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Owl at Midnight

– a story of Gwenllian 

the lost Princess of Wales



Patricia Lennan

ISBN: 978-0-9935078-3-0



Waterstones, Llandudno

Thursday November 16th 2017

5 – 6.30pm




gwenllianThe story of the story

When some years ago Patricia visited her uncle’s house at Abergwyngregyn and discovered that this was where the last native Princess of Wales was born, she was intrigued!



Shortly after Gwenllian was born, her father, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, and her uncle, Dafydd, were cruelly killed by King Edward’s men, and her boy cousins, Llywelyn and Owain were incarcerated in prison for their remaining days.


But the Norman king was determined be rid of any heir to the Welsh Principality, even a baby girl was a threat, and so he hunted down the infant Gwenllian and hid her away in a convent at Sempringham, Lincolnshire.


It is recorded that Gwenllian’s keep was paid for by the King, but she was renamed when entering the convent and it is likely that she never knew who she really was.


The book

These are the bare bones of Gwenllian’s story from which Patricia has brought to life a young woman schooled in the ways of a 13th century Gilbertine Abbey but pushing at the boundaries and questioning the rules that confine her.


Outside the convent tumultuous events are taking place and hopes rise to restore the Principality of Wales …  Of course, you’ll need to read the story to find out what happens!

If you like historical fiction you will love this book. It is well researched, with wonderful detail that captures the daily life of people during the iron rule of Edward Longshanks, King of England and ruler of a reluctant Wales.


In Patricia’s words

‘Wales has a reputation for being a land of myths and legends. She harbours magic in the hollows and hills, in secret places, the rivers and valleys echo with ancient tales. I invite you to step into the living history and share an adventure.’


Coming to the book launch?
Please let Jenny know if you can so we have an idea of numbers – Mail@LittleKnollPress.co.uk
Would like to pre-order a copy of the book?
A link will be put here in the next couple of days. 

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Neil in eminent company at the Royal Asiatic Society, London

Neil T. Sinclair

author of the book

Letters from Manchuria

gave a fascinating talk to the

Hong Kong group

Royal Asiatic Society

August 5th 2017

Neil points to an example of his mother-in-law, Marion Young’s letters from Manchuria

Neil and his wife, Helen, first selected and transcribed sections of the letters written by Helen’s mother, Marion Young, over the six years from 1935 – 1941 that she spent in the north east Chinese province of Manchuria.


They then chose photos from the albums she had brought back from China to illustrate her story.

Helen and Neil transcribing Marion’s letters

So why would a young Irish woman want to go there, so far away from family and the place she knew?

Neil quoted a passage from the unpublished memoir of Margaret Griffiths, a school friend of Marion’s, explaining how even before she was ten years old she knew what she wanted to do.


… None of us had such clear ambitions. We were going to be film stars, actresses, spies, poets, university professors, dancers, doctors, duchesses, nurses decorated for gallantry in war, everything by starts and nothing long. Marion was going to be a missionary. It was not a day-dream, but an intention; she had no need for day-dreams.’

Margaret Griffiths is on the left and Marion is standing second from right

Marion with schoolgirls in Faku


Marion & Wang Suu Wen with baggage bearer

Helen with schoolgirls in Faku

Margaret also wrote of her good nature –


… It was the good and simple spirit in her which made her so dear a friend to all who knew her. In her company, life seemed to be a straightforward matter, with the orderly gladness of a Bach chorale. She passed securely through chaos with serenity of heart. Fortified as she was by this serenity, it was fitting that she should become an adventurer.


And an adventurer she did become, her good humour and very Irish sense of fun shining through her letters from Faku, although when she had the opportunity to avoid the censors by sending letters with colleagues who were travelling home for furlough she gave a fuller picture of the cruel oppression of the Chinese by the Japanese regime.


In 1941 the regime brought Marion and thousands of others greater grief … but that is for you to read in the book, as is her joy when her worst fears were not realised.


Helen’s brother, Harry, spots himself – much younger, at Berkeley Castle, armed with sword for boys’ adventures!

