Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

While Making Other Plans

So, how are your New Year’s Resolutions doing?

There’s a reason the flurry of self-improvement articles published at the turn of the year fizzle out by February. Whatever resolutions you pledge on New Year’s Eve, by the end of January, life is likely to have got in the way, shattering your illusions of autonomy.


Diversions from my good intentions began even before Big Ben chimed in 2022. On the morning of 31 December, noticing inflammation in my jaw, I booked a GP appointment, not wanting to wait until the practice reopened on Tuesday 4 January.

Despite returning with antibiotics to treat a glandular infection, the left side of my face and left were soon reminiscent of Rudolph’s nose. For the first week of 2022, antibiotic-induced brain fog scuppered my New Year’s Resolutions, and I planned a fresh start in the second week of January.


Then came a head injury from a close encounter with the sharp corner of my car boot, an unforeseen hazard of a trip to IKEA. Fortunately the damage proved superficial, but for the following week, pain and exhaustion put paid to vigorous movements and loud noises. No bellringing practice for me!

When metaphorically dining out on my mishaps in a private Facebook group of close friends, I was looking for laughs rather than sympathy, so I was taken aback when several chums remarked on my bad luck. A Pollyanna by nature, I’ve always thought I lead a charmed life and am grateful for every blessing.

I also think everything happens for a reason. Cancelling my social life while I recovered gave me more thinking and reading time than my hectic lifestyle normally allows. The regenerative power of lying fallow applies just as much to people as to fields.

The net result is that I abandoned my New Year’s Resolutions, instead adopting principles learned in two very different books I read during my recovery: time management guru Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method and Vita Sackville-West’s novel All Passion Spent. (A testament to the healing power of books – more about that phenomenon In Other News below.)

  • Carroll suggests a great way to assess your life and your goals: write two versions of your own obituary, the first as if you lived the life according to others’ expectations and in the line of least resistance, and the second as if you took the road less travelled.
  • Sackville-West’s heroine only learns in her old age to be true to herself.

My new plan for 2022 is therefore to live the life I’d like to see in my obituary (although not just yet).

In the meantime, my sense of gratitude is intact. I am grateful for the NHS and for antibiotics, especially having discovered while awaiting an ambulance that before the age of antibiotics, bacterial infection was the chief cause of death in the developed world. I’m also thankful that IKEA’s cinnamon buns taste just as good even after a blow to the head.

This column first appeared in the February 2022 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.


BBC Radio 4 Appeal for Read for Good

I was thrilled to hear that this week’s BBC Radio 4 Appeal is in aid of the fabulous children’s reading charity Read for Good (known as Readathon while I worked there from 2010 until 2013).

Read for Good harnesses the tremendous power of books and reading to make children in hospital feel better – and their parents and carers too – by providing free books and professional storytellers to every children’s hospital in the UK. Hear what a difference their work makes to families all over the country by listening to this account by the mother of teenager William during his treatment for cancer:

Making poorly children feel better in hospital, Read for Good takes books and storytellers into children in hospital

Justine Daniels, Read for Good’s chief executive, explains further: “We all know the power of a good story, but in hospital, for children like William, this becomes magnified. Transporting children in hospital to imaginary worlds can help them process trauma and relieve anxiety, supporting their mental health and wellbeing at the most difficult time. This BBC appeal, and the support of National Book Tokens and the Booksellers Association will help us to continue to provide comfort and escape at a time and in a place where a little distraction goes such a long way.” 

If you’d like to donate to help Read for Good provide more books and storytellers to children in hospital, you can do so now here: Every donation, no matter how small, will help a poorly child escape into a story and bring joy and relief to their parents and carers.

New Charity Audiobook

You may remember that last autumn I contributed a short story, “Christmas Ginger“, to a new charity anthology called Everyday Kindness, edited by the bestselling thriller writer and philanthropist L J Ross, and published in hardback and ebook on World Kindness Day in November. Each of the 54 stories, all by different authors, were (no surprises here!) on the theme of kindness.

LJ Ross and her Dark Skies publishing company has now teamed up with audiobook specialist W F Howes to turn the anthology into an audiobook, which was launched yesterday. I was thrilled to learn that the narrator for my story is the wonderful British actress Celia Imrie.

The audiobook is now available to download and is currently topping the Audible chart of literary anthologies. Here’s the buying link:

photo of Celia Imrie with cover of audiobook

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

The Meaning of Kindness

In the run-up to World Kindness Day (13th November), I fell to wondering exactly what the word “kindness” means – not in behavioural terms, but regarding its etymology.

The dictionary reveals that the noun “kindness” is related to kin, as in family (kith and kin) or race (mankind). As an adjective, it originally meant “with the feeling of relatives for each other” – all very well provided your family members had a high regard for each other. Not until the fourteenth century did “kindness” begin to be used more in the modern sense: “courtesy or noble deeds”, with “noble” indicating selflessness rather than a posh pedigree.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and scientists can prove that when we are kind to others, our brains release feel-good hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, bringing us physical and mental health benefits.

My grandma used to tell me “Virtue is its own reward”, but so, it seems, is kindness. Thus being kind to others is also an act of self-care – and a great way to make yourself feel better that is entirely free of calories and alcohol units.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, created in 1995, promotes the idea of spontaneous generous gestures to strangers, such as leaving money behind the till of a coffee shop for the next homeless customer or letting someone go in front of you in a supermarket queue. Many such acts are done anonymously.

