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An astonishing memoir about nursing and a call to arms for compassion and kindness

Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A and E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astonishing account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

We watch Christie with a new mother holding her premature son who has miraculously made it through the night, we stand by her side as she spends many hours watching agonising heart and lung surgery, and we hold our breath as she washes the hair of a child fatally injured in a fire, attempting to remove the toxic smell of smoke before the grieving family arrive.

In our most extreme moments, when life is lived most intensely, Christie is there by your side. She is a guide, mentor and friend. And in these dark days of division and isolationism, she encourages you to stretch out your hand.


Christie Watson is a remarkable writer turning her attention to a crucially important conversation. This book is eloquent, moving and searingly relevant to all of us

Nathan Filer, author of The Shock of the Fall

A wise and tender book, by turns fierce, compassionate, and revelatory. It shows the joys and the difficulties of looking after people at their most vulnerable, and makes an urgent plea: as a society we have to care better for the nurses who care for us

Dr Gavin Francis, author of Adventures in Human Being

Christie Watson writes with the fullness of her heart to give us insight into the world of patients and nursing, inspiring us to recognise it is how we treat people, how we speak and respond to them, as well as what we do, that heals. Its message of self-compassion and kindness is as useful for those of us outside the medical world, as in it

Julia Samuel, author of Grief Works

I challenge anyone to get through all 336 pages without shedding a tear for what those who work in "the most undervalued of all professions" have to witness ... Expect her stories [...] to linger with you many days after the final chapter

Jackie Annesley, The Sunday Times

If it's taken a very long time to get a memoir written by a nurse, then it was certainly worth the wait. I have rarely read anything that has moved me as much or taken me by the hand so confidently into an unknown world, teeming with life and haunted by death... A remarkable book that I will be pressing on everyone I love

Allison Pearson, The Sunday Telegraph

It is very hard to describe the essence of nursing but Christie’s story captures it. Through her powerful writing the true value of the nurse becomes clear

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing

An amazing book -- terrifying at times, but tender and truthful. Let's be thankful for wonderful nurses -- and writers -- like Christie Watson

Jacqueline Wilson

I was enthralled from the start. Nurses’ voices are rarely heard and Christie is so honest, wise and observant of people that she is just the person to do their story justice. And of course she writes beautifully. The image that stayed with me long after I had put the book down was of the nurse always with the patient, even after everybody else has gone

Suzanne O'Sullivan, author of It's All in Your Head

This beautiful memoir – tender, informative, unflinching, every sentence filled with compassion – has reminded me that when I have felt most alone I am, of course, not alone at all

Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A poignant and powerful account of what it’s like to be a nurse. It’s a profession that touches all our lives delivering expert and compassionate care from the cradle to the grave. A must-read for nurses and those interested in understanding the true art and science of nursing

Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England

Christie Watson shines the wisest of lights on the daily practice of caring for others. She celebrates kindness that is rooted in true respect for human dignity and equality – a kindness without which society would be a much sadder place. This piercingly tender book will make you laugh, cry and reflect on what life is all about

Nicky Parker, publisher at Amnesty International UK

A highly intelligent writer bringing all her narrative skills to bear on a profession in which she spent 20 years ... what emerges time and again is that nursing is about so much more than medicine ... Christie Watson is a wonderful writer. But I can't help thinking she was an even better nurse

Melanie McDonagh, Evening Standard

Lyrical, moving ... Watson tackles grisly deaths and eccentric patients, but also the importance of comfort and empathy in nursing with engrossing results ... A nurse's voice has never really been heard before on this scale. Now's the time for it to ring out loud


Moving, eloquent, funny, inspiring -- an urgent book for our times

Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Cafe

A remarkable book about life and death and so brilliantly written it makes you hold your breath

Ruby Wax

A remarkable book… Watson illustrates why a nurse has a harder job than 99 per cent of lawyers (I am one) and deserves to be paid more. Absolutely brilliant!

