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Joanna Cannon graduated from Leicester Medical School and worked as a hospital doctor, before specialising in psychiatry. She lives in the Peak District with her family and her dog. The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is her first novel.
Below is a Q&A with this author
Borough Press’ Charlotte Cray interviews debut author Joanna Cannon about her beloved characters in The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and what it is about writing that sparks her mind and her heart.
1. Your child narrator Grace is distinct and charming, and in her best friend Tilly we have a pair of gumshoes who can see more than the adults they live around – where did Grace and Tilly come from? And what are their powers?
Thank you so much - I only wish I knew! At the risk of sounding slightly unhinged, I think Grace had been in my head for quite a while, and she just needed to find her way out. When I decided to write The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, I wanted an unreliable narrator, but I also needed someone without an agenda, so a child was the natural choice. Grace appeared almost immediately, and I knew straightaway she would have a best friend called Tilly. The minute Grace and Tilly climbed out of my head, they started chatting away to each other, and all I had to do was listen (okay, I really do sound unhinged now!). Lack of prejudice is their most important quality, I think. All the adults in the story have very fixed ideas about each other, but through Grace, I wanted the reader to see a world without that filter.
2. 1976 is alive in your novel, the tastes, smells and blistering heat. What was it about this year that made you want to place your story there?
One of the themes in Goats and Sheep, is appearance versus reality. We work very hard at building a version of ourselves that others will find acceptable, and at first, everyone on The Avenue seems quite virtuous and upstanding. However, that exterior can deconstruct very easily, and in the story, I needed a catalyst to make that happen. What better catalyst than heat?! Human beings behave very differently in extreme temperatures, and I wanted the environment to reflect the narrative, so as the tarmac melts and the lawns begin to yellow and fracture, the neighbours’ ability to keep up appearances also begins to fall apart – as Grace says, heat breaks the bonds that hold things together. Everyone who lived through the ’76 drought has very vivid memories of that time, but I’ve also heard from people who weren’t born in the 70s, but tell me that Goats and Sheep reminds them of the long, hot summers of childhood, which is lovely and just what I was hoping for!
3. The poignant and important thread that runs from the first page of The Trouble with Goats & Sheep straight through its reader is one of otherness and difference. Why was it important for you to tell a story that inspires the reader to question themselves?
Sometimes, I love a straight-up, darned good story – but some of the most memorable, and satisfying books I’ve read, have made me change my mind about something. Or at least, somewhere between the first page and the last, I’ve thought a little more deeply – Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, for example, or John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness. The idea of unbelonging and otherness is something which has always been important to me, but even more so working in psychiatry, where I meet many people who are very sadly pushed to the periphery. It’s at Grace and Tilly’s age we first become aware of the differences between ourselves and others, and we start to subconsciously adapt our behaviour accordingly. This duplicity works very well, but there are people who don’t have that ability. They only have one version of themselves to present, and that version isn’t always one society is willing to accept. We are all so focused on finding similarities, because it’s a form of self-validation, but it’s really the differences we should celebrate and enjoy.
4. A big part of The Trouble with Goats & Sheep is understanding the might and worth of a small community congregating and creating power together. Why did you want to explore this?
Communities are incredibly powerful. I think it’s easy to forget, in an age where our communities are becoming more fragmented and less obvious, but I wanted Goats and Sheep to remind us of that power, and how it can be used both negatively and positively. Community support is a protective factor in mental illness, for example, and as our lives become smaller and more un-peopled, so our risk of mental health problems increases. Goats and Sheep is also set in an era when ideas and values changed and shifted, and we were all forced to re-evaluate our own definition of community. We’re seeing an even more extreme version of that now, and there are echoes of hostility and fear on The Avenue that we still read about in the media today. The story shows that communities aren’t fixed. They’re fluid. They change and evolve, and grow, and it’s only by being open to these changes and overcoming our fears, that we, too, are able to evolve ourselves.
5. You have this description, ‘Alternating layers of beige and concern’ that illuminates one of your singular qualities as a writer: that of marrying the mundane with the comic, with a balm of warmth smoothed on top. What is it about everyday life, the un-extraordinary, that inspires you?
I love the un-extraordinary! I’m not really one for stories about kings and queens, and movie stars. I’m more interested in your next-door neighbour or your postman! I think if I were to blame anyone for this, I’d blame Alan Bennett – I watched Talking Heads as a child, and it was the first time I truly understood the power of words. I knew who these people were within the first few lines, and it felt as though someone had opened a door in my mind. It also gave me a life-long obsession with the ordinary. It’s just so fascinating. Also, working as a doctor, I have heard hundreds of patient histories. They’re always absorbing, sometimes heart-breaking, and very often incredibly moving. It’s a huge privilege to hear someone’s life story, and it makes me very aware that we don’t have to seek out the rich and famous for an interesting narrative. It’s right there at the bus stop or in the supermarket queue, waiting to be told.
6. You’re a psychiatrist, a vocation that relies on an ability to care for and, more importantly, understand people – what interests you about people? And what work experiences have left their mark on the page?
