Retracing her father’s heroic escape across China in World War Two leads his daughter on a gripping voyage of discovery about him, China and, inevitably, herself.
Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised. My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.
"A well-written and deeply satisfying book, packed with information and adventure, as Mary Monro struggles to understand her WWII hero father, her inheritance, and herself. Above all, a damn good read!”
Damien Lewis, best selling author of “Hunting the Nazi Bomb”
While we were surveying the scene over the cricket ground and Happy Valley racecourse two black kites, smaller cousins to our European red kites, flew overhead. I had the strangest feeling that somehow it was a wave from Dad. I almost said “Hello Dad!” out loud, but managed to stop myself. Nonetheless seeing these birds made me feel at home and that Dad was with me on my journey.
None of us knows what happens to us when we die and this is, perhaps, one of the consolations of grief – we can believe whatever we like. I have had a number of experiences over the years that lead me to believe that we retain some sort of presence after death. This seems to fluctuate such that when you are doing something that resonates strongly with the deceased, they in turn manifest more strongly. This trip to China was all about Dad and it was as easy as wallowing in a warm bath. On a subsequent visit with a more tenuous connection to Dad’s time in China, I didn’t feel him with me in the same way, and the trip was more difficult.
My reaction to the kites was visceral and immediate and it made me pay attention to the nature of my experiences during the rest of my trip. I realise that my sense of being accompanied may have been a construct of my mind to stave off fears about this challenging journey, but this first sighting was not consciously anticipated or sought. In my career as an osteopath I have had to learn to trust my hands and my intuition with the same confidence that I trust my eyes and my ears. At first one naturally cross-checks with more tangible evidence – if I can feel the impression of an impact injury, I quiz the patient about their history, for example – but gradually one accepts the veracity of incoming information from all of our sensory apparatus. It’s like going from black and white to colour.
Whilst I was in Hong Kong I made a side trip to Lamma Island. My sister Kathy had lived there in around 1980 and I was curious to see what it was like. Her usual style was to live in the most squalid conditions in a low rent part of town, whether it was Edinburgh or Cairo. Consequently I assumed that Lamma would be a dump, but I could not have been more wrong. It was far and away the most lovely part of Hong Kong and where I would have chosen to live if I were working there. I walked across the traffic-free island from one village to the other, stopping briefly at a cocktail bar on the beach, and was accompanied by yet another kite. I found my oblivious, soaring companion a great comfort. Visiting Kathy’s old haunt also stiffened my resolve. She was a proper “viaggatrice intrepida” who would quite happily hitchhike through a war zone with only a toothbrush and a spare pair of knickers in her backpack. I really had nothing to be fearful about on my fully guided, luxury hotel itinerary.
News & Reviews
Sunday, 9 September 2018
Stranger In My Heart launched back in June 2018, so I thought I would let you faithful supporters know how things have been going since then. It would really help me if you could write a review of the book on Amazon - I have 26 customer reviews so far and I hope to reach 30+ with your help. There has been quite a lot of publicity for the book, both in the UK and internationally:
Bath Life …
Monday, 4 June 2018
Well I finally have the book in my hot little hand! You will receive your copy very shortly but I'm afraid I can't tell you exactly when. Book marketing these days is very review driven, so please, please, please review Stranger In My Heart on Amazon and Goodreads, as soon as poss - the first 4 weeks after launch is the crucial time for the mighty Amazon promotional machine to activate. You have to…
Monday, 7 May 2018
The official publication date for Stranger In My Heart is 9th June 2018, Dad's 104th birthday! It is already available to pre-order on Amazon as an ebook, but readers will have to wait till publication day to buy the paperback. You, Dearly Beloved, should receive your copy around the end of May.
The book is currently featuring on a blog tour which you can follow on Twitter (my Twitter handle is…
Saturday, 21 April 2018
I am thrilled to announce that the cover design has been finalised! According to my Unbound Project Page the publication date is June (supporters should receive their copies before then) which is just in time for Father's Day. You can pre-order from Unbound now and I will let you know when it appears on Amazon and such like. I am contacting independent bookshops in Bath, Wiltshire and Shropshire to…
76th Anniversary of Escape
Tuesday, 30 January 2018
On the night of February 1st 1942, under the light of the full moon, Dad and his two colleagues made their daring escape from Sham Shui Po POW camp in Hong Kong, full of trepidation, in fear of their lives but determined to succeed. Only 33 men ever escaped from Sham Shui Po.
