Stranger in my Heart by Mary Monro ** Author Interview & Review**

Today I am welcoming Mary Monro to Books, Life and Everything to talk about the book she has written about her father's wartime activities in the Far East and her quest to uncover what happened. Before we meet Mary, here is a little about her book, Stranger in my Heart, in her own words.


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”

Travel pass 1942




Welcome to  Books, Life and Everything.Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing.

Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?

I was born and raised in Shropshire and I now live in Jane Austen’s
city of Bath. My wedding took place at the Guildhall during the Jane Austen Festival in September 2010. We arrived in a carriage drawn by two horses, surrounded by local folk dressed up in period costume - I think the tourists had a good day that day! I have written stories since I was a child but my adult writing has been dominated by academic papers and consultancy reports. When I went to China in 2013 to retrace my Dad’s escape route from Hong Kong to Chongqing, I wrote a blog in preference to sending postcards. My friends and relations persuaded me to convert my experiences into a book. I didn’t really know what that would mean at the time.

When did you decide to retrace your father’s wartime experiences and why?

It has been quite a long drawn out process. I always knew that Dad had made a daring escape across China, but I didn’t know the details. When a family friend described Dad as a ‘20th Century Great’ at Mum’s 80th birthday party in 2007, I was shocked by the realisation that I knew nothing about him as a person – he was just a stranger I called Dad. I asked my mother about his military history and she gave me a large brown envelope full of his documents – letters, diaries, reports, photographs and such like. It took a while to transcribe and understand. I figured out his escape route and felt driven to walk in his footsteps – the written word just wasn’t enough to understand who he was. Then it proved another challenge to find a tour operator who could help me plan the trip and a bit longer to learn enough Mandarin to feel comfortable going off piste in China.  I thought I was exploring Dad but actually it turned into a voyage of self-discovery as well.

Did you discover anything which surprised you?

I didn’t know that my Dad had attempted an unclimbed peak in the Himalayas in 1946 with the help of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay! And, strangely, I went hiking in the Himalayas in 1992 (Dad died in 1981) in the adjacent valley. Considering the vast extent of the Himalayan range, that counts as practically the same spot. There were many times on this journey when I felt I was running parallel to Dad, or that we share a turn of phrase or have a similar response to a situation.

What do you think your father would have thought about your book?

He was a modest man and silent regarding his achievements. I fear that he may have regarded my publicising his life as a kind of well-intentioned betrayal. I have thought long and hard about it and I feel that my fundamental purpose is to encourage others to research their own family history and thereby to enrich their own lives, honour their ancestors and speak up for the silent generation. So, sorry Dad but it’s not all about you!

What research did you do if any before you set off?

Before I went to China I mainly researched my Dad’s immediate story to understand the Battle of Hong Kong, what he did and where he went on his escape route and what he did when he was Assistant Military Attaché in Chongqing. It was only when I set about the writing project in earnest that I did much more research into the context of his story. I always need to understand the big picture and so I read around the subject of China’s war, its relationships with the Allied powers and the story of the Allies in the Far East in WW2. I also read the accounts of other escapers and tried to understand the PoW mentality, particularly for those incarcerated in the Far East. I have found all the research to be absolutely fascinating and it has really helped me to appreciate Dad’s world view.


Have you any new writing projects in mind which you can share?

I have another family member whose life story I would like to tell. My Great Aunt Dora was a pioneer of the British computing industry – she began work in 1915 after reading Classics at Oxford and Mathematics in London. Her company supplied Alan Turing with the computing machines that he used to crack the enigma code. She eventually retired to a Scottish loch, with no running water or electricity and only accessible by boat. The house she rented there was owned by the Special Ops Executive. I hope you can tell why I might find her story intriguing!


Can you sum up the experience of writing your book in 3 words?

Enriching, Enlightening, Exciting.

Thank you so much, Mary. Your father's story certainly is a fascinating one and I must say it would be great to meet your Great Aunt Dora!

                                                                               My Thoughts
This is a book which you just knows 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.   
                                                                           About the Author


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.


You can follow Mary here: Website  |  Twitter

Book links: Unbound 

Thanks to Mary Monro, Unbound and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for a copy of the book and a place on the tour.  

Check out the rest of the tour!



Comments

  1. This is wonderful, thanks so much for the Blog Tour support x

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  2. Brilliant review, thankyou! I'm so pleased that you seem to have really understood what I was trying to say. I hope you'll be inspired to learn more about your gandfather's story - I promise you will find it a rewarding experience.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Yours is an inspiring story.

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