Peeking Inside the Book Blogger’s Bag

This week, I take an exclusive peek inside one of the most creative and fun book blogs I’ve come across – Jessie Cahalin’s Books in My Handbag

Part of Jessie’s Handbag Gallery

By now, we’ve all heard of Books Are my Bag, but blogger and author Jessie Cahalin takes books and bags a step further with Books in My Handbag, including Handbag Adventures and a beautiful Handbag Gallery that now features over 130 books. Jessie, what first made you think of pairing books with handbags?

Jessie: Once upon a time, my shelves were groaning with the weight of a lifetime of purchases. We didn’t have the money to move, so I had to take the books to the charity shop. Several weeks later, after many car trips, I realised I was throwing away all the voices that had influenced me over the years – but then Mr Kindle came to the rescue. All the narrative voices are in my handbag – result! 

I decided to share the influential books, located on the Kindle in my handbag, via a blog and that is how Books in my Handbag was created.  I shared ten book reviews on my blog, and was overwhelmed with requests from authors wanting to put their books in my handbag. Authors tweeted me with comments about my handbag and their favourite handbags. 

I came up with the idea of authors showcasing their books in their handbags.  The Handbag Gallery was an instant success.  Every single composition sets the scene and tells a story, and each photo is linked to Amazon or the author’s website. 

Some of the guests on Books in My Handbag

Me: Your delightful settings and the entertaining stories you weave are as much a part of the interview as the questions you ask. I love the one in which you share a special tea with one author.

Jessie: In preparation for this interview with Annabel Fielding, I visited Bath Market to collect some tea.  I drank the tea at home and imagined a shortbread to compliment the tea.  I have written a blog post about selecting the various teas, but haven’t posted it yet. 

Me: How do you get your inspiration for the interview settings?

Jessie: Sometimes, I choose a setting based on what the author says in the interview. Jenn Bregman told me she is an adventurer, so it seemed obvious that we climb Pen Y Fan, in the Brecon Beacons. There are occasions when I get inspiration when I am visiting a place. For instance, I suggested we meet in Cardiff Bay, as I heard some medical students chatting on their graduation day thus it seemed serendipitous to discuss Hampstead Fever there.

Adrienne Vaughan quoted Churchill in her interview: ‘‘Never, never, never give up!’ I was due to visit Chartwell House, so took time to snap some appropriate shots and plan the meeting. 

Karl Holton, crime writer, mentioned Agatha Christie in his interview so we had to set the interview in the library. I set the interview searching for the body, but he enhanced the interview with a brilliant, dramatic opening.

Jessie in her own setting

Me: What is your favourite setting?

Jessie: As a Yorkshire lass, I have to say York is my favourite setting in the UK.  John Jackson, historical novelist, lives in York and it was a delight to visit.  John’s book is based on his ancestors, and I enjoyed teasing out the history of his scoundrel ancestors in the town. 

Me: What settings have caused you the most trouble?

Jessie: Collecting the photos for the interviews and the blog is an adventure, but it has got me into trouble. Recently, I was told in no uncertain terms not to place my handbag on the fireplace of a stately home.  I have been chased away from an antique shop for photographing but not buying. When preparing for Ally Bunbury’s interview, I had to find a photo of glamorous hotel for the interview.  Once I had found the hotel in Brighton, I persuaded the porters to help me to set up an original shot. 

I am mischievous by nature and get carried away in creative challenges. All the interviews are stories, and I must bring them to life with the flow of dialogue and original photos.

Me: How much research do you put into each of your interviews?

Jessie: The author’s comments are my starting point, but I always research the author’s books, website, Facebook pages and Twitter.  This helps me to get a sense of how the author represents themselves and their work; sometimes I grab a couple of additional pictures from their Facebook Page. I constantly research new settings online, and grab photos of places I visit.  I always have a notebook and phone in my handbag to capture any ideas.

Me: You often feature book extracts. Which type do you think works best, eg dialogue, first few paragraphs?  

Jessie: Extracts with tension, comedy or conflict seem to work the best.  It is better if the extract is original and not from the one on Amazon.  The 250-word limit challenges the author to be selective, and think of framing their book. It does not matter if the extract is dialogue or prose, but the extract must work in isolation.

Me: What are the ingredients of a really good author interview?

Jessie: The author is the key ingredient in all the interviews.  It is my role to host the author and find a way to let their personality shine through.  I suggest a setting for the interview, but the author decides on the dress code and the food and drink.  Once the author feels comfortable, we can develop the conversation and enjoy the interaction.

Me: How do you keep up the pace of blogging, reviewing and interviewing as well as writing books?

Jessie: I work from 7am until I go to sleep. I live, eat, and breathe the blog and writing. I try to dedicate most of my day to editing my book, but get distracted with interviews, extracts etc. Initially, I started blogging to share my reading and make connections with other readers and authors. I am very lucky that my husband looks after the IT side of the blog and is happy to translate my latest idea onto the blog.

My diary of events has become very full. I ordered a great big diary for Christmas, but have realised that it won’t fit in my handbag.  I am always looking for an opportunity to buy another handbag.

