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Peak District author becomes bestseller

Dianne Boardman

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Bestselling author Joanna Cannon, photo by Philippa Gedge

Peak District author Joanna Cannon began writing a blog to ‘empty my head of all I saw and heard’ during her day working as a psychiatrist on what she calls ‘the fringes of society’.  Her blog soon had a huge following, including well-known writers such as Joanne Harris, and she was encouraged to try to write a longer piece.  She began a novel she called ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ - ‘goats’ being people who didn’t fit in with the ‘sheep’ around them.  The novel was entered into a competition at the Festival of Literature in 2013 and won.   Within the week a book deal followed and she was subsequently named as a ‘Guardian New Face of Fiction’.  

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanne Cannon

The book, which went straight into the Sunday Times Bestsellers list at number three, tells the story of a missing woman through both the eyes of a ten-year-old girl, and those of the adults around her who all have secrets to hide.  Set in suburban Britain during the blistering heatwave of summer 1976 and filled with humour and detail of the era - Angel Delight, Cheese Scones, Kay’s Catalogue, Whimsy ornaments - it is both a whodunnit and a warning not to stray from the flock for fear of being left out in the cold.  It is also a smilingly lovely trip down memory lane for anyone who remembers the seventies.   Yet, for all its lightness, the novel has a darker side and somehow manages to briefly touch on a multitude of controversial or misunderstood topics such as loneliness, grief, alcoholism, OCD, racism, child abduction, euthanasia, abortion and feeling trapped by duty.  It is obvious that Joanna’s interest is in the reason behind human behaviours rather than judging them.    

The sudden success is even more surprising when Joanna reveals that she left school “where I didn’t belong,” at fifteen with only one O Level.  After a series of jobs from Kennel Maid to Pizza Delivery Girl, she enrolled on a First Aid Course where she had a life changing conversation with a Paramedic to whom she revealed that she’d always dreamed of being a doctor.  He told her “It is never too late to learn.” Convinced, she went back to college to take four A Levels and apply to Medical School.  At aged 35 she was accepted to start her training at Leicester Medical School in a class of 18 year olds, to which she had a two-hour commute each way for five years before graduating and deciding to specialise in psychiatry.  

A decade on, a qualified psychiatrist and now bestselling author, she is embarking on a nationwide tour to promote the book she says was “inspired by what it is to belong and how we treat those who don’t.”  In between publishing events, Joanna is hard at work on her second novel.