The Story Behind Goats and Sheep

Recently, my lovely publisher asked me to write a short piece about the story behind my book ‘The Trouble With Goats and Sheep’. 

So many people have supported my writing, from the very beginning of this blog, so I thought you might like to read it too. It’s also an opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, commented or re-tweeted any of my blog posts. I still can’t quite believe a little story on my laptop will find its way on to people’s bookshelves. You have no idea how you all helped to make that happen.

If you’d like to read a short synopsis of Goats and Sheep, just click on this taster from my agent’s website on the left, and on the right are some of the proof copies …

Rights GuideGoats and Sheep proof

The Story Behind Goats and Sheep

Working in psychiatry, I meet a lot of people who ‘unbelong’. Those who live on the periphery of life, pushed by society to the very edge of the dancefloor, where they try to copy what everyone else is doing, but never quite get it right.  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’. The people who just 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 must be guilty, because they just look the type, don’t they?

I decided to write Goats and Sheep, because I believe there is a little unbelonging in all of us – it’s just that some people are better at hiding it than others. In the story, everyone on The Avenue has something to conceal, a reason for not fitting in. It’s only in the thick, suffocated heat of the summer, that the ability to hide these differences becomes impossible, and along with the fractured lawns and the melting tarmac, the lives of all the neighbours begin to deconstruct. Through the eyes of Grace, our ten year-old narrator, we discover that if we scratch the surface of most sheep, we might very well find ourselves with a goat. And the biggest problem of all, is trying to work out the difference.

I wrote Goats and Sheep at four o’clock in the morning before I went to work, in a wide variety of NHS car parks during my lunch break, and occasionally on a night shift (on the very – very – rare occasion when all my patients were asleep at the same time). It was always a battle between hours and words, but the story was so important to me. I wrote it because I hope it will remind us that we should always ask questions of ourselves. I thought it might help us to be a little kinder to those who stand at the edge of the dancefloor, and perhaps if we spend time looking through Grace’s eyes for a little while, it might just help us to realise that unbelonging is actually a belonging all of its own.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep will be published in the UK & Commonwealth by The Borough Press (HarperCollins) in January 2016, and by Scribner Books (Simon & Schuster) in the US. At the time of writing, translation rights have been sold in Germany (Blanvalet), Italy (Corbaccio), Poland (under offer), Russia (AST), and Spain (Grijalbo)


  1. May 20, 2015 / 5:52 pm

    Really interesting to know how the concept of your story came together, Jo 🙂 And yes, having your book on readers’ bookshelves … it feels great! Enjoy the process, and the positive feedback I’m sure you’ll receive. Will it be available on Kindle as well? xx

    • May 20, 2015 / 5:54 pm

      Thank you so much! Yes, definitely Kindle. I’ll post/tweet when I know more details! xx

  2. May 20, 2015 / 6:58 pm

    Ah Jo, I am truly so delighted for you – your voice in this blog, as in all the posts of yours I’ve had the pleasure to read, is so empathetic and calls out to be heard. From the start I believed you should write a novel because you write like a born storyteller – I’m really looking forward to reading your book, even more so now that I have some idea of the concept of the sheep and goats. Enjoy every moment of the process – you really deserve all the plaudits I am sure will be coming your way.

    • May 20, 2015 / 7:12 pm

      Thank you so much, Clare. You’ve been there right from the very beginning, and I am SO grateful for all your support! xx

  3. Ann Bradley
    May 20, 2015 / 7:33 pm

    This is such a lovely post Jo. Having worked in psychiatry I can relate very much to what you are saying…everyone has a voice. I work/play with smaller people now 😉 They too find it difficult to ‘fit in’ sometimes when seen as different.Wishing you every success with your book Jo, so looking forward to reading it! x

    • May 20, 2015 / 7:47 pm

      Thank you so much, Ann, that’s really kind of you. Such a lot of emphasis on fitting in, yet we should celebrate our differences. Everyone has something to offer, as I’m sure you’d agree! x

  4. May 20, 2015 / 9:45 pm

    Jo, I’m so pleased for you. I’ve always enjoyed reading your writing and connecting with you on Twitter. You have a natural talent and I’m really looking forward to reading your first book (of many!) ‘Fitting in’ is something we all try too hard to do and with all the pressures particulary on teenagers and young adults, it’s people’s individuality we should be embracing. Here’s hoping for more acceptance, more country walks, robins and trees for everyone! Jo xxx

    • May 20, 2015 / 9:47 pm

      That’s such a wonderful idea, Jo, and I completely agree: we should definitely be embracing the differences! Thank you so much for your support – and for your lovely comment! x

  5. catdownunder
    May 21, 2015 / 3:46 am

    I am “purring” for you – very loudly. I feel very strongly about “unbelonging” – some of the nicest people I know are “unbelongers”!

    • May 21, 2015 / 5:33 am

      Me too, Cat! And thank you so much for all your support (and your lovely comment!) x

  6. May 21, 2015 / 3:13 pm

    ‘Unbelong’ is such a wonderful word. Your book sounds intriguing – and I’m so impressed at the way you managed to write it, given what you do in ‘real life’.

    • May 21, 2015 / 3:17 pm

      I have to say, it was a real struggle at times. I think you have to really believe in your story to battle through! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment!

