Joanna Cannon has scored a massive hit with her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - hitting the bestsellers' lists, being translated into innumerable foreign languages, and, as if it matters, one of my favourite books of this year. Coincidentally, she lives quite near me, so I've seen her at book events before but I couldn't NOT see her again, when we were both in the same place.
Cannon isn't one of those writers who always knew that was their calling in life. She left school at 15, going back into education later to retrain as a doctor, but the one thing med-school didn't prepare her for was the emotional impact of the job, and to help her deal with it, she started writing a blog - not discussing any of her patients but talking about her own emotional response to the people she saw. From this she moved on to work on her novel, getting up at 3 in the morning to write (!), then trying to pull in another hour or so during her lunch break.
At this point she was working as a psychiatrist, and it was a profession that taught her to look beyond the label we might put on people - such as alcoholic, or OCD - and see the real person behind. To this she added the misguided public condemnation of Chris Jeffries over the murder of Joanna Yeates - again a case of judging someone on appearance. She believes that generally we should think more kindly of people, be ready to give then the benefit of the doubt and not jump to assumptions. All these thoughts came together for The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, in which, when something odd happens in the quiet suburban atmosphere of The Avenue, the accusing finger of popular opinion has a ready scapegoat to point at.
Interviewer Carrie Plitt was curious why The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is set in the long heatwave of 1976. Mainly due to nostalgia, admitted Cannon, - for the bay City Rollers and Angel Delight, and a time when children were allowed to play freely in the streets - but also from wanting something to bring the residents of The Avenue together - and nothing does that to British people like the weather!
And, possibly that question that authors dread the most, what about her next book? Without going into too much detail we were given some clues - it will be narrated by an elderly woman, and be about growing old, acts of kindness and the legacy one might leave. I can't wait to read it!