No Letter In Your Pocket: How a Daughter Chose Love and Forgiveness to Heal from Incest by Heather Conn

“I lost a friend over this book. Publishers tried to psychoanalyze me,” Heather Conn says. Sun streams in through windows encrusted with salt spray and grime in the intimate space of Mission Point House on the shore of Davis Bay, British Columbia. Heather shares her struggles in having her poignant brilliantly written book published. No Letter in Your Pocket: How a Daughter Chose Love and Forgiveness breaks taboos revealing the truth in her frank memoir about father-daughter incest. 

No Letter in Your Pocket is an optimistic book as to what the human spirit can overcome.”

Authors, lovers of literature, and lovers of authors make sounds of dismay—awws and sniffs, as in her fifth book, Heather speaks openly about enduring incest from her father, denial of it by her mother, and how she restored herself. 

Michael Gurney, Arts and Culture editor of the Coast Reporter, asks gentle open-ended questions in a voice suggestive of smooth jazz. If humans made whale songs, Michael’s queries would be the whale song that reaches every cell, captures the pod’s rapt attention, keeping away threatening males and attracting females from a sixty foot range.

Heather replies intelligently and occasionally selects a reference from the sturdy stack of books rooted on the podium. Copious bookmarks flutter like butterfly wings when she quotes from a tome. She is the epitome of preparedness. 

Michael is motionless when Heather speaks, so as not to detract from her message. Dressed in black, he is an understated yet supportive presence.

Heather Conn’s personal story on truth and reconciliation in the aftermath of incest is commendable and I highly it recommend not only for anyone who wants to know more about this complex issue, but also for those who like spiritual travel quests, such at Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

No Letter In Your Pocket is chockful of fascinating research on the profile and psychopathology of incest perpetrators. She takes you on a troubling yet worthwhile odyssey, one passage entangles you within a net of disembodied dreams of a sexually abused five year old, and in the next you’re her travelling companion on an exotic adventure. Her prose is heart-stopping, mystical, poetic and artful, as in this passage describing Ladakh, “Little Tibet”:

Undulating in long swathes, tan heads of barley fields swayed as if mirroring the paint strokes of Van Gogh. Long rows of hoodoos tucked into the hills,their shadow cavities laden with brown and orange like Georgia O’Keeffe landscapes. In early hours, skies fluctuated from brilliant stars to iridescent clouds and the glow of the sunrise.

The timely question she asks in her book is, “How do high-profile, outwardly successful people compartmentalize their lives, committing horrific deeds … that remain secret for years?” 

To have heroes is to be disappointed. Heather points out that even Gandhi crossed boundaries with women and children at his ashram, that will make you cringe.

This winter Heather and I randomly ran into each other on the Langdale ferry on the way to Vancouver. I offered her a ride to the bus exchange at Park Royal Mall. She’s on her way to teach creative writing, which is clearly a source of great joy for her.

As we chat during the sailing, my thoughts return to her book tucked into my rolling suitcase, which has sat untouched ever since she signed it. I picked it up repeatedly, read a few pages cautiously and shut it before something awful happened to my friend. On the twenty-minute drive to West Van, at my urging Heather talks about what her father did to her, so I’ll know what I’m in for before reading her book.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to think of myself as a trauma survivor because I know that people have suffered far worse things. At times, I’ve told myself it wasn’t THAT BAD, but it was bad,” she says.

My own trauma-laced memories claw and clamber, like thousands of hands of the starving attempting to reach into a brain-sized bowl of bread simultaneously. We arrived at the bus stop and she’s off to her day of culture enrichment. That night her book sat cobra-like on the bedside table ready to strike. 

Weeks later at the post-and-beam cottage, Heather speaks tremulously and yet courageously. I find her words so intriguing that I’m prepared to don scuba gear and plunge in to explore this treasure chest of self-discovery.

At her next reading at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, I arrived early but there’s only one vacant chair shoved into a corner at the back. A smiling Heather comes by as I’m in line to get a glass of water and we hug

“Your hair looks amazing,” I say. Her red hair with wisps of grey is freshly cut to shoulder-length. She seems less burdened and lighter than last time. She’s the first one up at this cafe-style event with tables for twosomes lit with candles. 

On cue she reads a passage about a solo part of her excursion in India, where she gazes at carved erotic figures twisted into kama sutra positions on a wall, and gets propositioned by men. A section just beyond where I’ve read. 

Next, she reads a hilarious account of her mismatched parents, when her father buys her mother “slinky” lingerie. Her mother exchanges it for far less provocative togs. She has the crowd laughing. 

I’m eager to get home and find out if she confronts her father? How will he react if she does confront him?