My day is punctuated with social media activity and supporting authors.  One of the indie authors I have worked with recommended an editor to me, and this process has opened my eyes.  I have been re-working my book during the last couple of months and a new edition will be out soon. 

Me: Can you please give us a flavour of your own book?

Jessie: You Can’t Go It Alone is contemporary women’s fiction.  The novel explores the impact secrets can have on relationships and pursuit of happiness.

Set in a Welsh village during the noughties, You Can’t Go It Alone reveals the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations. Rosa, the leading lady of the Olive Tree Café, must face issues in her marriage. Sophie, a teacher, helps others to communicate but struggles to communicate with her husband, Jack, about their IVF journey. Olivia, who is coming of age, struggles with the pressures of fame. As they confront their secrets and fears, they discover surprising things about themselves and their relationships.

This feel-good book has many twists and turns in the plot, but it also deals with the harsh realities of life.  The reader is invited to laugh and cry with the characters, and consider how to find joy in the simple things in life.

Thanks, Jessie, for being the interviewee this time round.

You can find Jessie Cahalin on her blog, website, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

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A Mini Blog Tour for Spring

The best thing about blogging? Connecting with other people. I’ve said that since I started, but this is the first time I’ve been asked along to a blog hop.

Yes, it’s the Writers’ Blog Tour, in which writers talk about what they write and how they do it. Sara Rose Salih invited me. Sara’s blog is a treasure trove of all things teen fiction, and no wonder. She’s the author of a new juvenile fiction series, Life As We Note It (check out the first book, Tales of a Sevie).

The tour has a lot in common with a chain letter, because you pass the same four questions about writing on to three new writer-bloggers, as I’ll do at the end of this post. So here goes.

1. What am I working on?

I’m writing a sequel to my novel One Night at the Jacaranda, which is about dating. Readers tell me they love the characters, so I’m taking some of my favourite flawed people (and theirs) into new adventures. Like the first book, it will be a racy read.

Tower Bridge

Yep, the location is London. You might also notice that this is taken north of the Thames. People from north London rarely venture south of the river unless they really have to, but let’s see what happens as the story unfolds.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

My genre is chick-lit (‘commercial women’s fiction’ if you’re la-di-dah). But One Night at the Jacaranda has more than one protagonist and is written from multiple points of view (memo to la-di-dah types: it’s an ‘ensemble novel’).   Crucially, many of the voices are male, so it appeals to male readers too.

Another contrast with most chick-lit is that there’s very little physical description of the characters, other than the fact that Dan is bald, Simon has a comb-over, and Karen’s body is a bit saggy (after four kids, who’ve had thought, eh?).

What they do have is dark secrets, so there are some serious issues, but the overall tone is still upbeat, in keeping with the genre.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’m an established journalist and non-fiction writer, but I’ve always yearned to write a novel. Why I wrote this particular story, I really don’t know. The idea came to me on a Continental Airlines flight after my father died, as I’ve described elsewhere in my blog.

And now that I have developed such memorable characters, I’m going to help them live as long as possible. Well, I am a doctor!

4. How does my writing process work?

I write best on the sofa with pencil and paper. And cat.

cat on a sofa

To get me started I might need music and a coffee.   Uh-oh. The pencil’s a bit blunt.

sharp pencils in 60s mug

May as well sharpen all of them, right?

Once I have installed myself again (and the cat), I may spend as long as 10 minutes writing before the phone rings with something urgent for me to do.

Out of this highly productive routine I end up with reams and reams of material, most of which has to be re-written several times before I pass it on my husband and some writer friends for their opinion. I might also float some of it on this blog to see what you think.  And that’s how I do it.

Time to pass the baton on to three talented bloggers.

L.K. Watts writes an eclectic range of books. Her first two stem from her worldly adventures in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. These fresh and funky books reflect L.K.’s personality perfectly. She’s travelled the Trans-Siberian Express in Russia and Mongolia and has done a ten-week stint of conservation volunteering in Ireland.  Author LK Watts

When she isn’t out making the most of life and living it to the max, she writes women’s fiction. Her debut chick-lit novel is her third book to be released.

But do not be fooled. L.K. is currently writing something that will make the most unshockable person gasp.

At the moment L.K. lives in the U.K with her partner and two adorable dogs. Her blog is LK Watts Confessions.

Anne Wainscott comes from a family of story-tellers. She’s an author and blogger at The Writing Well as well as a storyteller-for-hire right here. Author Anne Wainscott

Her 2004 mother-daughter memoir A Breath Away came after losing her mother to smoking.

She’s currently finishing her first historical novel, Torrential, a re-imagining of a flood that destroyed her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, a century ago.

You can also find her on Twitter.

Michael La Ronn is a fantasy author who writes Decision Select Novels, which are a modern reimagining of the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks. He also writes traditional novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction.Author Michael La Ronn

He is a former musician and loves jazz and other obscure genres that no one’s ever heard of. His upcoming book, Festival of Shadows, will be released in June.

Michael lives with his wife in Des Moines, Iowa.

You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

Why not go look for them?