Helen, Mr Sung, Harry and Joy 1956

Harry and nephew, Tom. Can you see they’re related?

You can buy Letters from Manchuria from www.LittleKnollBookshop.co.uk and from your local bookshop by request.

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An inspiring visit

to the


Art Gallery & Museum


Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth

Alan Langford contemplates ‘The Gypsy Drovers’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch

It is a rare treat to visit the work that has inspired a painter, in the company of that painter.

Alan Langford, equestrian artist and highly skilled graphic artist, invited a group of friends and fellow artists to visit the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery with him to see the large oil, ‘The Gypsy Horse Drovers’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch, painted in 1894 when Lucy was a student under Herbert Von Herkomer RA.

In his book WELGORA Alan wrote about the day when Lucy was inspired to do this painting:

‘The idea for this painting occurred to her when she saw the approach of a number of heavy-hoofed cobs, driven by tough-looking Romani riders along a muddy country lane, under a grey wintry sky.

Rushing from her lodgings with palette and brushes in hand, and the lid of her paint box to serve as a paint board, she executed a swift and skilful composition as this irregular, rampant procession proceeded before her.’

Lucy Kemp-Welch sketching The Gypsy Drovers on her paint box lid – Illustration by Alan Langford in the book ‘WELGORA’

One of the group inspecting the small head of a horse by Lucy Kemp-Welch. (On the other side of this picture is mounted Lucy’s paint box lid with the sketch for ‘The Gypsy Drovers’)

The curator of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Duncan Walker, showed us the actual sketch on the paint box lid.
This stunning little oil sketch is a very special art work in itself, showing movement and detail in a few quick strokes of the brush, with the texture of the rough wood adding a further dimension.
The painted paint box lid is on the back of the picture of a horse’s head shown in this photo, also by Lucy Kemp-Welch.
I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of the box lid, but … what better excuse to go to the art gallery and see it for yourself?

Lucy went on to paint ‘The Gypsy Horse Drovers‘ on an 8 foot long canvas – an enormous project for a diminutive young woman (she was in her early twenties) and in that Victorian time.

Alan explains in his book WELGORA how with trepidation Lucy presented the unfinished painting to be viewed by Herkomer, a man not averse to putting a huge black cross of paint across a student’s work if it was not to his approval!

But as Alan writes:

‘Herkomer was so impressed by ‘The Gypsy Horse Drovers’ that he recommended that Lucy submit it for the next Royal Academy Exhibition.

This she did, and it was hung in a good position just above the line and was quickly purchased by Sir Frederic Harris for £60.00.

At that time £60.00 represented a significant sum; Lucy would have been overjoyed.’

Part of the scene depicted in ‘The Gypsy Drovers’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch

Barry Miles and Peter Frost discuss ‘Gypsy Horses’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch

This was just the beginning of Lucy’s career, which included illustrating the children’s book, Black Beauty.


Her large oil ‘Gypsy Horses’, also in the Russell-Cotes Gallery, is shown in this photo being admired by Barry Miles, author and watercolour artist, and Peter Frost, painter, professional printer and retired New Forest Verderer.
There is something different to see at every turn in the Russell-Cotes Gallery – paintings, marble busts, Japanese incense burners, memorabilia, painted ceilings, stained glass, mosaic work and bronzes, all collected by the Russell-Cotes over the years from 1880 to 1901.
They travelled back from Japan with over 100 packing cases full of art and collectables!
The museum and gallery building, East Cliff Hall, was gloriously designed to the directions of Merton Russell-Cotes, as a gift to his wife. Its late Victorian style mixes Moorish, Japanese and French influences, making for exotic and indulgent surroundings.
It’s easy to find a piece to sit in front of and savour, and it’s also easy to miss a dozen others, but this makes it worth visiting again and again.
Apart from the paintings, which have been added to since 1902, the artwork that particularly took my eye on this visit was a glazed Parian ware figure of a boy, dressed in lederhosen and Tyrolean hat.
I used to make ceramic models of people and the largest I made was quite a challenge at about 12 inches tall.
This nearly life size figure was used for advertising in a dairy shop in Austria.
How did the artist make such a perfectly detailed piece of such size and how was it transported from pottery to shop, and then from country to country to arrive at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery?

