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).
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.
I simply loved it so, so much it was just beautiful. Secret World of a Book Blog
Throughout the book I was always impressed with the care and fine attention to detail. Jaffa Reads Too
Stranger in my heart is a well written and fascinating story…
Her writing drew me in and held me connected to the story throughout… This remarkable little book is one you should read. Books are my Cwtches
A revealing testament to wartime bravery and one’s place within the generations Books Life and Everything
This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. Bibliobeth
If you liked Dadland about Tom Carew’s escapades in World War II then this is another book that will appeal and that fills in the patchwork of personal stories about a war that changed the world. Halfman Halfbook
An easy, gripping read.
This is the first book that Mary has written and I hope she was write more as she has a great style of writing that makes history very interesting. Over the Rainbow Book Blog
Stranger in My Heart is a beautiful book, both personally insightful and rich in historic detail. The Literary Shed
Reviews in Full (click the link to see the original review for each blogger)
This book is my favourite now of the year. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and affection put into the writing. Mary picked me up and carried me throughout her journey through China and you follow in her father’s footsteps. I was full of emotion both happy and sad but most of all just felt that he was a true hero and his endeavours should never ever be forgotten. Lieutenant Colonel John Monro’s story should and must be shared. All stories from the war should be shared and we need to learn from them.
Mary’s writing was so passionate but respectful towards the dignity of not only her father, his friends, colleagues, Chinese people and Japanese people. I simply loved it so so much it was just beautiful. I hope Mary does not mind but I have both shared the book and have told pretty much everyone I know that they need to read this book as it has really touched me and I don’t think it’s a story that will ever leave me. Thank you Mary, you should be proud of this amazing book.
As a military wife and with many of my family members having fought in wars, I have certainly learnt a lot and will always share their stories to anyone willing to listen.
In order to know where we are going, we need to know where we have come from and in this interesting biography of Lieutenant Colonel John Monro, his daughter, the author, has given us a glimpse into the life of a courageous man who was caught up in the events leading up to, and during, WW2. Lieutenant Colonel Monro was heavily involved in the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941 but was captured by the Japanese and interred as a prisoner of war. In 1942, he made a successful escape, travelling over 1200 miles of hostile country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing.
When the author was growing up her father was a Shropshire farmer and she had no reason to be curious about his wartime exploits. However, as is so often the case, we never really know someone until they are gone from our lives, and following his death, the need to discover more about her father’s past life turned into this fascinating biography. Putting together the missing pieces of Monro’s life meant that some considerable research was needed, and by following in his footsteps and travelling across China, the author has written an intricately detailed portrayal of what made Lieutenant Colonel Monro into the person who was awarded the Military Cross for courage.
I read this biography over the course of several days, reading a chapter here and a chapter there, as the narrative is complex and intricately written, so to do the book justice I found it best to take my time with it, and not rush through it at top speed. Throughout the book I was always impressed with the care and fine attention to detail which gives so much fascinating information about a period in world history of which I knew absolutely nothing.
Researching the life of her father must have been an emotional journey for the author and, to her credit, she has succeeded in doing so in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
Stranger in my heart is a well written and fascinating story of a Mary Monro’s journey to discover the mystery of her father’s early life. Colonel John Monro died before she could really get to know him and so this book is as much about her own journey, as it is about the his brave role in the Second World War. Having lost my own father at a young age, I understand the need to fill in the gaps left by the death of a beloved parent and so I instantly felt an emotional connection with her incredible journey to discover her father’s fascinating story. Her writing drew me in and held me connected to the story throughout.
The history element of the book is absorbing and the writer has written it is such a way, you can hear not just her voice and thoughts, but also those of her father. This is done by the insertion of parts of his diaries which make fascinating reading. It is the perfect combination, because it is almost like you’re taking the journey with Mary Monro, as she took it in real life, discovering the man behind the father she thought she knew when he died. As he is revealed to her, he is to us through his words and her provision of back information and feelings.
If you have any interest in history that this remarkable little book is one you should read.
This is a book which you just know has been written straight from the author’s heart. Mary tells the story of her father, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro and his imprisonment, escape and endurance in the Far East during the Second World War. Mary has pieced together his story from his own writings- his diaries, letters and reports and taken it a stage further by retracing his steps across China. There is so much background detail included, so this biography is best read slowly, so as not to miss anything out.
The most powerful part of the biography is when you hear John’s own accounts and you get a sense of his understatement of the bravery needed. He has respect for the Chinese as human beings and a real sense of his humanity comes through. It is most telling that he did not like to speak of his exploits, particularly with reference to Burma and it reminded me of my own Grandfather who never spoke of his War Service in The Great War at the Battle of Gallipoli.
Mary’s journey into China is interesting in its own right. There is a sense of sorting out one’s place within the family and re-evaluating relationships. She comes to appreciate similarities between herself and her father and it is a very reflective and self-aware account.
In short: A revealing testament to wartime bravery and one’s place within the generations.
