On 8 December 1941 began the battle of Hong Kong, now 77 years ago. Here is an extract from Dad’s diary of 10 December, recounting the first days of the Japanese invasion:
About 6:00am on Monday 8th I was woken up, called to the telephone and told that war was imminent with Japan. By the time I got to H.Q. we were at war. About 8:00am the first Japanese bombers came over. They did a lot of damage at the Aerodrome, destroying 7 C.N.A.C. (Chinese National Aviation Corp) planes, The Clipper, most of the RAF planes and the two Walruses. They were unopposed. The volunteer A.A. (anti-aircraft) platoon had drawn no ammunition, I suppose because the day before was a Sunday. The gunboat supposed to be in the seaplane anchorage was being used for something else. The Japs made rapid progress down the Taipo Road, and by the evening we were back in Shatin. H.Q. were gravely disappointed with the Stanley guns. They have shot too big a line, boasted that they could get almost to Taipo, in actual fact they can only reach about 1500 yards beyond Shatin Station. We were unable to answer several calls for fire as the targets have been out of range.
On Tuesday general skirmishing took place on the main approaches to the inner (Gin Drinkers) line, to which by nightfall all our forces had retired. During the night Tuesday/Wednesday the Japs surprised and captured the Shing Mun Redoubt. This is a severe loss. Today there has been heavy fighting all along Smugglers Ridge and up towards Golden Hill.
The Allied forces had been on high alert for some time but, as each alarm turned out to be false, they became complacent and so weren’t fully prepared for the attack. When war did come, it was fierce and relentless, raging until Christmas Day when the Allies finally surrendered. For the people of Hong Kong, this year would always be known as Black Christmas.
It is hard for us to imagine what that must have been like, as we do our online shopping for Christmas presents, put on a load of laundry or take the dog for a walk. We must always remember what we owe this generation. Blessings for a peaceful Christmas 2018.
I had a great weekend at the Shrewsbury Lit Fest. The organisers had done a good job on the publicity front, with articles in the Shropshire Star and the Shropshire Magazine. The smart brochure for the festival had me on the same page as Manda Scott, one of my favourite writers, which I felt very excited about! We went to her event and she turned out to be every bit as interesting in person as she is in writing. Both of our events were at the Unitarian Church, where Charles Darwin was a regular worshipper.
I enjoyed talking about Stranger In My Heart, especially as many in the audience were people who’d known Dad. It really strikes a chord with people when I speak about the ‘one sentence legend’ that we have about a parent or grandparent and what they did in the war. The silence of World War participants, especially combatants, seems almost universal. People recognise that the next generation down don’t even have the ‘one sentence legend’ and so will have no reason to enquire into the lives of individuals from the World War generations. My campaign to rescue these stories before they get lost forever is gathering pace as I am now an approved speaker for the WI, following my audition last week. I already have two bookings for next year!
Of course the best thing about the weekend was visiting family and catching up with old friends who’d come to the Festival. Sadly, my mum is no longer able to go to events but I showed her the various press articles about it. In the town Square there was a Peoples Vote stall, with an Emergency Poet in attendance. Love it!
Gosh it’s been a busy couple of months! Lots to tell you about Stranger In My Heart, along with upcoming events. I also had lovely outings to Burghley Horse Trials and the Frida Kahlo exhibition, caught up with old friends from Australia and spent 10 days touring Portugal in wall-to-wall sunshine – heaven!
Novel Nights is a regular literary gathering, with events in Bath and Bristol. I was fortunate to be chosen to speak at their ‘telling other people’s stories’ evening, where I was interviewed about my book and then read a short extract. A discussion followed the main speaker (Xan Brooks) about how writers can speak for others authentically – even if they are a different gender, race, ethnicity or species!
I also spoke at Bath University’s One World week, focusing on the Chinese history, culture and language aspects of my book. My talk was recorded and will be available for students/staff to view on the University’s intranet. The same week I joined a gang of Unbound authors at the Bristol Literary Festival to speak about crowdfunding and book marketing. It was great fun and I was proud to join such a talented, creative group of writers. We presented to an appreciative audience of about 40 at the Arnolfini’s Front Room. Lovely venue, great tech support (essential!).
Unbounders at Bristol Lit Fest 2018
There has been more press coverage of Stranger In My Heart in Family Tree Magazine (December 2018 – out now in newsagents) and a lovely review in the Journal of the Royal Artillery (Autumn 2018)
Family Tree Magazine (Dec 2018)
Journal of Royal Artillery (Autumn 2018)
Next up is the Shrewsbury Lit Festival – do please come along if you can – and an audition with the WI!
So far I have 25 customer reviews on Amazon. Can you help me make it 30? All you have to do is search Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro and then scroll down to the button marked ‘write a customer review’. You don’t need to have bought the book from Amazon, but you must have spent £40 with them in the last year.
The launch party pictures appeared in issue 372 of Bath Life which you can find online here on page 14. It has proved very difficult to find a print copy and in the end Mr Mayor kindly provided me with one!
There was an article about the book and my travels to China in Odynovo Tours’ latest newsletter. My dear friend Col Martin Lilley has written a brilliant review of my book for The Gunner magazine, which will reach the veterans of the Royal Artillery.
I am preparing some talks about the book for the autumn. I will be speaking at the University of Bath on 23 October, auditioning as a speaker for the WI on 22 November and speaking at the Shrewsbury Lit Fest on Saturday 24th November at 1pm. Please do come along!
