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.
I have just travelled across Jordan for a week and have come home with 250 amazing photographs, almost all of landscapes and rock formations. There was something deeply resonant about the country, that several of us noticed, something that chimed with a fundamental aspect of us. Jordan is at the centre of the bible lands, the home territory not just to Christianity but to Judaism and Islam. The minimal signs of modern life as you journey through the desert allow you to really feel a current coming up from the deep. Our response to landscape is often driven by practical concerns – is it safe? Is it habitable? But this was different. With every photo I took I was driven by the beauty of my surroundings and, at a deeper level, a search for the divine.
I was struck by a sacred carving of an omphalos (umbilicus) at Petra. This represents the centre of the world, the starting point from which all things emanate. The carving is on the wall of the siq – the narrow gorge that eventually opens out to the famous Treasury, a birth canal if ever there was one.
Did ancient people also feel that there was something very special about this place? Jordan is the land of the Old Testament and home to the grave of Moses. The Nabateans lived here from the 4th Century BC and were fabulously wealthy traders in Frankincense and Myrrh, important consecrated incenses. Petra was their city, at the precise crossing point of trade routes from India to Egypt and from Arabia to Damascus. As the siq opens out to the Treasury, it is as shocking (in spite of having seen the image many times) as an infant’s first sight of the outside world must be. Amazing, incomprehensible, impressive, overwhelming.
The snowday was a bother. We intended to go to Leeds, for my book talk, via Chester to visit my cousin and then via elderly friends in Yorkshire. I was feeling overwhelmed by impending deadlines so we dropped the Chester visit. Then Julian got a cold and it didn’t seem fair to inflict that on the elderly friends and then it began to snow. I booked a train to Leeds but on Sunday morning it was snowing heavily and the Cross Country Trains website warned of severe delays and cancellations, so I decided to stay home. Luckily I had recorded my 15 minute presentation and sent it to the FEPOW History team so that they could at least play that. I was very sad to miss the opportunity to meet them all though.
So, I had Saturday to Tuesday free to prepare my lecture on vascular changes at birth and to read the proofs for Stranger In My Heart. Phew! The proofs are my final chance to make any changes and correct any errors and it was essential to read all 75,000 words very carefully. It’s done and returned to the editorial department, along with all the permissions from other publishers allowing me to quote copyrighted works in my book. For my lecture I have to do a lot of research and it takes time to find relevant papers, read and understand them and then convert them into a clinically relevant presentation. I’m not there yet but I have made a good start. Best of all, it feels like the pressure is off a bit.
In other news, I’ve seen some draft designs for my book cover, but we’re not quite finalised yet. I’m also busy planning a party to celebrate the launch of the book. Exciting times!
Last week I had a conversation with my award winning cover designer for Stranger In My Heart. He asked all sorts of interesting questions about books whose covers I like, competitors for my book, the mood I want to create and so on, as well as asking for things to put on the cover, such as a ‘shout line’ and quotes from VIP readers. I can’t wait to see his ideas – his work is very diverse and so it will be a wonderful surprise.
I asked my dear niece Sophie to help me to make my website more discoverable – she’s an SEO whiz as well as being a fresh pair of eyes. You may notice that this blog comes from a new address, intended to be more obvious and findable. I have been making good use of Snowmaggedon to sort out the website, start putting together a list of PR targets and arrange a blog tour. And writing my speech for the Future Memories talk in a couple of weeks. They are going to be strict about limiting talks to 15 minutes, so I have scripted what I want to say. Not my style really, but better than being cut off mid-sentence.
It looks like the book will be out at the end of April or in May. I can’t be more precise yet but it is soon…
I just had an email from Unbound to say they are closing the supporters list this Sunday 25th Feb. If you want your name in the back of the book, a signed copy and my undying gratitude, PLEASE sign up now. Go to my Unbound project page, hit the Pledge button and it will explain the rest for you. Spread the word! Thanks a million.
More exciting news soon but I just had to let you know about this straight away. In haste…
Happy New Year of the Dog 2018! This year is supposed to be a year of action and it is certainly starting off that way. I now have an idea of publication date for Stranger In My Heart and it is soon! The copy edit is done so I can have my draft copies to send out to reviewers. Unbound sent me a cover design questionnaire so that they can get started on that – as it happens the Art Director is based in Frome! The next steps also include proof reading and typesetting and altogether the final processes are supposed to take about 6 weeks. I am hoping that my lovely (and patient) supporters will have signed copies in their hot little hands in early April, with public launch at the end of April. I have gone from being impatient to see the book published to feeling that it now seems terrifyingly soon. Time to dig out my PR and Promotion hat and get to work!