Near life size boy in Parian ware

A part of the painting ‘The Little Beggar’ by Laura Knight

I was also intrigued by the story of Laura Knight, who in the early 1930s used to drive out to gypsy encampments and set up her ‘studio’ in the back of her Rolls-Royce.
Here you can see only a part of her large canvas ‘The Little Beggar’.
Laura Knight’s most notable paintings is ‘The Nuremberg Trial‘. This thought-provoking painting is at The Imperial War Museum, London.
This only touches on the artwork at the gallery and museum.
I aim to go again.
Next time you’re in Bournemouth why not drag yourself away from the beach and walk up East Cliff to the art gallery and museum. It will be well worth it!

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Get Creative

Workshops in Hythe Library

a Waterside Arts Festival event

On Saturday 15th July

you can get creative at Hythe Library with local artists and authors

Alan Langford    Gervase Gregory

Anthony Ridgway and Suzan Houching

There will be two workshops for all ages

they will be fun and they are FREE!




Alan painting at Eyeworth Pond

The first workshop

will run from 10 – 11 am

with Alan Langford

author and illustrator of




Gervase at Waterstones, Lymington






Gervase Gregory

author and illustrator of

A Lifetime in Postcards



Postcard of Prospect Place, Hythe, from original watercolour by Gervase Gregory

Alan and Gervase will share their skills in drawing and painting, as well as their wonderful stories of local places and people.







Sketch of the artist painting in the New Forest, pencil and wash by Alan Langford

Come along with your questions and your stories, pick up tips and to try out your own drawing, painting and writing. 








Anthony and Suzan discussing the illustrations for ‘Wizzy the Animal Whisperer’

The second workshop

will be from 11.15 – 12.30pm

with Anthony Ridgway

author of

Wizzy the Animal Whisperer


Suzan Houching

the author and illustrator of

My Story in Colour

and the illustrator of Anthony’s Wizzy book.


Anthony, who has cerebral palsy, writes using a special computer programme, a bit like Prof. Stephen Hawking.

At the workshop he will explain this in a short video



Dan and Wizzy meet Nellie the horse, an illustration from ‘Wizzy the Animal Whisperer’

Anthony’s funny and colourful story is brought to life perfectly with Suzan’s illustrations – a collaboration predicted to run and run!



‘Red and White’, a watercolour illustration from Suzan’s book ‘My Story in Colour’





Suzan has a gift for finding the humour in everyday life and this can be seen in her delightful book My Story in Colour


Come along and be inspired.
You can just walk in on the day
or let the library staff or the organiser Jenny@LittleKnollPress.co.uk know beforehand and be sure of a workshop place.

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‘How I Write’

by Anthony Ridgway

Anthony Ridgway has made this short video to show how he wrote his children’s book Wizzy the Animal Whisperer.


Anthony, who has cerebral palsy and is partially sighted, writes using Dolphin Guide, a computer programme that enables him to find the keys on a large keyboard with the computer speaking out each letter, number and space as he presses the relevant key.
     It is a similar way of writing to that used by Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, but Stephen uses a combination of head, eye, and cheek movements to operate the computer, as well as predicted text which speeds up his writing.
     Using Dolphin Guide on his PC, Anthony writes for an hour or two each day. It is a laborious process … as Anthony says, Because I only write with one finger, it takes me about a year to write a book.


“Wizzy, the Animal Whisperer made me laugh out loud.” David Suchet


“. . . funny, imaginative and extremely visual, and the wonderful illustrations by the talented Suzan Houching bring this great story to life even more.” Ros Holness


To buy the book Wizzy the Animal Whisperer

written by Anthony Ridgway

and illustrated by

Suzan Houching

go to LittleKnollBookshop  


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Anthony R in studio croppedIt was a great day in London for Wizzy and his author

Anthony Ridgway

attending the audio-recording of

Wizzy the Animal Whisperer

voiced by

David and Sheila Suchetwizzy-book-cover-front-b-200ppi-rgb



In the children’s story, written by Anthony and illustrated by Suzan Houching, Wizzy and his friends, Dan, James and Sophie, set out to solve a mystery on their farm holiday and end up having an amazing adventure with the help of Wizzy’s special powers.