The subject of this memoir, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro was a considerably quiet, private and stoic man and the author of this book, his daughter Mary, knew surprisingly little about his struggles and the danger he faced as a soldier during the Second World War. It is only after he passes away that Mary makes a real effort to dig into his past, reading his diary entries from Hong Kong, marvelling at his escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and admiring his bravery as he faced a long trek through China, just to get to a place of safety. Moved by her father’s experiences, Mary takes it upon herself to attempt to carry out the exact same trip as her father, despite many place names in China having changed in the last seventy years. As she walks in her father’s footsteps, Mary feels that she connects with her father in a deeper manner and has such memorable encounters with people and places that can only be described as life-changing.
Stranger In My Heart feels like the reader is given access to a detailed account of the struggles of a very unassuming soldier by means of his diary entries. It was an honour to be a voyeur into John Monro’s life and the incredible journey he made through China, all the while in danger of losing his life. The memoir was all the more touching and authentic for the inclusion of the diaries and for Mary’s own individual trip, many years later. I particularly enjoyed her quiet humour of the author as she described a sign posted at a hotel she stayed at briefly:
“Lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden.”
Like Mary, I had to have a little chortle to myself. Wrestling?? This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. As I mentioned, the diary entries are incredibly thorough and so intriguing to read – straight from “the horse’s mouth,” so as to speak. Moreover, we also get a brief history of China (which I particularly loved as a Chinese history enthusiast!) and finally, snatches from the author’s own trip to try and recreate her father’s journey which read remarkably like a great travel book. I had great fun reading it and really appreciate the efforts Mary Monro made in researching her father’s life and recounting it for the interested outsider. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t help but think that it’s almost as if this journey/book has given Mary peace with both her father’s life and his death and it was a pleasure to be taken along for the ride.
When her father died, Mary was only 18. She never really knew him as a person, just as a slightly remote father figure who had loved running the farm where she and her three siblings lived. She had a happy childhood, grown up fairly self-reliant, had a love of horses and freedom, but his death left a void in all their lives. Mary would never have the opportunity to ask the questions that she wanted too. It was a few years after when she was at a party an old family friend of hers said that he was one of the great war heroes, that she realised that she knew so little about him. This book is the answer to the question; who is my father.
John Monro was born in 1914, at the dawn of the Great War and was schooled in Switzerland of all places. He joined the army as a Gentleman cadet in 1932 and was commissioned in 1934. In 1937 he was posted to the British colony of Hong Kong in the 8th Heavy Brigade of the Royal Artillery and was put in command of a troop of Chinese men. He had an interpreter called Cheung Yan-Lun who was born in Guangdong. They got on so well they were to become lifelong friends. Further appointments and promotions were made and he ended up at the HQ in Hong Kong with the rank of Brigade Major. This was early in 1941 and with the war in Europe there were even more rumours about a possible conflict in the far east but nothing had happened so far.
By the end of the year everything had changed; Japan had invaded and Monro was heavily involved in defending Hong Kong, but it was to no avail and the colony surrendered to the Japanese. Monro was one of those captured and sent to a POW camp. It classic English fashion, it wasn’t long before he escaped by swimming over to the mainland. This was the first in a series of dramatic events as he takes a long and convoluted route over 1200 miles to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing where he was once again involved again in the war effort.
All of these details Mary found out in the large envelope of letters and other documentation that was forthcoming from her mother. It was quite a job to collate and organise it, but possibly slightly harder to read his handwriting! To really get a feel for the places that he travelled through whilst evading capture would mean a trip out to China. Even though China is far more open than it used to be and there are the well-worn tourist trails to the Great Wall and the Forbidden Palace, there are parts of it that are still not easy to travel around, but thankfully she found a company and guide who were willing to help her see the place that her father once travelled through and her mother paid towards the trip as she was equally curious as to what had happened in his past life.
These personal histories of family members add so much more to history than the slightly tedious and dry military reports and official histories of events. Not only do you get to see the person in a different light, but the author’s emotional involvement makes for much better reading. It is the same with this journey to uncover the stories of her father John, a private man who like so many of his generation, did his duty and thought no more of it, let alone want to talk about it.
We are all geniuses with hindsight, you can sense her regret about not taking the time when she could to get to know him and understand what he went through during the war. This story of his life is her tribute to her father for all he stood for and all that he meant to all of his family. If you liked Dadland about Tom Carew’s escapades in World War II then this is another book that will appeal and that fills in the patchwork of personal stories about a war that changed the world.
Stranger In My Heart is a fascinating book that follows Mary as she tries to find out about her father’s WW2 experience and his heroic actions that he was awarded a Military Cross for. As with many people from his generation he didn’t talk much about his war experience so, after losing him at a young age, Mary was determined to find out more about her father.
For me I loved the historical element of this story. The second world war is one of my favourite periods in time and I’m always excited to discover new elements of it that I didn’t know much about before. I knew little about the war in Hong Kong & China so I found the chapters detailing her father’s experience there very fascinating. Mary cleverly breaks up the history with passages from her father’s diary which gives the narrative a much more personal feel and means that you feel like you know her dad personally.
