I recently visited the Modern Art gallery in Edinburgh to see the Ray Harryhausen exhibition. He was an animator and creator of special effects for films such as One Million Years BC and Jason and the Argonauts. It turns out that he was inspired by the film King Kong (1933) made by Merian Cooper. You may remember that Cooper features in Stranger In My Heart, as during the Second World War he was made Chief of Staff to Gen. Claire Chennault of the USAF in China.
Cooper was a forward thinker and supported Chennault in creating a plan to defeat the Japanese using air power. Part of this plan involved retaking Hong Kong and thereby liberating the PoWs there, which was Dad’s ambition. Dad realised that rescuing troops unfit to fight would not be a strategic priority but, as part of a wider plan with the support of the Americans, it might have worked. Dad and Cooper had several meetings to build the plan in November 1942 and it was presented to the Heads of Government at the Washington Conference in May 1943. Although the plan was approved it never achieved the necessary resources to deliver it and the PoWs continued to suffer till the end of the war.
Post-war, Cooper made many films with his directing partner, John Ford, including Mighty Joe Young (1949) with Ray Harryhausen’s animated special effects.
It was interesting to see Harryhausen’s work and to discover the connection with Merian Cooper. There were some amazing models featured in the exhibition, see below. It’s on till Feb 2022 so if you’re in Edinburgh, go and see it!
9 June is the birthday of Stranger In My Heart (2018) and Dad (1914). I’m offering a birthday gift of a signed, dedicated copy of the Stranger In My Heart paperback for the special discounted price of £9.99 including UK postage. You also get a free SIMH bookmark with each copy. Limited period only, order via the Paypal link in the sidebar and message me via the Contact page if you want a dedication for anyone other than the purchaser.
Military historian Kwong Chi Man sent me this picture of Dad via Twitter. He found it in the WWII Veteran Association Clubhouse in Hong Kong. Dad looks very young and the photo was taken at the “Vienna Studio Bombay” so I am guessing it was taken on his way out to HK in 1937, when he was a young Second Lieutenant on his first posting.
The book has been an interesting way of connecting with all sorts of people – distant relations, families of men mentioned in Dad’s account of the battle of Hong Kong and his escape, military historians and the many veterans’ families who share a connection to the Pacific War. I hope the book contributes to a more complete history of the Second World War, along with the many other stories that families are now able to discover for themselves about their ancestors. It’s not all about the big battles and the strategic moves – it’s a human history of bravery, resilience and suffering. We shall remember them.
Stranger In My Heart was born on 9th June 2018, so it is the book’s 2nd birthday today (and Dad’s 106th)! I have learned a lot about book marketing over the last two and a half years, not least that it is time consuming and requires constant attention to Twitter, Facebook and the rest. I did my best and I really enjoyed the launch party and the various events that I spoke at. Thankyou to everyone who helped along the way, with support, encouragement, book buying, review writing, tea, cake and general loveliness. Sales naturally slow down after a while, especially when events that might have been useful in promoting the book have all been cancelled…
I was supposed to speak at a conference in June, commemorating the 75th anniversary of VJ day (VJ75). I was looking forward to talking about Dad’s efforts to liberate the PoWs he’d left behind in Hong Kong, and meeting veterans and their families. The conference is rescheduled for next year so I hope to speak then. VJ75 is a major milestone, conference or no, but it is very much the poor relation compared to the attention paid to VE day. Perhaps by August 15 we will be able to get together to mark VJ75, sort of in lieu of the celebrations that were supposed to be held on VE75. If so, that might raise awareness in the wider population of the war in the Far East. Every cloud…
I am thoroughly fed up with lockdown now. All my favourite events have been cancelled and everything that was in the diary between now and the year end has gradually been deleted. I have enjoyed the opportunity to get on with writing my book about my great aunt, and we are loving exploring Edinburgh, but I miss seeing people and going places and eating out and holidays. I know I am immensely privileged to have a happy home, good health, reliable internet and enough money to keep me going and I do count my blessings. But, well, you know. Stay safe and well and we’ll meet again…
It is almost a year since Stranger In My Heart was launched. I have recently received my royalty statement from Unbound which said that, in the 9 months from June 2018 to March 2019 I sold about 1,000 copies, half e-book and half paperback edition. I’m told that I should be pleased about this, even if it seems small reward for the blood, sweat and tears that went into the project! It also means that I have over £800 to donate to the Riding for the Disabled Association. I am figuring out how to donate it for maximum impact and will keep you posted.
The TV company that are making a documentary series to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 have told me that they won’t be filming me after all, but it will still be great to have the Hong Kong story told on prime time TV. The show will air in the autumn and they have said they’ll tell me when it is on.
Next week I have the first of several talks to Women’s Institutes in Wiltshire. As it is a lovely sunny day I thought I’d go and sit in the garden and read my book! As in read MY book. I’ve become so focused on my work in progress that I’ve forgotten the details of Stranger In My Heart and I don’t want to look an idiot by not being able to answer questions about it!
I just heard from the Commanding Officer of 19RA, the Regiment that Dad commanded in the 1950s. They have a scrapbook detailing what they were doing throughout his Command, including their activities in Korea and Hong Kong. I am going to go over to Larkhill in a few weeks to have a look at it. It will fill in an annoying gap in my knowledge of his army career. Here he is in front of his troops in Korea. It says it’s the Queen’s Birthday Parade, but 9th June is also Dad’s birthday.
Stranger In My Heart was in the news again last week, this time in the Wiltshire Times. Since I added a media kit to the website the level of accuracy in news reports has definitely increased! If only I had a background in marketing I would probably do these things automatically. Sigh.
I am now booked to speak to three Wiltshire WIs in June and July, following my slightly terrifying audition back in November. I am sure it will be much more fun when I have longer to speak and there is a more cosy atmosphere. Other than these speaking engagements I am winding down the promotional activities a bit to devote more time to my next book.
This one will be about my great aunt Dora, who earned her mathematics degree aged nineteen in 1911, set up her own business selling calculating machines aged 24 and built a computing business that supplied the bombe machines to the Bletchley Park codebreakers and created one of the world’s first electronic computers. It’s going to be quite feminist!
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!).
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.