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: linktr.ee/EverydayKindness, 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 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.

Posted in Writing

The Joy of Serendipity

In my column for the January 2020 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I wrote in the wake of the General Election, I talked about the fun of discovering pleasant surprises as we go about our daily lives.

photo of Alice in Wonderland scarecrown
My Alice in Wonderland scarecrow in our village trail last autumn

There’s a comforting flipside to the old adage that “whoever you vote for, the government always gets in”. That is, whatever government gets in, the nation it represents will still be filled with individual human beings who think for themselves and who are capable of daily acts of kindness.

No politicians can stop us being generous and considerate to those around us.

Kindness costs nothing and cannot be taxed. Small gestures such as a smile and a cheery ‘hello’ in passing (we’re very good at that in this parish), or holding a door open for the person behind you, or helping a stranger carry their shopping to the car, can make a real difference to someone who is sad, lonely, or having a bad day. Such things also lift the spirits of the giver.

Towards the end of 2019, I was impressed by a few imaginative schemes for spreading smiles to passers-by:

  • A young woman who crocheted dozens of flowers and leaves them in public places with a note inviting finders to be keepers (see full news story here)
  • A knitting group in Caerleon which created “hats” for local pillar boxes, each decorated with a fun scene such as a skiing penguins and a full Christmas dinner (full news story here)
  • Members of an Essex Baptist church who hid around their local community a thousand pebbles painted to resemble a swaddled baby Jesus (full news story here)

Who could fail to be cheered by encountering any of these?

Of course, such schemes are not new. In our parish, the Hawkesbury Rocks initiative has been encouraging us to hide painted pebbles for a while, and the annual Scarecrow Trail is a delight. But in the uncertain early days of a new government, these examples of the generosity and wit of the general British public provide a heartening start to the new year.

In 2020, I wish you happiest of years, full of kindness, smiles and pleasant surprises.