Although this is an autobiography it doesn’t seem like one as Mary adopts an easy style of writing that isn’t too fact heavy making it an easy, gripping read. Maps, pictures and excerpts from her father’s diary helps break up the text and increased my understanding but also my enjoyment of the story.
It would have been easy for this to turn into a gushing story about her father but Mary doesn’t do that. Instead she just presents the facts to the reader to decide for themselves, although there is no question as to whether her father was a hero- he definitely was. The hardships and tragedy soldiers had to go through is unbelievable to read about and I have the utmost respect for everyone who fought!
This is the first book that Mary has written and I hope she was write more as she has a great style of writing that makes history very interesting.
“’Wisdom, compassion and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of man,’ said Confucius. And they are probably the three words I would use to summarise my father. He was also conservative to a Victorian degree, patriarchal and emotionally distant. A private man who liked parties. An adventurer who stayed home on the farm. A man who lived in the moment and planted trees that would not mature during his lifetime …”
Mary Monro was 18 when her father, John, a Shropshire-based farmer, died. Yet it was only years later, in 2007, at her mother’s 80th birthday party, that her curiosity about him was piqued, following a family friend’s pronouncement that her father was one of ‘the 20th-century Greats’.
Mary realised that she knew very little about John Monro, other than he’d been a lieutenant-colonel, had served in the Second World War, escaped from a Japanese war camp in Hong Kong and trekked across hard terrain to Chongqing, the Chinese wartime capital, after which he was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery. But was that really enough to warrant him being labelled one of the ‘Greats’? Thus began a quest to discover more about her father, one that would lead Mary first to his papers, from which she learned about his many heroic achievements, but then to China itself.
The resulting book is both personally insightful and rich in historic detail. The firsthand accounts from John Monro, a man, like many of his generation, entrenched in the day-to-day reality and brutality of war, and yet delighting in the culture and scenery of China, are interwoven with Mary’s own personal narrative, journeying to find ‘Dad and China’, ‘both undiscovered countries … both strangely familiar and impenetrably foreign’. Through following in his footsteps, Mary comes to realize just how courageous her father was, not just in escaping from the Japanese, but also in the work he did afterwards, such as with the BAAG, helping prisoners and refugees. She also begins to see how much his attitudes and mores have shaped her own, and those of her siblings.
During the course of the book, the questions Mary raises are universal: How much are we shaped by our parents? How far do they inform what we do? How we act? How we behave? For those of us, in particular, who have lost parents at comparatively early ages, young enough that we still saw them just as extensions of ourselves and not as independent people with their own personal narratives, these are important and often haunting questions.
Stranger in My Heart is a beautiful book, historically important, it’s true, but more than that, it’s the story of a woman finding her father years after his death and, in doing so, falling in love with him. And how joyous is that?
Another lovely review and a request to write more! So happy.
This gallery contains 9 photos.
Here is an interview with me about my book, over a nice cup of Chinese tea!
A blog tour is a way of generating reviews and interest in a book. Book bloggers are invited to post on a particular day, with a book review, extract, author Q&A or other unique content. These posts are shared on Twitter so that you are reaching out to a wide audience of book lovers and creating a buzz around your book. I am very grateful to Anne Cater for organising a tour for me and creating this terrific poster. My marketing career ended before the internet was invented and I am learning fast but I definitely need help!
The Stranger In My Heart tour starts next week and I will share some highlights here as well as on Twitter. One of the bloggers, @shhh_bookblog, has already read my book and says “what a book, a must read” which is a thrilling start!
It’s been a busy week. The cover of Stranger In My Heart is now finalised. I am moving forward with book marketing plans. I met up with my press photographer friend and we are planning a campaign in print media for the Bath/Wiltshire area, Shropshire and Hong Kong. He’s going to do a portrait shot of me at The Circus in Bath and will also be at the launch party in June, taking shots for the society pages in local magazines. We are preparing copy for press releases and I have been in touch with local independent bookshops inviting them to stock the book (and I’ve had very friendly responses from them!). The marvellous Anne Cater has organised a blog tour for me. The tour runs from 7 May – 17 May, which will generate reviews and create interest. I just totted up the total number of followers that my book bloggers have on Twitter and it’s over 40,000!
Next week I hope to find out when the book will actually be available. Thankyou for your patience.
When my Dad was Assistant Military Attache in Chongqing 1942-43, he worked closely with US General Claire Chennault. Chennault had founded the Flying Tigers and was a strategic thinker as well as an aviator. He crossed swords with US General Joe Stilwell over the strategy against Japan, arguing for an air war rather than the land war that Stilwell wanted, a story that I tell in my book. In 1944 Chennault met and fell in love with a Chinese journalist, Chen Xiangmei, 30 years his junior. General Chennault died in 1958, but his wife, usually known by her English name of Anna Chennault, has only just died. Her obituary tells of her work with 8 US presidents.
This photo of the Chennaults was taken in 1948.