Clive Stafford Smith OBE, human rights lawyer

There is so much love in this book that it makes the tears bearable. Christie Watson has written a beautiful and lyrical account of the true meaning of a nurse’s life

Amanda Foreman

If you want to know what nursing is, then read this book

Robert Sowney, Chair, RCN Foundation

Watson writes so well, movingly but sparingly, that the result is a profoundly vivid impression of working in a busy hospital

Jessamy Calkin, The Daily Telegraph

Christie Watson’s book brings home the incredible strength and determination that nurses working in our critically underfunded NHS must possess – and how wildly underappreciated they are

Rachael Jolley, Editor, Index on Censorship

An eye-opener ... written with real tenderness

Good Housekeeping

A touching and thought-provoking memoir that makes an impassioned plea for the appreciation of the nursing profession ... [Watson] is an elegant, eloquent writer who brings an immediacy to her work. You are right there beside her all the way as she provides a fascinating insight into the trials and triumphs of life in an NHS hospital ... A rallying call for kindness and compassion that every one of us should embrace

Mernie Gilmore, Daily Express

Profoundly moving... urging us all to lead a life of greater compassion

Charlotte Heathcote and Jon Coates, Daily Express

The award-winning novelist writes about her 20 years as a nurse, taking us from life to death of the wards in a moving account

Hannah Beckerman, Sunday Express

Through Watson, we are taken on an absorbing, all-seeing tour through the doors of the hospital ... In Watson's honest memoir, we are reminded that we are all made from the same fibres and are all in this together, exploring the human condition and learning the language of kindness

Molly Case, The Observer

Remarkable, unforgettable... This page-turning account of how nurses routinely dig deep into their souls to dispense care and compassion in increasingly challenging conditions also packs a massive emotional punch... A remarkable reflection on care, empathy and compassion

Caroline Sanderson, Sunday Express

There’s one woman who is particularly inspiring me right now…. Christie Watson, who wrote this book called The Language of Kindness... She was an NHS nurse and it is an autobiographical book and it is absolutely breath-taking and it is incredibly affecting and I think it highlights the need for us to be helping nurses where we can. She just is an incredibly strong woman

Emilia Clarke

It made me cry. It made me think. It made me laugh. It encouraged me to appreciate this most underappreciated of professions more than ever ... A gently remarkable book… it’s a privilege to have Christie as our guide

Adam Kay, Guardian

A remarkable reflection on care, empathy and compassion ... packs massive emotional impact ... I urge you to read it

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

An astonishing account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness, and an urgent reminder of the need for these qualities in the NHS - and everyday life - from a nurse with 20 years' experience

Red Magazine

It's that combination of fierce compassion and unflinching honesty about the human cost of nursing which makes this such a compelling and universally relevant book. It couldn't be more topical, or timeless, and the fact that it's written with an elegant grace that makes it a joy to read doesn't hurt either

Eilis O'Hanlon, Irish Independent

This tender, truth-telling memoir will break your heart into little pieces ... This book is a salient reminder that at some point we are all going to need care and we can only hope we'll get someone like Christie who understands the need for "sympathy, compassion, empathy" in our most vulnerable moments

The Simple Things

More than a memoir, The Language of Kindness exerts the power of a gripping novel threaded with science, philosophy, history and ethics. Like poetry, it resists paraphrase. A quick summary is out of the question, this brilliant life-changing book has to be experienced ... Watson is a funny, totally loveable narrator but this book is a serious shock to the system -- a journey to the underworld, our hard-working guide an observant Virgil to the 21st century

Martina Evans, Irish Times

A remarkable book - intelligent, impassioned, consistently moving - that can’t help but make readers revisit the sharpest spikes of life, where nurses often are. Christie Watson looks directly at the fragility of human existence, and the importance of what we choose to value. I can't think of many better uses of writing, nor of writing more likely to make me a better person

Richard Beard

This is a phenomenal book, a love song for the NHS and its staff - the hundreds of millions of us who have gained from it throughout our lives have Christie Watson to thank for delivering it on our behalf. Passionate, political, heartbreaking, it is beautifully written in the fiercely honest language of kindness itself

Stella Duffy

Gripping and tender

Radio Times

I defy anyone to finish this without weeping and giving thanks to the NHS ... An important book that should be on every reading list

Fanny Blake, Woman & Home

[Watson] writes with such considered awareness of medical procedure and resources, human frailty and resilience, that you know she dug deep for this book ... You are also privy to an extraordinary world and appreciate Watson's lasting belief: that most of us are inherently kind - and the better for showing it