Anthony R boarding train 6inW 200ppiActually, it was Wizzy’s alter ego who went to London with Anthony, this being a manual wheelchair with electric drive fitted to the large wheels – a bit like an electric bicycle. ‘Alter Ego’ Wizzy allows Anthony to sit a bit lower than in ‘old faithful’ Wizzy and this gives enough headroom for both of them to get into a London Cab.


On train 6inW 200ppiThe railway journeys worked wonderfully. There was help on hand at each railway station to place the ramp (this was organised beforehand by Grethe, Anthony’s mum and main carer) and once on the train we found ourselves guardians of the accessible toilet, it being conveniently situated opposite the space allocated for wheelchairs and bicycles! We also had a good view of the passing countryside …

Ant in cab 6inW 200ppiAt Waterloo Station we joined the queue for a cab and with the help of our Cabby manoeuvred Wizzy up the ramp and into the central space of the cab. Wizzy just fitted with a bit of wriggling, and then Grethe and I climbed in and squeezed onto the seats.
I must admit, seeing Anthony’s face when Wizzy reached the top of the ramp, I could hear the words he had written in his book –
[Dan] ‘I felt a brief sensation of fear. Was this such a good idea?
[Wizzy] “I will protect you, Dan. Do not worry.”
[Dan] “Nothing gets past you does it?”’


Rehearsing 6inW 200ppiArriving at the RNIB Talking Books Studios, we found the studio manager, Daryl Chapman, there to greet us, and he guided us down the lift and into the recording suites. David and Sheila Suchet were already in the studio, rehearsing the book script while the sound engineer, Paul Pink, adjusted the sound levels ready for recording.
Ant in recording booth 6inW 200ppiThe ‘large’ recording technician’s booth had just enough room for Anthony (and Wizzy) to get a front stall view and Grethe and I to stand behind Paul. The recording started and we were spellbound …
We had set David and Sheila a challenge, asking them to conjure up different voices for each of eight characters.
Anthony’s writing is dialogue driven, logical as his hearing is very acute. This required each character in Wizzy the Animal Whisperer to have his or her own distinct voice.
recording 6inW 200ppiDavid took the parts of narrator, Dan, Wizzy, Neil Hayes and the Police officer, and Sheila took the parts of James, Sophie, Mrs Braishfield and Karl – quite a task, especially when changing from one character to another during a quick exchange of words.
Of course, David and Sheila were up to it, producing the whole range of voices, and without hesitation – in Wizzy’s words, “Affirmative. I’ve processed the information. My speeds are the best.”
Ant, Sheila & David 6inW 200ppi
It was a wonderful day and our thanks go to the railway services, the London cabbies, RNIB Talking Books Studios, and most of all to David and Sheila Suchet.
Without Anthony we couldn’t have done it, and, as the children say in the book, We couldn’t have done it without Wizzy.”



The audiobook will be coming soon. Please email me if you would like a copy – jenny@littleknollpress.co.uk


wizzy-front-of-pcard-invitation-250ppi-rgbThe printed book, beautifully illustrated by Suzan Houching, is available now.
To buy a copy click on the picture to the right

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norwood school 2 cropped

Pupils of Norwood Primary School with Anthony Ridgway, Grethe Ridgway and ‘Wizzy the Animal Whisperer’

On 1st March 2017 in preparation for

World Book Day

children’s author

Anthony Ridgway

enthralled pupils of Norwood Primary School with his recently published book


the Animal Whisperer


Ant with keyboard 10.64cmW 400ppi RGB colour adjAnthony, who has cerebral palsy and is partially sighted, writes using Dolphin Guide, a computer programme that enables him to find the keys on a large keyboard with the computer speaking out each letter, number and space as he presses the relevant key.