Next month I am speaking about my book at Leeds University at an event titled Future Memories organised by the Researching Far East PoWs History Group. This is a seed event for bigger things planned for 2020 when it will be the 75th anniversary of VJ day. I’m excited to be involved and hope that I will also be able to take part in the events in a couple of years time. There are lots of great speakers – we only have 15 minutes each, sort of speed dating for authors/academics – so it will be interesting to meet everyone. We are combining our trip to the North with visits to family and friends and we are really looking forward to it.
January was a mixture of of great excitement and terrible grief. The darling dog died on the 4th, leaving us in heartbroken ruins. The universe kindly stepped in, making almost every day damp, dark and miserable, so that my usual early start with a dog walk seemed unattractive as compared to staying in bed with a cup of tea. We miss his constant companionship, unconditional love and trust and his silky soft ears.
Unbound asked me to seek permission for the quotes I have used in Stranger In My Heart. Mostly rights are held by publishers but, after a few decades, rights often revert to the family of the author. This has meant that I have made contact with several of the families of other escapers from Hong Kong, expanding my community of Dad’s old colleagues. I hope I shall meet up with some of them to find out more about these men and what became of them.
Meanwhile, I have been working on the copy edit to finalise the draft. I think it is pretty much completed now and I’m really pleased with it. I want to send out a few copies of the book to people who’ve agreed to look at it with a view to providing cover quotes (assuming they like it!) and it should now be possible for Unbound to print it for me. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this!
Since I last wrote there have been some exciting developments. The structural edit has been completed and so the book is now in its final form. The next stage is the copy edit where my self-image as a brilliant speller and grammatician (is that a word?) will no doubt be shattered. Can’t wait! I am currently putting feelers out for gigs at literary festivals and contacting people for reviews and cover quotes, as I will soon have a draft in my hand and a publication date (fingers crossed). If you look at the book page on this website you’ll see that I’ve updated the chapter summaries, so, if you’ve ordered a copy, you will have a little preview of what you are going to receive.
One of my purposes in writing the book is to encourage others to do the same – at least to explore their family history and thereby enrich their lives. As part of this theme, I have contacted a few of the descendants of people who Dad mentions in his account of the battle of Hong Kong. Charles Boxer went on to be an eminent professor after the war and I have made contact with his daughter, who was thrilled to learn a little more about her Dad’s wartime history. I have also found the grandson of Ted Hunt, who was insanely brave and died in the battle. He and his siblings were already proud of their grandfather, but were delighted to have a personal snippet from probably the last colleague to see him alive. I have also been in touch with some long lost cousins of my own. The offspring of my father’s brothers have been rather rare visitors in my life, but I hope this process will bring us closer together. It’s all immensely satisfying.
I think 2018 is going to be a very interesting year for me and I hope it will be for you too.
October was a very busy month. Ages ago I agreed to run a course on vascular endothelium (the innermost lining of all blood vessels) for the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy. One of osteopathy’s founding principles is that ‘the rule of the artery is supreme’ and this is an update on what that means. I’ve taught on this topic before but it is a hot topic for medical research so I knew I needed to update my work. I also needed to expand it to fill the day. All went well but it did keep me fully occupied. Then, thanks to a chance remark I made on Twitter, I was asked to write about the endothelium and consciousness for a philosophy blog. My post was published 13 November and is titled “Hearts and Minds: The Mystery of Consciousness”. A couple more distractions ensued and now, finally, I can get on with the edit. Yay! I’ve been hard at it all day today and have set myself a deadline of the end of November. Which is quite soon. But I have so many other projects in the pipeline that I just have to get on with it and, anyway, we will at last be able to set a publication date when this draft is completed. And now I have to change into ’70s gear for a party. Where are those silver boots and blue eye shadow?
So the edit came back and I must say it is impressive. I haven’t completely absorbed it all yet but mostly I think the changes made improve the book and will make it clearer and easier to follow. There are one or two cuts that I can’t agree with but I assume that’s normal. I don’t actually know how best to go through the document and rework it, but one of my fellow authors at Unbound, James Ellis, who is also a professional editor, has offered to help. Meanwhile I am totally chuffed with the editor’s opening paragraph – I pretty much stopped reading when I got to the end of it, thinking “it’s not going to get any better than this!”:
“Your memoir has a great (and commercial) premise, and I really enjoyed reliving your father’s earlier life experiences and learning more about this fascinating period in WWII history. He was a stoic, level-headed and resourceful personality who lived a fuller life than most, but chose not to shout about his achievements. WWII is of perennial interest as a genre and Princess Anne’s Foreword helps to give this gravitas. Your writing is polished, your descriptions are vivid, your questions are intelligent and you’ve clearly done a lot of research”.
I am away on an osteopathy course this weekend and I have a course that I am teaching in early November which I need to finalise my preparations for, so I am going to have to squeeze editing in around the edges. Oops – I just read James’ top ten dos and dont’s – number one don’t is to blog about writing when you should be writing!