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.
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.
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.
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.