Stranger In My Heart

By Mary Monro

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.

Biography | Travel
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Publication date: June 2018

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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”

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  • Mary Monro avatar

    Mary Monro

    Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.

    Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.

  • 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.

    Read more...
  • Mary Monro has written 3 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    9th September 2018 News & Reviews

    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

    4th June 2018 Launch!

    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…

    7th May 2018 Publication Date

    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…

    21st April 2018 Cover Reveal

    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…

    30th January 2018 76th Anniversary of Escape

    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…

    24th December 2017 Merry Christmas 1942!

    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…

    8th December 2017 Battle of Hong Kong Anniversary

    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…

    2nd November 2017 Silence

    Dear Friends,

    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…

    26th September 2017 The structural edit is back!

    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…

    10th September 2017 Journey up the East River

    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…

    11th August 2017 Contemplating Memory Lane

    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…

    24th July 2017 Geopolitics in WWII

    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…

    14th July 2017 Foreword by HRH The Princess Royal

    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…

    6th July 2017 Almost there!

    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…

    29th June 2017 Intimate portrayal of battle

    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…

    22nd June 2017 Great start to the funding campaign

    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…

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  • Yu Müller
    Yu Müller asked:

    Hello Ms. Monro, I am intersted in your book. Could you please share more of the book structure (chapters), and may I ask whether you will include the photocopies in the video into your book? (It's super interesting since I could read it.) Thank you very much. Best,

    Mary Monro
    Mary Monro replied:

    Hi Zoe, thanks for your question. You can find out more about the book at http://www.wodebaba.wordpress.com, including chapter summaries. I don't know about the video images - they could easily be included in the ebook but might add cost to the paperback. I shall consult my editor! Best wishes Mary