If you missed the radio broadcast about Stranger In My Heart on the Ink & Quill show you can listen now – it’s about 20 minutes long. China Radio International is the world’s second biggest radio broadcaster after the BBC and reaches countries around the globe. At the other end of the media spectrum, we have local paper the Shropshire Star also featuring a story about the book, focusing on the Shropshire connections.
Ming Dynasty bowl, Ashmolean Museum
There has been some discussion with the TV production company in LA about how the book might become a TV series but we haven’t progressed very far yet. The next step is for them to prepare a one page pitch to take to the networks (e.g. Discovery Channel, History Channel etc.) who will then decide whether they want to take it further. Unbound, the publisher, will handle any rights negotiations on my behalf. Phew!
Meanwhile, I have started researching my next book, which will be about my Great Aunt Dora (1892-1982). She was a pioneer of the computing industry, involved in Irish politics during WW1 and supplied computing machines to Bletchley in WW2. Her fiance was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 and I have numerous letters from him and from his father. To my delight I have traced his family and will be meeting them soon to show them these letters. They have some things to show me, including a photo of her from 1923, which I can’t wait to see!
Stranger In My Heart featured in the UK national press last week, with articles in the Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun. I’m guessing they think the target audience for the book is elderly as the piece appeared next to ads for hearing aids and Stay Dry Pants! The coverage seems to have caused an increase in sales and the book has now gone for its second print run.
I have just received a draft of the photos that will appear in the Society pages of Bath Life’s next issue. I’ll add a link once it actually appears. I will be doing a radio interview next week for China Radio International’s Ink & Quill show. They have sent me lots of searching questions to ponder, so it should be an interesting listen. The tour operator who guided me round China, Odynovo Tours, is also featuring a story about me and Stranger In My Heart in their next newsletter.
Um, so, in other news…a TV production company in LA has been in touch about making a series about the book! As far as I can tell I’m not dreaming, but I’m not getting too excited just yet. Watch this space…
Many thanks to all of you who have written reviews of Stranger In My Heart on Amazon and Goodreads. If you haven’t written one yet – please don’t forget – it really helps. You don’t have to write an essay and you can be perfectly honest in your opinion – I just need the reviews to support the publicity for the book.
In case you missed it, an interview with me was featured in Bath Life mag. Click the link and go to the last page (p162) to see it. I am told that they will be publishing photos from the launch party in the next issue. The Bath Chronicle will also be featuring the book in their Weekend mag but I’m not sure when. Next month there will be a feature in the Shropshire Magazine and I will give more details when I have them.
At the weekend I made some lovely global connections. On Saturday my aunt Jenny told me that Major Paddy Crowe, who Dad mentions in his story about meeting the Japanese Commander during his incarceration, was her uncle! Sadly Major Crowe remained in PoW camp for the rest of the war and suffered terribly as a result. But what a small world! On Sunday the South China Morning Post printed a 5 page extract from my book – the chapter on the battle. With masses of pictures. They have a circulation of close to 100,000 in Hong Kong and online readers around the world. The ‘long read’ article has already been widely shared. It’s so thrilling!
The launch party for Stranger In My Heart at the Apex Hotel in Bath was a great success. I felt truly honoured by everyone who came and it was a treat to meet the ‘next generations’ of men who had fought or escaped with Dad at Hong Kong. I was so pleased to be able to introduce this ‘extended family’ as well as the son of Dad’s Chinese interpreter, Jane Cordingley (who planted the seed of the book in my mind) and my own extended family. Other VIP guests included the Right Worshipful Mayor of Bath, my local Councillor and the Commanding Officer of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery (19RA).
Cllr Shelford & Col Beaumont
Even though most people at the party had pre-ordered copies of the book, lots of people wanted to buy extra copies for friends and family and I spent a happy hour signing books. I think the Riding for the Disabled Association is going to get a nice big donation out of this!
Latest news is that Stranger In My Heart will be mentioned this week in Country Life Magazine and there will be an excerpt about Dad’s escape in the South China Morning Post’s Sunday Magazine. The Bath Chronicle Weekend Magazine and Bath Life are both featuring stories about the book in the next few weeks, so keep an eye open for those.
All photos © Paul Gillis Photo 2018
While I have been pacing up and down, waiting for actual, real live, genuine paperback copies of my book to land on my doorstep; and, while crossing everything crossable that my beloved supporters will get their copies before the public launch date of 9th June, I have been generating PR. I have done Q&As for Bath Life Magazine and Odynovo – the tour operator that I used for my trips to China. I will add the interviews here when they are published. I have also got speaking gigs at the Bristol Lit Fest in October and the Shrewsbury Lit Fest in November 2018.
It’s not long till the launch party in Bath for Stranger In My Heart and I have been ordering special fortune cookies, refining the Spotify playlist, dreaming up decorations and looking forward to chef’s Asian inspired canapes. I am so excited to be welcoming the Mayor of Bath, the current Commanding Officer of Dad’s regiment (19RA, the Scottish Gunners), the ‘next generations’ of Dad’s colleagues from Hong Kong, the person who set the whole book in train and, not least, friends and family who supported the book to get it published.
To calm myself down I have been gardening and watching foals being born. Actually that’s just as exciting.