The phrase “anonymous benefactor” always makes me think of Magwitch in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, although most nameless donors will have only anonymity in common with Pip’s ex-convict associate.

Plot spoiler alert: Magwitch is Pip’s anonymous benefactor in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Illustration by J Clayton Clarke (Kyd), public domain.


When making online donations I always hesitate before clicking the “show my name on the website” box in case it looks like virtue-signalling. I also wonder whether offering this option is just smart psychology on the part of fundraising sites. Do donors who make their name visible feel obliged to give more money than those who hide their identity? I’d love to know.

Now here’s an easy way to commit an act of kindness that will not only lift your spirits but include a reward in, er, kind: order a copy of Everyday Kindness, a new anthology of 55 short stories on the theme of kindness, each by a different author, one of whom is me. The anthology, launched on World Kindness Day, is the brainchild of its editor, bestselling novelist and philanthropist L J Ross. All the authors have donated their stories for free, and all profits will go to Shelter, the charity for the homeless and those in poor housing. The hardback and ebook may be ordered online via this link:, or you can order your copy from your favourite bookshop.

There, I feel better for that!

Click the image to order your copy now

This post was originally published in the November issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

In the Name of Kindness

A post to mark the launch of the new anthology, Everyday Kindness

When I was a little girl, the idea that your name suggested the kind of person you become seemed part of the natural order of things. Noddy was so-called because he nodded his head a lot, making the bell on his blue cap jingle, and Big Ears – well, you can work that one out for yourself.

To my amusement, I’ve just discovered that the name of this phenomenon, nominative determinism, was coined in 1994 by the magazine New Scientist after it had noticed certain researchers had appropriate names, such as Daniel Snowman, author of a book on polar exploration, and the duo Splatt and Weedon, who wrote a report about urology.

However, the name that has most resonated with me over the years is one I encountered in a primary school assembly, when our headmaster, Mr Bowering, introduced us to one Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. In Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, along with her counterpart Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, she teaches the value of kindness to young Tom, after he has been transformed by drowning into a Water Baby. (My, those Victorian children’s stories were harsh.)

cover image of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
By Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, UofT – The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, CC BY 2.0,

Lifelong I have borne her name in mind as a shorthand for kindness, and a secular, catchier equivalent of that bit from the Sermon on the Mount: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” But until I looked her up the other day, I’d misremembered her as a character from John Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress, another of Mr Bowering’s favourites, in which the central character, Christian, undertakes a journey to the Celestial City guided by Evangelist, despite protests from grumpy neighbour Obstinate and accompanied by the flaky Pliable.

Title page of A Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678 (Public domain)

I was  considering reacquainting myself with her by rereading the novel when I spotted reviews that in classic BBC style warn “it contains attitudes of its time” – as if the central premise of sending the children to watery graves wasn’t warning enough. But in the month that features World Kindness Day (13th November), I’d like to pay tribute to Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby’s principles and to her creator Charles Kingsley.

As a child, I wondered about the origin of such names.

Did Obstinate’s parents name him because he was a very stubborn baby? Did Noddy enter this world with an exceptionally weak neck, even by the standard of newborns? Did Big Ears’ poor mother require a Caesarean?

Of course, as I grew up, I realised all those characters, unlike the New Scientist’s researchers, are fictitious and their names are simply artistic devices. Even so, I wonder whether I missed a trick when naming my daughter Laura, when I could have chosen a virtue – Faith, Hope or Charity – or even plumped for Lottery Winner Young.


World Kindness Day also saw the launch of Everyday Kindness, a new anthology of short stories on the theme of kindness, devised and edited by bestselling mystery writer L J Ross. The stories are written by 55 different authors, one of which is me. My story is Christmas Ginger, the Sophie Sayers prequel, about her Great Auntie May, spending a lonely Christmas in Wendlebury Barrow until an act of kindness by a villager transforms her festive season. This is the first time story has been published in book form.

All profits will go to Shelter, the charity for the homeless and those in poor housing. The book is available online in hardback and ebook via this link:, or you can order it from your favourite high street bookshop. A great Christmas present or an uplifting gift to self!

Click the image to order your copy now

This post was originally written for the November issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News


Posted in Writing

Front Page News on The Bookseller

cover of The Bookseller
Each of the 50 contributors has their name on the spine of one of the books on the cover – mine is in the pile on the right.

I’m very excited today to see my name (in very small print!) on the front cover of the latest issue of the British book trade magazine The Bookseller.

The reason? I’m one of 50 contributors to a wonderful charity anthology, Everyday Kindness, edited by L J Ross, bestselling crime writer of the DCI Ryan mystery series. All proceeds will be donated to Shelter, the British charity for the homeless and those in poor housing.

The names of each of the 50 contributing authors are on the spines of the books in the cover image, a painting donated by the artist Andrew Davidson.

I’m honoured that Louise (LJ) loved the story I submitted and chose to include it in the anthology.

The story is a spin-off from my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. In Christmas Ginger, Sophie’s Great Auntie May anticipates spending Christmas alone. (Spoiler alert: as in all my stories, a happy ending is guaranteed, and I submitted this story because it includes a life-changing random act of kindness.) 

As well as being an international bestselling author, LJ Ross is a very active philanthropist especially in the north-east of England, where her many novels are set. Find out more about her philanthropy on her website here),

Everyday Kindness will be launched on World Kindness Day (13th November 2021) and will be available for pre-order in October.

Much as I hate to mention Christmas in August, I do think this book would make a great Christmas present! I’ll share details of how to order your copy as soon as I have them.