I started entering competitions last year, a bit of a departure for me. I use the more you enter the more likely you are to win approach, because luck is an unreliable concept at best. Amongst other prizes, in early summer I won a balloon flight. It was worth quite a bit, moneywise. A stroke of luck for sure, but after the initial euphoria wore off, the prospect of floating hundreds of miles in the air lost its charm very quickly, even though everyone kept telling me how fantastic it would be. I don’t even like flying in a normal aeroplane so flaoting about in an air balloon with no roof or real walls to cling onto was never going to work for me. So I sold the tickets to a friend and went for a delicious weekend in Glasgow with the cash instead; much preferable.
In November, I won a proof copy of the debut novel everyone in the publishing world is talking about – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon. This time, I have to say that all who raved to me about it were perfectly right. I loved this book, and its ten year old girl narrator. Set in the hot summer of 1976, when we lived with water shortages and stifling heat but didn’t complain too much about it (imagine, if that happened now, everyone would “take to Twitter” in an offended outrage). 1976, a quieter and much less anxious time, and the year before Elvis died; for that reason itself it seems so long ago.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep throws a light on people who don’t fit. They are the goats, if you will; the unlucky ones who don’t win competitions not matter how many times they put their name down. There are more goats about than we care to admit, and although we all declare a rebellion of sorts, let’s face it – it’s typically a benign and temporary one. Most of us conform and muddle along sheepishly within the rules, but there are those who don’t slot comfortably into the world, and luck plays a significant role in how that plays out for them. The fine fortune of good health and a nice family who look after you sound simple enough but luck decides if you get either. The goats, the ones who find life more difficult, are often so unlucky with the hand they are dealt. They might be that neighbour who nobody talks to so he keeps himself to himself more and more; the woman who fills her house with cats because she prefers their company to that of the cruel humans she’s met in the past; the teenage girl who wears spectacles with lenses as thick as Murray Mints and would rather stumble along in a quiet blur and begs the other kids at school not to notice her; the youth who can’t get a job no matter how much he wants one. There are so many goats about; far too many.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a kind and funny book. We live in very harsh times and the goats amongst us feel that more, so I think we need a book such as this. It’s hopeful and comforting, a lucky book hug for goats and sheep alike, and out at the end of January. (A free sampler can be found here)