Very often, people ask how psychiatry helps with writing, and it does in so many ways. To be a doctor, it certainly helps to have an interest in people – I was told on the first day of medical school, that doctors can roughly be divided into White Coats and Cardigans. I’m most definitely a Cardigan. However, to specialise in psychiatry, an interest in people really is mandatory! I think it’s the individuality of people that interests me the most, how the decisions we make and the storyline we create for ourselves, are based on our own unique view of the world. Understanding those decisions and unpicking that storyline is something I’ll always find fascinating. Psychiatry is also the ultimate example of the author’s mantra of ‘show don’t tell.’ When I worked in A&E, if a patient presented with chest pain or shortness of breath, I could pretty much assume that everything they told me was factual and accurate. In mental health, patients are often too scared or, sadly, too ashamed to explain how they feel. We therefore have to rely on the body language, the expression, and the choice of words rather than the words themselves. It’s listening out for that missed beat in a narrative. Psychiatry is all about the showing, not the telling.
7. Last question: from reading The Trouble with Goats & Sheep I know you love a proverb: what’s your favourite?
I definitely do! I think proverbs are wonderful – little snippets of wisdom through time. There are some brilliant examples, but if I had to choose one, it would be ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Not only is it found in The Bible, it also exists in every religious text and in Greek and Roman classical literature. Be kind. Always. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s amazing how much magic can result from a just small act of kindness.
A thoughtful, sometimes emotionally painful, yet unforgettable medical memoir I feel everyone should read. Our expectations of our medical and emergency teams are high, we trust, we rely, we hope. When a best-selling novelist, with the most beautiful way with words, tells the story of her time as a junior doctor, you just have to sit up and listen. Each chapter begins with thoughts from different people and roles within the medical profession. Joanna Cannon opens her arms wide and lets you in to her story, her way with words ensures you can see a full and vivid picture. Heartbreakingly honest, we see how she is overstretched, twanging like elastic that is on the point of completely fraying. A number of times her words resonated so strongly, they gave me goose-bumps. She not only made me look with different eyes at our medical practitioners, she also made me think about my own thoughts and words. I don’t think I will ever forget her “we each measure words with different scales”. Breaking and Mending is one of my Liz Robinson picks of the month, and a LoveReading Star Book... I smiled, I cried, afterwards I sat and hugged it!
January 2018 Book of the Month Abundant in moving insights into identity and memory, this charming slice of humanity is as elegantly formed and sweetly satisfying as the Battenberg cake depicted on its cover. Eighty-four-year-old Florence (Flo to her best friend Elsie) has fallen in her flat and, as she awaits help, wondering whether she’s “reached the end of her story”, her musings reveal a long-buried secret. “Everyone’s life has a secret, something they never talk about,” she remarks. “It’s what you do with your secret that really matters”, and what Elsie does with hers is determined by the unlikely reappearance of a man from her and Elsie’s past. Florence’s reflections on she how hasn’t done enough with her life, how life takes you down paths you hadn’t intended to wander, are wholly heartrending. She wanted to be a scientist, to devise a world-changing invention, but instead she and Elsie ended up in a factory for the entirety of their working lives. While there’s loss and sadness as the twisting tale unfolds, this is also a tonic for the soul - upliftingly wistful, poignantly funny, and the relationship between Flo and Elsie is wonderful. At once a bittersweet ode to the elderly and the passing of time, and a compelling mystery, this proves that sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to judge a book by its cover. I adored it.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | January 2017 Debut of the Month. The title refers to a Bible quote and two 10-year old girls are greatly mystified as to its meaning and where to find God. They spend the hot summer of 1976 looking for answers. Set in a small town housing estate, the girls’ avenue is a close-knit community of busy bodies. They all know everyone else’s business, they all have secrets they are trying to hide. Beautifully told in multi first-person narratives and nipping in and out of several houses, many of these secrets are drip-fed to us. At its heart is the disappearance of Mrs Creasy from No 8 and the neighbours ostracising Walter Bishop from No 11 whose house mysteriously burnt in 1967. Then there was the “taking of a baby” in the same year. All these mysteries and more bounce round the houses in a charming tale of ordinary folk sweltering in the heat. I loved it. ~ Sarah Broadhurst Shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Fiction and Breakthrough Author Award 2016. Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016.