  7. May 21, 2015 / 6:06 pm

    Congratulations young lady. All your graft deserves success. I’ll look out for a copy of your book come January.

  8. May 27, 2015 / 1:51 pm

    I’ve never really belonged, so, as another unbelonger, I’m really looking forward to your book. A chance to revel in your beautiful writing x

    June 2, 2015 / 3:22 am

    Congratulations. I have enjoyed reading your work and look forward to your book.

    All the best, Bill Williams

    Sent from Windows Mail

    • June 2, 2015 / 4:23 am

      That’s really kind of you, Bill. Thank you so much!

  10. July 25, 2015 / 3:23 pm

    Having seen praising mentions & pics its great to see the inspiration & backstory to your debut Joanna; love the ideology of unbelongers, goats & sheep! So astutely observed. Can’t wait to read it – roll on January😊

  11. juliathorley
    September 27, 2015 / 1:42 pm

    Let’s hear a cheer for everyone who pushes the door marked ‘Pull’.

  12. December 4, 2015 / 12:11 pm

    Hello Joanna, I am just about to write a review of your book, before I did so, I thought I would like to send you a message, I have loved your book! You describe so well the effects of a long hot summer in 1976.

    The other thing which has amused me, I have felt all my life I did not belong, I was lucky enough to meet a man 56 years ago who also felt he did not belong, we married and have un-belonged together!

    It is lovely to have the name for our joint ‘condition’, we are two happy and elderly ‘goats!’

    If you are looking for Author events, Wakefield One Library are always happy to promote new authors, a contact name would be Alison Cassells or Lyn Holdroyd.

    Love and thanks Marjorie Lacy aka mauveone.

    • December 4, 2015 / 7:20 pm

      Thank you so much, Marjorie. I’m absolutely thrilled you enjoyed meeting Grace and Tilly!
      I would love to bring Goats and Sheep to Wakefield. Grace’s scene in the library is reminiscent of my own childhood – and without that input at an early age, Goats and Sheep would never have been born. Do get in touch once the book is out, and I’m sure we can organise something! x

  13. February 14, 2016 / 7:33 am

    Dear Joanna,
    I loved your book so much, I got an audio book on audible and listened to it, almost all at once. Since the first words, there was something so special about the story. I laughed, and I cried, and throughout the book I was feeling so much love and tenderness. A Very Special Book, it is 🙂
    thank you so much,

  14. LenBarley
    March 30, 2016 / 7:06 pm

    Just got your book, ‘the trouble with goats and sheep’
    Not started reading yet, the book colour, binding and overall appearance is beautiful.
    I am sane !! and will write again when I have read it
    Thank you

  15. Seema
    May 17, 2016 / 9:53 pm

    Hi Jo, I’ve just finished reading your wonderful book, what a great achievement to capture what it is to “unbelong” through such innocent eyes. We could all do with remembering some of the innocence of our childhood and seeing people as simply people, no judgement or prejudice, and being a little kinder. It’s a life lesson that everyone should be more aware of. It was certainly a thought provoking read for me. Well done! 🙂

  16. Sarah1977
    July 14, 2016 / 12:41 pm

    I have just finished reading your book. It is so beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The scene is set so well and all the characters are believable. It really makes you sit back and think that you should not believe something to be true just because so many other people believe it, and it’s okay to be a goat!

  17. Jo
    March 22, 2017 / 2:25 pm

    Having just read your book – and above blog on inspiration behind it – which adds another level to it by the way….
    Firstly thank you …
    Secondly there is something niggling me , which I guess I missed, but please could you enlighten me what is wrong with Tilly, why is she hospitalised bit then ok again?

  18. Megan
    May 2, 2017 / 9:35 pm

    Joanna this book was refreshing. As I read it every morning on the northern line on the way into work, I found myself laughing out loud at Grace’s little quirks and witty remarks. It was a brilliant read that I shall definitely recommend to all my friends and can’t wait for another book.

  19. Sharon Archdale
    May 26, 2017 / 12:36 am

    Hi Jo, just finished Goats & Sheep and loved every page. I remember well the summer of ’76 although the road I lived in was rather dull compared with “The Avenue” I was a little older than Grace & Tilly, being born in 1961 so was more Lisa’s age. I thought you described the characters really well and in a way that you could visualise exactly what each of them looked like. I think it would make a great film?
    By the way who exactly started the fire?

  20. Anna Sutton
    August 16, 2017 / 6:45 pm

    Dear Jo – I have just finished your extraordinary book and feel bereft now! I loved it so much and can’t bear that it’s finished – dramatic but true. I do believe that it is a masterpiece that will shine it’s way through time to classicdom. As funny and gripping as Catcher in the Rye, beautifully written and the message about unbelonging and blaming the ‘other’ couldn’t be more profoundly key to a decent and intelligent society. I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful read and the ripples of insight that will effect many a sheep… With love from an old goat, Anna x

    • August 16, 2017 / 6:47 pm

      Oh Anna, what a lovely comment. Thank you xx

  21. Anna Sutton
    August 16, 2017 / 6:50 pm

    Ha! Well that was lovely to receive too. Get cracking on the next book now please haha….. Thanks again, Annax

  22. Gill Jenkins
    October 15, 2017 / 4:30 pm

    Just reading this book and enjoying it very much. Can I ask if you had any particular place in mind when you wrote it ?

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