While working as a doctor in psychiatry author Joanna Cannon met a lot people who ‘unbelong’.
People who she says live on the periphery of life, pushed by society to the edge of the dance floor trying to copy what everyone else is doing but never quite getting it right.
It was the lives of these people that inspired Jo to write her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.
“There is a silent herd of unbelongers out there, not just on mental health wards but stitched through the landscape of everyone’s day, walking around supermarkets and standing in bus queues. These are the ‘goats’,” explains Jo earnestly.
“The people who don’t fit in who ‘aren’t quite like us’. It’s only when something goes wrong and society needs someone to blame, that the sheep turn to the goats and say ‘we knew they were strange all along, and of course they just be guilty because they just look the type, don’t they?”
The 47-year-old doctor and author, who lives in Ashbourne, says she decided to write her book because she believed there was a little unbelonging in all of us and that it was just some of us were better at hiding it than others.
In the story everyone on The Avenue where it is set has something to conceal and a reason for not fitting in.
Through the eyes of amateur detective ten-year-old Grace and her friend Tilly we discover that if the surface is scratched most sheep may very well be a goat. As the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets the girls find out much more than they imagined.
Jo is the only child of an only child and says that when she was young many of her friends lived within the pages of a book.
“I was always reading as a child and I have always been fascinated by words, stories and characters but I never aspired to being a published author. It has all happened rather organically.”
The writer left school at 15 with just one O-level and worked her way through a variety of jobs from bar work to delivering pizzas, which, with hindsight, she realises gave her an understanding of many different people.
It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that Jo decided to go back to college and take her A-levels and then to study medicine at the University of Leicester.
Before specialising in psychiatry Jo worked in many departments including A&E and palliative care and it was at that time that she began writing a blog.
“I did it to make sense of how I felt about the things I was witnessing. All the suffering, death, illness and misery,” she said by way of explanation.
The blog led to an idea for a novel and she started attending workshops and classes and took part in a Womentoring Programme for aspiring female authors.
In September 2014 Jo was encouraged to go to the York Festival of Writing where she won the Friday Night Live competition with her story about two little girls in the summer of ’76, which was later to become Goats and Sheep.
“It was a sort of literary X-Factor but within 48 hours of leaving I had received offers from eight literary agents. It was really quite unreal,” said Jo, who it seems hasn’t yet climbed down from Cloud Nine.
The novel was eventually acquired by Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins, and after a frantic year of writing, editing and then promoting her book Jo saw it finally published on January 28.
As well as appearing in several articles in the national press in recent weeks the author was the special guest at the launch of the 2016 Derby Book Festival where she will be reading from her book in June.
The organisers are keen to start a tradition of including a debut author at the festival and they are convinced that Jo’s book, which has already received many outstanding reviews, is going to be a big hit this year.
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy will be opening the festival on June 3 and the nine-day event will also celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth with best-selling author, Tracy Chevalier, and literary biographer, Claire Harman, discussing her life.
Tickets are already on sale for these events at http://wwww.derbybookfestival.co.uk More events will be announced in the coming months.
To read more about Jo go to her website http://www.joannacannon.com