I write horror. I love to devise stories that torment characters and bend them to breaking point and then twist the knife in. You might fairly assume that I might be a bit of weirdo or a sadist who writes in a basement surrounded by the skulls of my victims. The truth is I live in a quiet part of Kent just south of Reculver with the woman I’ve loved for 30 years, and we have two well-adjusted kids and an assortment of rescue chickens.
I’ve long maintained that the nicest writers you’ll meet are the ones who write the most horrific stuff. They take all their nightmares and anxieties and put them on the page, then go about their day with a skip in their step. Which is why I was so keen to be part of an anthology edited by LJ Ross called Everyday Kindness.
LJ (Louise) Ross is one of the UK’s most successful independent authors. Her DCI Ryan novels and other books have sold over seven million copies. And, in keeping with my theory — her books feature grisly murders aplenty and she’s one of the nicest authors you could ever meet.
Louise put the call out for stories that would be uplifting and feature small acts of kindness. The idea was that these stories — there are 54 in all — could be read on a daily/weekly basis to remind us that the world isn’t entirely made of selfish power-hungry despots (despite what we might see on the news every day). The real clincher for me was that that all proceeds from the anthology would go to Shelter, a charity that I’ve supported ever since I encountered “cardboard city” when visiting London as a teen.
But how could a horror writer who delights in the agony of his characters possibly write an uplifting story of hope? Here’s a little secret for all you non-horror readers out there: horror is a genre full of hope. Yeah, there’s occasional nihilism and bleakness, but more often than not the darkness is banished, the monster is defeated and evil is vanquished in a way that’s cathartic and life-affirming.
I write a series of novels called The Witches of Woodville. Woodville is a fictional village — a kind-of greatest hits of Kent villages — and one that I could locate at the bottom of my garden so I could keep an eye on it. The stories are set at the start of the Second World War, where hope was in very short supply, but my characters face all kinds of horrors, both supernatural and real, and find solace and hope in victory. The idea for my Everyday Kindness story came to me immediately. Two Chickens for Laura Long Arms is a story of loss, grief, sacrifice and has a fun monster. Importantly, it ends with a small act of kindness that gives faith for the future.
The anthology was published in hardback and eBook last November on National Kindness Day. It features some incredible authors including Sophie Hannah, CL Taylor and Liz Fenwick, and it topped several Amazon bestseller charts and continues to sell and raise money for Shelter. Then came a wonderful surprise… There had been talk of an audio edition from the beginning, but with 54 stories to narrate and record, that was always going to be a big ask. However, one must never underestimate LJ Ross. The audiobook version was published on February 17 2022 — National Random Acts of Kindness Day, of course — and features an amazing roster of narrators including Richard Armitage, Celia Imrie, Ruth Jones and many more.
Somehow — and this left me truly gobsmacked — my story was one of only two read by none other than bona fide national treasure Julie Walters (or to give her full honorific: Her Majesty Dame Blimmin’ Julie Walters If You Please!). Hearing such a familiar voice narrate my words was — and is — a bit of an out-of-body experience, and I still float a few inches off the ground when I think of it now.
Anyway, this is a long-winded way of asking you to dip into the Everyday Kindness anthology. Not only will you be helping a very good cause but you’ll discover that there’s enough kindness out there to light even the darkest corners.
The Everyday Kindness audiobook is available from Audible here:
The book is available from Waterstones, Amazon and WH Smith and can be ordered from any bookshop:
Mark Stay got a part-time Christmas job at Waterstone’s in the ’90s (back when it still had an apostrophe) and, despite being working class and quite lippy, somehow ended up working in publishing for over 25 years. He would write in his spare time and sometimes those writings would get turned into books and films, including the Witches of Woodville series from Simon & Schuster and the forthcoming Warner Bros horror movie Unwelcome.
Mark is also co-presenter of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, which has inspired writers all over the world to finish and publish their books. Born in London, he lives in Kent with Youtube gardener and writer Claire Burgess and a declining assortment of retired chickens.
Discover more about the Witches of Woodville here: https://witchesofwoodville.com.
You can watch the trailer for Unwelcome here:
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