    It is a similar way of writing to that used by Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, but Stephen uses a combination of head, eye, and cheek movements to operate the computer, as well as predicted text which speeds up his writing.

    Using Dolphin Guide on his PC, Anthony writes for an hour or two each day. It is a laborious process … as Anthony says, “Because I only write with one finger, it takes me about a year to write a book.


Norwood school 1 cropped

The children were fascinated to hear Anthony speak, look at the lovely book illustrations by Suzan Houching and listen to some pages from Wizzy the Animal Whisperer being read out loud.



They had lots of questions for Anthony, including:-

Why do you write?

AnthonyI’ve always liked writing ever since I was little. My dad and I did my autobiography and since he died I wanted to be able to do my own writing, so I got a special programme called Dolphin Guide. Writing is a good way of sharing my ideas; I can get them down on paper.

How many books have you written and where do you get your ideas?

Anthony “I’ve written eight books at the moment and ‘Wizzy the Animal Whisperer’ came from a farm holiday, for example.

Where did you get the name ‘Wizzy’ from?

Anthony “It came from a friend who called my wheelchair, ‘Wizzy wheelchair’.

Are you ever worried you’ll forget an idea?

Anthony “Yes, I do have to come and write it down.

What is your next Wizzy book about?

Anthony “I am writing another one at the moment and we’ll see what happens.


wizzy-book-cover-front-b-200ppi-rgbWant to buy the book?

Click on the picture 

ISBN: 978-0-9927220-9-8 

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letters-from-manchuria-front-cover-12cmw-200ppi-rgbOn Saturday 21st January

12 noon – 1pm

Neil T. Sinclair

will be in Waterstones Sunderland

signing his book

Letters from Manchuria – The Story of Marion Young missionary in Japanese-occupied China

ISBN: 978-0-9935078-1-6

17a newspaper article greyscale cropped ..cmW 200ppiIn 1935 Marion Young arrived in China to work as a missionary sponsored by the Girls’ Auxiliary of the Presbyterian church’s Women’s Association for Foreign Mission. For for the next six years she wrote weekly letters home to her parents in Ireland. Her letters give a vivid picture of life in the market town of Faku and also of the villages in Inner Mongolia which she visited as part of her mission work.


Helen and Neil working on the book.

Neil Sinclair and his wife, Helen, spent over a year sorting through the hundreds of letters which Helen’s mother, Marion Young, had sent home during the years from 1935 – 1941 when she was working in Japanese-occupied China. They then transcribed extracts from the letters with Helen reading and Neil typing into the computer. Next came the task of deciding which photos to use in the book ‘Letters from Manchuria’. It is a fascinating story of a young woman working in a remote and harsh place, the political and social history of north east China, and of the resilience of the people who live there.


This photograph is of Marion’s senior colleague, Dr O’Neill’s 70th birthday party: Marion wrote home –
The 70th birthday is a very big day in a Chinese family, so we are to be his family and act things out. Joey and I are going as twins – his granddaughters.

In the photo Marion is 5th from the left and Joey McCausland is 7th from the left. Dr Frederick and Annie O’Neill sit in the centre.

marion-companion-with-baggage-bearer-200ppi-greyThis photograph shows Marion travelling with Wang Ssu Wen to visit one of the small ‘churches’ in the area surrounding Faku. The church was often a small family group with a Deacon.
Marion wrote home –
We were cycling straight into a north wind … a man carried our luggage on a long pole over his shoulder – about 80 lbs – no small weight for that distance (18 – 20 miles).

111) Pg 214 MCY & Miss Wang grey 8cmW 200ppiMarion and Ssu Wen would stay in the Deacon’s house, often also the church. The house in the photo is luxurious compared to most.

Marion wrote home –

This photograph will give you some idea of what a k’ang looks like. The bedding is rolled to the back during the day. The chests at the side hold everything … in the foreground is a stove with a kettle on – that isn’t proper Chinese …

060 pg 78 Little Peace and Happy Grace greyscale 6cmW 400pp lighter12iMarion felt at home with the Chinese people from the start.

