Thursday 28 January 2016

My Life In Books ~ Joanna Cannon #GoatsAndSheep

My Life In Books is a new feature for 2016 on Random Things.  I'm inviting authors to share with us their list of books that are special to them, and have made a lasting impression on their life, for whatever reason

I'm am thrilled to welcome Joanna Cannon to Random Things today, she's my first My Life in Books guest author, and in fact, this feature was her idea, so huge thanks to Joanna.

Today is a very special day for Joanna as her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is published by Borough Press on this very day. I've been shouting about #GoatsAndSheep for quite a while now, it's a wonderful story, brilliantly written, and I just know that Joanna is going to have so much success with it.  My full review is here on Random Things, here's a taster:

"The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is quite extraordinary. It is a very special novel that should be savoured. There are passages, sometimes just a line, that will make the reader stop and re-read, purely to delight in the way that the words are put together. This is an ambitious story, but also a beautiful story.
A triumph, a joy, a gift to the reader."

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is published today (28 January 2016), in hardback by Borough Press.

So here goes, these are the books that make up Joanna Cannon's 'My Life in Books', in her words;

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
A very predictable choice to begin with, but is there anyone who wasn't influenced by Narnia? As a child, I was fortunate enough to visit my local library at least once a week, and (along with my second title), this was one of the books I always borrowed. Every Tuesday. Without fail. My parents had very 1970s fitted bedroom furniture, and my father's wardrobe was long and L-shaped. I would often crawl to the very tail of the L, sit amongst the overcoats and the three-piece suits, and wait for Mr Tumnus to come and rescue me.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
As the only child of an only child, the idea of growing up with three sisters was extremely appealing, so Little Women was the other novel that I took out each week. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my local library. Without it, I would never have found the stories, and without the stories, many years later, I would never have found the words. It's very easy to underestimate the power of reading. Not only is it the best way for a child to understand an often confusing world, it also provides a refuge for those of us who didn't find it especially easy to make friends. Even now, most of my favourite people live within the pages of a novel.

Empty World by John Christopher
I have no idea where this book came from, but I read it several times as a child, It's a YA, apocalyptic story about the Calcutta Plague, which wipes out the entire population, leaving only a handful of teenage survivors. I often had wild, and worryingly lengthy, fantasies about what I would do if this ever happened in real life. These mainly involved toy shops, Angel Delight, and a world without schools. I'm not entirely sure I thought it through ....

Talking Heads by Alan Bennett
If there was one person who has influenced my writing, my reading (and therefore, by default, my life), it's Alan Bennett. I watched Talking Heads as a child, and it was the first time I really understood the power of words. When the characters spoke, I knew exactly who they were within the first few lines, and it felt as though someone had opened a door in my mind. I decided, even then, that if I could manage to harness just a little of that power, I would have achieved something worthwhile in my life.

Jaws by Peter Benchley
This book started what became a life-long fascination with, and the fear of, sharks. And I don't just mean a vague interest, I mean at least one evening a week, I find myself on YouTube, watching footage of Great Whites and being beautifully terrified. I have no idea what the attraction is, but I read somewhere that it's a primitive fear to be consumed whole by another creature. And the theme tune. Obviously. One bar of that theme tune and I am GONE.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks' brilliant collection of case histories is one of the many books that fuelled my love of psychiatry. I had always been interested in narrative (going back to the wonderful Alan Bennett), but I find a fractured narrative even more fascinating. However, having left school at fifteen, with one O-Level, I never thought for one second I would be able to pursue psychiatry as a career. However, one thing I have learned, is that there is always another door. I found that door in my thirties, when I went back to college, took some A-Levels, and won myself a place at medical school.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce
Before I could specialise in psychiatry, I had to work through a series of medical and surgical rotations as a junior doctor. I think these were the most stressful times of my life. I saw things which will stay with me forever, and met people I will never forget. Many of the patients I cared for were palliative and, as someone who tends to absorb things very easily, the only way I could deal with it, was to find something positive in each day. The story of Queenie Hennessey is set in a hospice, and not only is Rachel Joyce's writing breathtakingly beautiful, she also manages to capture this positivity in her novel. Also, I have never cried so hard and for so long, over the ending of a story. It's just perfect.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
When I first read The Shock of the Fall, I had no idea Nathan was a specialist mental health nurse. However, it wasn't long before I realised that whoever wrote this story had a very intimate knowledge of life on a mental health ward. If you've ever wondered what working in psychiatry is like, this is the book you need. It's brilliant and clever, and incredibly moving. It also won an award for changing views on mental health. I can't imagine anything more wonderful than that, can you?

The Girl Who Couldn't Read by John Harding
I adored this book. I was distraught when it finished (as I was with its equally marvellous predecessor, Florence and Giles), but that isn't why I've included it. The reason it's here, is because it was an "I don't usually read" novel. One of a growing number, I'm delighted to report. I think it's very easy to walk a safe corridor of reading; to stick with authors we know and genres we enjoy. This book was very kindly sent to me by Borough Press, and it sat on my shelf for a while - purely because "I don't usually read". It turned out to be one of the best stories and one of my most enjoyable books. Books, like life, should be free from "don't-usually", you never know where your don't-usually might take you.

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
I think all authors have a novel which inspired them to write. This is mine. The prose is so clean and fresh, and clever. I am truly in awe of Sarah Winman, she has an incredible talent, and when I read this novel, I knew I wanted to try to write my own. It's a little like watching Wimbledon, though. It makes you want to get out there and play tennis, but when you find yourself on a court, it's a lot bigger and scarier, and harder than you think. But I persevered. Working as a doctor and trying to write was very tough at times. It involved 3am alarm clocks and writing in my car in my lunchbreak, and acres and acres of self-doubt, but it was all worth it. When I found out Sarah had quoted on my book, I may have cried a bit. Actually, I cried a lot. Very loudly and unattractively, and filled with so much joy.

Borough Press discovered Joanna Cannon through the WoMentoring Project - a programme set up in 2014 by author Kerry Hudson to match mentors from the publishing industry with talented up and coming female writers.

Joanna Cannon is a psychiatric doctor, and her interest in people on the fringes of society and the borders of sanity has inspired her writing.

She lives in the Peak District and The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is her first novel.

For more information about Joanna Cannon, and her writing visit her website and blog,

Follow her on Twitter @JoannaCannon #GoatsAndSheep


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