In the last few weeks I have made contact with the families of some of those brave few men. Tony Hewitt's stepson, John…
Merry Christmas 1942!
Sunday, 24 December 2017
My Christmas holidays will include finalising the draft - the editor is pleased with what I have done so far and there are just a few loose ends to tidy up. I thought I'd share Dad's experience of Christmas from 1942, a year after the surrender of Hong Kong, when he was in Chongqing and being entertained by the President of China, Chiang Kai-shek:
“On Christmas day the Ambassador had a lunch party…
Battle of Hong Kong Anniversary
Friday, 8 December 2017
Today is the 76th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Hong Kong, 4 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor on the other side of the Pacific and on the other side of the international date line. Even though the tension had been rising for weeks, there was no real sense of the imminence of the Japanese attack. Dad wrote this on Sunday 7 December 1941:
“As I went home after dinner everything…
Thursday, 2 November 2017
Apologies for my silence over the last month. I have been extremely busy preparing for a course that I am teaching this weekend. I am really looking forward to getting on with editing my book next week and hope it won't take me too long. I have been making progress towards marketing the book, with a couple of high profile people lined up to do reviews for cover quotes. I can't say…
The structural edit is back!
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Well, lovely supporters, I got my 'structural edit' back today. The editor has written a summary of her thoughts and then detailed notes through the whole book. I haven't read all her comments yet - I got a bit stuck on the first paragraph, which is still making me glow with pleasure! I think there is a lot of work to do over the next few weeks (to be fitted in with working and teaching commitments…
Journey up the East River
Sunday, 10 September 2017
When Dad's party reached Huizhou, they found it a burnt out ruin, but celebrating Chinese New Year in spite of it all. This delayed their onward journey and meant a frustrating few days wait. More positively, they were now classed as refugees and were given a small daily allowance.
"Finally we got a passage up the river. We travelled in two boats; the leader had a charcoal gas engine and looking…
Contemplating Memory Lane
Friday, 11 August 2017
No exciting news to report as the book is still with the editor. Here is an excerpt where I wonder if my trip to China will really conjure up the spirit of Dad:
After much email discussion with various tour operators I eventually decided that My Odyssey Tours (MOT) offered me the best option. They had chosen an interesting itinerary that allowed me to retrace Dad’s steps and do some sightseeing…
Geopolitics in WWII
Monday, 24 July 2017
Dear friends, the manuscript has now been sent to an editor for 'structural edit' which will ensure that it makes sense, flows well and is structured to create the most interesting possible read. I quake in my boots awating its return at the end of August!
Meanwhile, here is an extract summarising what was going on in China in the early stages of WWII - well, early stages for us - Japan invaded…
Foreword by HRH The Princess Royal
Friday, 14 July 2017
Fantastic news this week - we reached the funding target on Tuesday and today I received wonderful news: HRH Anne, The Princess Royal, has very kindly written a foreword for Stranger In My Heart. We have some connections - she is Patron of the British School of Osteopathy and has so far presented me with two degrees and a prize. She is also President of the Riding for the Disabled Association and…
Thursday, 6 July 2017
We are now at 97% of the funding target - tantalisingly close and just a very few more supporters needed. I have made up postcards advertising the book to hand out and, if you know of anyone who might be interested, do email them or I can send them a card if you let me have their details.
I hope you have seen the endorsement of my book from Damien Lewis, author of bestsellers such as Hunting The…
Intimate portrayal of battle
Thursday, 29 June 2017
I am humbled by your generosity in supporting my book. We are now at 90% of the funding target which is amazing in such a short time. Thankyou! Just a few more supporters needed...
This is an excerpt about the battle of Hong Kong, in December 1941, which was part of Japan's initial assault, along with the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Malaya and Singapore. Dad's diary entries give a vivid picture of…
Great start to the funding campaign
Thursday, 22 June 2017
Huge thanks to everyone who has supported me so far. After only a week we have already reached more than two thirds of the funding target. I plan to write an update once a week or so, and each time I will include a little snippet from the book. Please do share this project with anyone you know who might be interested. The more the merrier!
This is from the opening chapter, where I am puzzling over…
These people are helping to fund Stranger In My Heart.