One of our Books of the Year 2016. Shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Fiction and Breakthrough Author Award 2016. Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016. February 2016 Debut of the Month. The title refers to a Bible quote and two 10-year old girls are greatly mystified as to its meaning and where to find God. They spend the hot summer of 1976 looking for answers. Set in a small town housing estate, the girls’ avenue is a close-knit community of busy bodies. They all know everyone else’s business, they all have secrets they are trying to hide. Beautifully told in multi first-person narratives and nipping in and out of several houses, many of these secrets are drip-fed to us. At its heart is the disappearance of Mrs Creasy from No 8 and the neighbours ostracising Walter Bishop from No 11 whose house mysteriously burnt in 1967. Then there was the “taking of a baby” in the same year. All these mysteries and more bounce round the houses in a charming tale of ordinary folk sweltering in the heat. I loved it. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
This book is comprised of 2018 and 2019 CRS reports on general national security of the United States. The first reports provides a background and status on Overseas Contingency Operations Funding. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Congress has appropriated approximately $2 trillion in discretionary budget authority designated as emergency requirements or for Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism in support of the broad US government response to the 9/11 attacks and other related international affairs activities. The second report examines the military construction funding in the event of a national emergency. Next, there is a discussion on whether the Department of Defense can build the border wall. The last three reports are focused on background and issues for Congress on the Purple Heart, one of the oldest and most recognized American military medals, a guide for Members of Congress on key aspects of the Department of Defense and how Congress exercises authority over it, and finally, a report that lists hundreds of instances in which the US has used its Armed Forces abroad in situations of military conflict or potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes from the years of 1798 to 2018.
The Sunday Times Bestseller `Lovely, lovely, lovely... Sue Townsend meets Kate Atkinson meets Nina Stibbe' MARIAN KEYES `Powerful and profound' Guardian `Another sure-fire hit' Daily Mail `Funny, melancholy, acutely observant' Sunday Express 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she considers the charming new resident who looks exactly like a man she once knew - a man who died sixty years ago. His arrival has stirred distant memories she and Elsie thought they'd laid to rest. Lying prone in the front room, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light ...
The Sunday Times Bestseller'Lovely, lovely, lovely... Sue Townsend meets Kate Atkinson meets Nina Stibbe' MARIAN KEYES'Powerful and profound' Guardian'Another sure-fire hit' Daily Mail'Funny, melancholy, acutely observant' Sunday Express84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she considers the charming new resident who looks exactly like a man she once knew - a man who died sixty years ago. His arrival has stirred distant memories she and Elsie thought they'd laid to rest. Lying prone in the front room, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light ...
The Sunday Times Bestseller 'Lovely, lovely, lovely... Sue Townsend meets Kate Atkinson meets Nina Stibbe' MARIAN KEYES 'Powerful and profound' Guardian 'Another sure-fire hit' Daily Mail 'Funny, melancholy, acutely observant' Sunday Express There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she's my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing... might take a little bit more explaining. 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago? From the author of THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them: 1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever. 2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done. 3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.
The Sunday Times Bestseller 'Lovely, lovely, lovely... Sue Townsend meets Kate Atkinson meets Nina Stibbe' MARIAN KEYES 'Powerful and profound' Guardian 'Another sure-fire hit' Daily Mail 'Funny, melancholy, acutely observant' Sunday Express 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she considers the charming new resident who looks exactly like a man she once knew - a man who died sixty years ago. His arrival has stirred distant memories she and Elsie thought they'd laid to rest. Lying prone in the front room, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light ...
Part coming-of-age novel, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong.England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly arent convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for Godthey believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home. Spunky, spirited Grace and frail, nervous Tilly go door to door in search of clues. As the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives uncover much more than they could have imagined. Instead of finding their missing neighbor, they must try to make sense of what theyve seen and heard, and a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in. Its only in the suffocating heat of the summer, that the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to deconstruct. What the girls dont realize is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared. For fans of Jeannette Wallss The Silver Star, this is a gripping debut about the secrets behind every door (Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry).
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER'Part whodunnit, part coming of age, this is a gripping debut about the secrets behind every door' RACHEL JOYCE'A very special book' NATHAN FILER'An utter delight' SARAH WINMAN'A delight' PAULA HAWKINS'A treasure chest of a novel' JULIE COHEN'One of the standout novels of the year' HANNAH BECKERMAN'I didn't want the book to end' CARYS BRAY'An excellent debut' JAMES HANNAH'Grace and Tilly are my new heroes' KATE HAMER'A wonderful debut' JILL MANSELL'A modern classic in the making' SARAH HILARY'A stunning debut' KATIE FFORDE'Phenomenal' MIRANDA DICKINSONEngland,1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands. And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined...
The Dominican friars of late-medieval Italy were committed to a life of poverty, yet their churches contained many visual riches, as this groundbreaking study reveals. Works by supreme practitioners-Cimabue, Duccio, Giotto, and Simone Martini-are examined here in a wider Dominican context. The contents of major foundations-Siena, Pisa, Perugia, and Santa Maria Novella in Florence-are studied alongside less well-known centers. For the first time, these frescoes and panel paintings are brought together with illuminated choir books, carved crucifixes, goldsmith's work, tombs, and stained glass. At the heart of the book is the Dominicans' evolving relationship with the laity, expressed at first by the partitioning of their churches, and subsequently by the sharing of space, and the production and use of art. Joanna Cannon's magisterial study is informed by extensive new research, using chronicles, legislation, liturgy, sermons, and other sources to explore the place of art in the lives of the friars and the urban laity of Central Italy.