She wrote home about ‘Little Peace’ and ‘Happy Grace’ –

They are both about 3 years old and the greatest of friends. En Fu runs with a shriek of “Ping An! To lie la!” (Ping An she’s coming) when I heave into sight.

When writing about the oppression of Japanese rule, to avoid the censors Marion used coded words. On the rare occasion when she could send a letter back by hand with colleagues going on furlough she could be more open.  

They treat folk a bit more kindly before freeing them, to give the marks of beating or torture a chance to clear up – isn’t that a bright thought?

You can buy a copy of this book from www.littleknollbookshop.co.uk or by emailing Jenny@littleknollpress.co.uk

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15492395_10153905672362434_8967320120660559231_nDon’t miss

The Herald’s

Book Fest 2016

Saturday 17th Dec

St John’s Hall

New Street, Hythe

(opposite St John’s Church)

10am – 2pm

There will be more than 15 authors to meet – see below – and a charity cafe.

All of these books are available to buy from The Herald, 2 High Street, Hythe.

If you don’t live near Hythe you can buy any of the Little Knoll Press books by clicking on the book title.

Simon Chadwick: On the Banks of Hatchett Pond, Podge Goes Splodge, Fudge the Jersey Cow, Samuel the Donkey, New Forest Litter Bugs, New Forest Friends Pony Pests, New Forest Friends Metal Monsters.

My Story in Colour by New Forest artist Suzan HouchingSuzan Houching: My Story in Colour

 wizzy-book-cover-front-b-200ppi-rgbWizzy the Animal Whisperer 

illustrated by Susan – author Anthony Ridgway





Gervase Gregory: A Lifetime in Postcards 



Welgora vers10 front RGB 8cmW 600ppi

Alan Langford: WELGORA






John Leete: New Forest At War book plus DVD.

Pacific Avengers front cover RGB pcard sizeMike Roussel: Quest For Speed, Spitfire’s Forgotten Designers, Pacific Avengers, Shipwrecks of the Cunard Line, Southampton Maritime City, Southampton Docks, Union Castle Line




Roger Hansford with Sylvia Oldroyd (Roger’s Mum): Fawley’s Frontline 
Marianna Kneller: The Majical World of John Clare; prints and cards.
Martin Bradley: Sky Dancer, Top Gun of the Sky, Dusk Til Dawn, River King.
Graham Parkes: Hythe A Waterside Village.
Steven Antczak, Tony Johnson & Robin Street: From Forest Field to Western Front recently published following the well-received East Boldre WWI airfield exhibition last year.
Roy Sanderson: Jack the Enigma
Michael Forester: Dragonsong, If It Wasn’t For That Dog!, The Goblin Child.

seagulls-front-cover-200ppi-rgb-for-websiteMaldwin Drummond: The Strange History of Seagulls 




Lexley George & members from local Writer’s Group

Hearing Dog Matt, will be making a guest appearance.
Jacqui Haskett: therapies & gifts.
Dorothy Lockyer: Potpourri of Poetry and others.

Also available will be other titles for sale from The Herald: Hythe Pier Train book, Exbury Junkers by John Stanley,

Jacks Country book front cover - Nielsen 648pixHJack’s Country biography of Jack Hargreaves by Paul Peacock,

Aeroaddict front cover for website AEROADDICT by Doug Gregory DFC,

Hampshire Airfields, as well as the Hythe Souvenir range of mugs, fridge magnets, bags, posters, postcards and framed prints.

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To buy Letters from Manchuria go to www.littleknollbookshop.co.uk

Letters from Manchuria

The story of Marion Young Missionary in Japanese-occupied China

edited by

Neil T. Sinclair

ISBN: 978-0-9935078-1-6

In 1935 Marion Young arrived in China and for the next six years she wrote weekly letters home to her parents in Ireland. Her letters give a vivid picture of life in the market town of Faku and also of the villages in Inner Mongolia which Marion visited as part of her mission work.

