their three children. Carolyn got depressed as the two grew apart over the years. After her father died in 2000, she thought the family’s new sailing activity would help mend their relationship, but it ended up tearing them apart. Carolyn ended her marriage and started over when their yacht Purple X sank in the South China Sea in 2007. She then became a life coach.
What motivated you to start writing and share a very personal part of your life?
The main purpose of the book in the first instance was to tell the story of the rescue. Whenever people have asked me about it, they always said I should write it down. The rescue was only possible due to the heroism and incredible seamanship of Capt Sirpreet Kahlon of the Maersk Princess. The story of this recuse would be lost had I not written in detail about it. The other aspect of the book is to give hope to people that there is still real kindness in the world. These strangers risked their lives to save us. And no matter how hard you think something is, you can grow from such experiences and find happiness.
How long did it take you to create this volume?
I started writing in June of 2021 and completed it in October that year. There was a process of going through a few edits which took time, so I would say 6 months in total.
What was the hardest part to write?
Reliving some painful aspects of my marriage and the rescue were quite hard. To put down in words and express things that were painful to live through was difficult. I was also very concerned about portraying things in a balanced way. My intention was never to show people in a bad light, but it was hard to do that in terms of my mother in particular. I hope I have given a fair account of the folk mentioned in the book.
You survived a shipwreck. What did you feel in those dramatic moments? What were you thinking? Have you ever lost hope to be rescued?
When I was almost on the verge of drowning, I did feel very sad for my children. I was profoundly distressed that I may never see them grow up and I wanted them to know I loved them and to go on and live good lives. I was very sad I would not have any final words with them. I think it was that fear that helped me push on a little longer and keep going. My deceased father to whom I was very close, seemed to speak to me at this critical time. I certainly heard his voice tell me he would not see me today as it wasn’t my time. This urged me on to keep fighting for my life.
How did this experience change your life?
It was so clear to me that life can end at any moment. I felt surviving the rescue took everything I had. If I could summon up the energy and drive to stay alive, I could face what my life really looked like and what it meant to me. If there were aspects of it that I really felt did not serve me anymore, I could change them. It may not be easy, but surely not as bad as nearly dying. The experience gave me courage.
How do you think Hong Kong society has evolved since you arrived?
When I arrived in Hong Kong in 1994, things were still rather British. The return of Hong Kong to China was a historical moment and I felt privileged to be living through it. Over time, yes Hong Kong has changed, but so have I. I see how Hong Kong has evolved over my 28 years living there. although I think it will always be unique due to its specific history. Hong Kong society seems to take a lot of wait-and-see approaches but also, the people seem very practical and resilient. They will make their decision on what they want and work hard to fulfill their own destiny, whether that be moving away or choosing to stay. Hong Kong is evolving and the people of Hong Kong are evolving with it. I always see it as a place of opportunity. It has certainly been a place of opportunity for me.
What is your next project?
I want to focus on my repatriation to the UK. I have lived in Hong Kong for half of my life, and my Hong Kong experience really shaped who I am today. In many ways, the UK seems like a foreign country so there is a process of adjustment. I am also working with schools in my work as a life coach and I have a cottage rental business here in Cornwall. I am pleased many international people stay at the cottage – that is one thing I was worried about missing – the international community I had grown to love in Hong Kong.