Kerry Fowler, Sainsbury's Magazine

A highly emotional and eloquent retelling of different patients, staffers, experiences and departments ... A much-needed human voice

Tanya Sweeney, The Irish Times

The Language of Kindness is teeming with humanity ... [It] puts other memoirs to shame, by narrating an ordinary working life which nevertheless confronts the dark, the sublime, the transcendental

Roisin Kiberd, Sunday Business Post

As Watson observes, the ability to step into another’s shoes is essential for both nurse and novelist. So too is an eagle eye, and it is the details that prove so unforgettable ... I found myself compelled to go back, and freshly moved and humbled

Stephanie Cross, The Lady

Terrifically moving memoir of caring and compassion on the nursing front line

Sunday Times

[T]his page-turning account of how nurses routinely dig deep into their souls to dispense care and compassion in increasingly challenging conditions also packs a massive emotional punch.

Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express

We hear far less often from nurses and therapists… It’s time we heard their side of the story. And who better to tell it than this nurse-turned-award-winning literary novelist.

Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express

Hypnotic prose ... quiet brilliance ... This is a wake-up book in the best possible way, a study in-the-round: amusing, hilarious even, enthralling and sad, and definitely an indictment of our time

The Arts Desk

This tender, truth-telling memoir will break your heart.

Eithne Farry, The Simple Things

Her book makes harrowing, heart-rendering reading.

Helen Brown, Daily Mail

Anecdotal story-telling wrapped up in hypnotic prose… This is a wake-up book in the best possible way, a study in-the-round: amusing, hilarious even, enthralling and sad, and definitely an indictment of our time.

Marina Vaizey, The Arts Desk

A remarkable book. I learned more in chapter 3 than I have in all the other books I’ve read this year. Watson illustrates why a nurse has a harder job than 99 per cent of lawyers (I am one) and deserves to be paid more. Absolutely brilliant!

Clive Stafford Smith OBE, human rights lawyer

The Language of Kindness flows so beautifully, and naturally. Christie adds real warmth to very factual, and medical information … I urge all of you to read this book

Five Little Doves

[Watson] beautifully describes the life-affirming impact of nurses doing and saying the right thing

Strong Words

[Watson] tells us things we need to know

Chisholm, The Tablet

[The Language of Kindness is] a tender and beautifully written account of how this process – learning how to be kind – challenges, teaches, sometimes harms, and then completes a person

Peter Dorward, Telegraph

At the heat of Christie Watson’s philanthropic memoir…lies a remarkable thesis on life, death and the kaleidoscopic narratives…that weave us together

Kat Lister, The Pool

This stunning read reminds us that nurses are human after all

Jude Rogers, Mail on Sunday

- [Watson] uses her shill as a writer of fiction to deliver an extraordinary charge to real life events

Thelma Agnew, Nursing Standard

Christie Watson's memoir of 20 years as an NHS nurse is completely absorbing. The best books tell us about life as well as lives and I've read nothing recently that I found so moving and, even in its descriptions of suffering and death, so uplifting. Watson has an eye for detail that is practical, compassionate and very often funny

Lucy Lethbridge, The Tablet

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    May 14, 2018

    Chatto & Windus

    RRP $35.00

    Online retailers

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    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
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    Find your local bookstore at www.booksellers.co.nz/directory

  • Hardback


    May 15, 2018

    Chatto & Windus

    RRP $45.00

    Online retailers

    • Fishpond
    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at www.booksellers.co.nz/directory

  • EBook


    May 3, 2018

    Vintage Digital

    Online retailers

    • iBooks NZ
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    • Booktopia NZ


I didn’t always want to be a nurse. I went through a number of career possibilities and continually exasperated the careers advisor at my failing secondary school. ‘Marine biologist’ was one career choice that I listed, having visions of wearing a swimsuit all day in a sunny climate and swim­ ming with dolphins. When I discovered that much of the work of a marine biologist involved studying plankton off the coast of Wales, I had a rethink. During one summer in Swansea I spent time watching my great­great­aunt gutting catfish in the large kitchen sink; and once I went out on a boat with hairy, gruff and burly yellow­booted men who pissed in the sea and swore continually. I’d also eaten cockles and laver bread for breakfast. Marine biology was definitely out.

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