The letters and photos were passed down to Marion’s daughter, Helen, and son-in-law, Neil, as the ‘family historians’. When they began to look through them they realised the insight they gave to being a missionary in Manchuria (named ‘Manchukuo’ by the Japanese) and to life there in the late 1930s.

     Retirement gave Helen and Neil the time to sort out the hundreds of letters, summarise the contents and make difficult decisions about which of the many interesting passages should be included in this book.

    Once this was done, Helen read out the selected passages while Neil typed into the computer. They then chose the 156 photographs that illustrate Marion’s story.


Helen and Neil Sinclair at work


A missionary’s pay was tiny, but Marion afforded a few gifts for her family. This embroidered peacock is part of the design on a silk jacket which she brought back from China.



Marion with her classmates circa 1917


A newspaper article announcing Marion’s departure for China

Marion Young was born in 1911, the eldest of eight children, and grew up in Galway during the turbulent times surrounding Irish independence.

     A childhood friend remembered, ‘even before she was ten, Marion was going to be a missionary. It was not a day-dream, but an intention; she had no need for day-dreams.’

     When in 1935 Marion was appointed to China by the Irish Presbyterian Church’s Women’s Association for Foreign Mission, she wrote to her parents, ‘Am I happy or am I happy? Whoopee! Whoopee!! Whoopee!!’ This was the start of a long correspondence. 

From China Marion recalled the ‘smell of fresh cut hay, the Mournes with gorse blazing gold, the smoke lying over Milford in a hollow on a summer evening seen from Allan’s lane’, and how it ‘cut out completely the spits and smells around me’.

     She wrote about two wee boys, Ping An, the cook’s son, and his friend, En Fu, in winter clothes – ‘the quickest way to scatter them is to look up – they flee like two little fat bundles with feet stuck on the bottom’.

    Later she started a letter home with the words, ‘Christmas morning – grey, dank – wakened by running feet outside my window’ – the start of her account about how she and a colleague rescued the cook’s daughter-in-law from the bottom of the well. 


Little Peace and Happy Grace at play


Marion and Wang Ssu Wen, evangelist, en route for Chin chia Tiu with baggage bearer



Marion and Ssu Wen sat on a k’ang

Ever present was the oppression of Japanese rule. In her letters Marion used ‘coded’ words, such as ‘Black and Tans’, to avoid the attention of the censors, but when able to send letters with fellow missionaries who were returning home, she wrote clearly about the torture of Chinese citizens, remarking, ‘They treat folk a bit more kindly before freeing them, to give the marks of beating or torture a chance to clear up – isn’t it a bright thought?’

    As Douglas Alexander writes in the foreword, ‘what emerges is the deep respect and indeed fascination with which Marion and so many of her colleagues regarded their Chinese students and the culture and civilisation of which they were part.’

      Marion was very much a part, and when a Taoist priest looked at her ‘several times in a puzzled way and then said, “She isn’t of our people then?”’ she felt ‘highly complimented’.

This beautiful hardback book will fascinate anyone interested in China and its history before the revolution, but it is equally absorbing for any reader who enjoys a great real-life story.
   The book is richly illustrated with photographs (156 of them) and detailed historically correct maps of the area where Marion was working.
     Marion’s writing is lyrical without ever being pretentious and her sense of humour shines through, as does her delight when she was able to use a little Irish blarney, sometimes to get out of extremely risky situations.
    Her story is full of suspense as well. The period of Japanese occupation was precarious for everyone and then with the start of the Second World War the dangers for Westerners living in China escalated tenfold.

‘Today we are celebrating Dr O’Neill’s 70th birthday, Chinese fashion. A 70th birthday is a very big day in a Chinese family, so we, two schools, hospital, evangelists and pastor, are to be his family and act the thing out. There are 23 of us altogether. Sons and daughter, granddaughters and number of great granddaughters. We are all wearing Chinese clothes. Joey and I are going as twins – his granddaughters, dressed in deep red gowns.’


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