Her journey to self-love launches with a luxurious boat ride in Bangkok with her elderly father. Dr. Alan Conn, is listed in the Who’s Who in Canada for bringing children back to life after nearly drowning in cold water. His greatest achievement was being on a team that separated conjoined twins from Myanmar at Sick Kids. A heroic pediatric anesthesiologist at Sick Kids Hospital, but an emotionally-detached father and incestuous pedophile at home. If he’d been convicted according to today’s Criminal Code for his crimes against his daughter, his prison sentence would be a minimum of one year to a maximum of ten years.

Heather cleverly strews depictions of family photographs throughout her chapters, so readers can envision how the world saw their family. “Family Photo #10 My dad at age five or six stands on a wagon. . .dressed in a white sailor’s suit. . .I think of all adults, including me, as frustrated five-year-olds, scrambling to get their emotional needs met in a myriad of ways.”

After the touring boat returns to Bangkok, Heather flies to New Delhi and continues her voyage on her own. She reveals the dark side to travelling solo in India when you’re a red-headed, pale, young woman. She says, “Some men in India in 1990 stereotyped fair-haired Caucasian women as sex workers.” She was treated disrespectfully by male strangers. Ironically, sixty percent of women in India and many men use skin lighteners now despite the serious health risks the products can cause, including cancer.

She walks and bikes through the massive Keoladeo National Park, in Rajasthan, formerly a hunting and game reserve for Maharajas and the British, a bird sanctuary and UNESCO designated World Heritage site. She chronicles her three-day trip with fine figurative language. Among the winged and wild creatures, like the endangered Siberian white cranes (snow cranes), she feels safe. “Away from probing male eyes, I relaxed lost in the discovery of wildlife. What joy to see wild animals at ease, with no attack stances . . .no concern about lustful stares, exploring hands, or leering grins. I was not prey”. 

She explains by email that, “There was an obnoxious Indian guide who had his work cancelled because of all the curfews and student unrest. He was after me and I wanted to get rid of him.” She managed to ditch him in the park after a day. 

Just as I thought I’d made it through the underwater caves and was headed towards the surface of her psyche, a heavy anchor dropped on my chest in Chapter 20, Forgiveness, the most disturbing part in a book full of upsetting chapters. But after a break, I persisted and made it to the end. 

Heather went through an unimaginably soul-rending process to heal, forgive and enjoy her life. She may continue to go through that process in increments for the rest of her life, even though her father has passed away. 

She’s endured criticism for her forgiveness stance since the writing of the book. However, her book will help others to do what they find necessary to heal and gives readers a wealth of resources.

For a wonderful introduction and summary of the book by Heather herself in a video directed by Velcrow Ripper, Genie Award-winning filmmaker and writer from Gibsons, BC, at the following link:

Heather will be at the Guernica Editions’ book launch in Toronto, Sunday, May 28, 3:30 pm at Supermarket, Kensington, Ontario. 

No Letter in Your Pocket is an optimistic book as to what the human spirit can overcome. As for any offender who thinks they can continue to get away with their injustices, technology is watching you. Security cams cover nearly every square inch of public areas, cell phone cams, nanny cams, watch cams, mini spy cams cover the rest. Victims are more inclined to step forward and accuse their assaulters. Therefore, the gap between discovery of a terrible crime to conviction by high-profile perpetrators should lessen and conviction rates will increase. Higher visibility of crimes and criminals can result in more evidence that will have an impact on what happens in workplaces, business trips, and even the most private of spaces within the home, or so we can hope. 

What’s next for Heather? “I plan to write a book of essays, a collection of world travel stories, including experiences hitchhiking solo, assessing the revolution in Nicaragua, fearing for my life in Marrakech at age seventeen, etc.”

Here’s a Facebook video of Heather speaking about her book.

About Heather Conn

Heather Conn, author, writing coach, editor, and freelance journalist, has written for more than fifty publications, including The Globe and Mail, The Greater Vancouver Book, The Vancouver Sun, and The Edmonton Journal.

With an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, Heather has won writing awards from The Writers’ Union of Canada, Southam Communications, the Federation of BC Writers, and other organizations. 

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ MiroLand (May 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 294 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 177183787X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771837873

Cathalynn Labonté-Smith grew up in Southwestern Alberta and moved to Vancouver, BC, to complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC). After graduation, she worked as a freelance journalist until present. She became a technical writer, earning a Certificate in Technical Writing from Simon Fraser University. She later went to UBC to complete a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and taught English, journalism, and other subjects at Vancouver high schools. She currently lives in Gibsons, where she is the president and founder of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society, and North Vancouver, BC. Her new book, Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue (Caitlin Press) is a British Columbia bestseller.