It’s always exciting when a colleague publishes a book. When a colleague publishes a book that leaps straight into the bestseller lists it’s time for particular celebration. That’s what happened with St Mary’s Senior Lecturer Christie Watson, whose third book – and first book of non-fiction – The Language of Kindness, has now spent three weeks in the Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller list. Christie has been incredibly busy promoting the book, in the UK and abroad, at the end of her year’s sabbatical from teaching, but came back to St Mary’s to read from and discuss the book – and on the very day that it was announced she will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by her alma mater, the University of East Anglia.
Francis Campbell, the university Vice-Chancellor, welcomed Christie to The Exchange, and a theatre-full of staff members, students past, present and future, and members of the public. Christie then read from the book, discussed it with her Creative and Professional Writing colleague Jonathan Gibbs (that’s me, writing this blog post!) and then answered questions from the audience. Here are a couple of my thoughts about the evening.
First up, I was surprised to hear Christie say that, although she has already done dozens of literary events around the book, this was the first time she had read from it. Usually, she said, she just takes to the stage, or the lectern, and talks about what’s inside it. ‘I know the whole book,’ she said, ‘so I just get up and talk.’ No mean feat when you’re giving a 45-minute keynote address to hundreds of nurses at the annual congress of the Royal College of Nurses, as she did earlier this month. (Last year Jeremy Corbyn gave a keynote, to give a sense of scale of the event.)
But Christie did read, brilliantly, the section about an elderly patient, Gladys, suffering from dementia – and incontinence. Christie starts off talking about dignity, and the UN declaration of human rights, and ends with a discussion of the Bristol Stool Chart, and still manages to balance compassion with what can only be described as toilet humour.
There were some excellent questions from the floor and, as Francis Campbell pointed out afterwards, Christie was able to identify all the students she had taught, both postgrad and undergrad, by voice alone (the theatre lights meant we couldn’t see the audience) even though it had been over a year since she had taught any of them. One undergrad student, Jess, remembered the day in which Christie came into teach, and told the students that if she was perhaps a little distracted, it would most likely be because a dozen publishers were in the process of submitting sealed bids for her book at auction.
I was also struck by Christie’s response to a question about the similarities between nursing and writing. She remembered that she had still been working as a nurse when her first book, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, was published, a journalist had commented how different the two jobs were. Christie answered then, and repeated it now, that she didn’t think of them as different at all. Both involve observation, both involve empathy and compassion, and both, in their own ways, involve telling stories.
Christie spoke, too, about the emails she was already receiving from nurses who had read her book, thanking her for putting into words what they wouldn’t have been able to. And about how her hopes for the television series that she is currently developing from the book are that it would be another opportunity for nurses’ voices to be heard, when as a profession it remains severely under-represented on the national and international stage.
Christie then finished off with another short reading from the book, and although it was a section I have read more than once, still I found myself moved, almost to tears. It was a fascinating evening, and we can’t wait to have Christie back on campus and teaching again.
Photos: Sarah McKenna-Ayres