Romantic Novelists' Association

Jessie Cahalin: Books In My Handbag Blog

9 March 2018

This month, it’s my pleasure to welcome Jessie Cahalin from Books in my Handbag to the RNA blog. We had a very interesting interview in which I found out all about Jessie’s new initiatives on her blog.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did a Yorkshire lass like you end up in Wales?

Twenty-five years ago, I trudged along the cobbled streets of Ilkley, with a knapsack on my back. I pressed my face against the local pie shop for the last time, and I caught the train to my first teaching job in Kent.

I loved my first teaching job and my new social life. However, I soon realised I was a Yorkshire lass, and had to embrace received pronunciation for the sake of my career. So, I hid the flat vowels in my knapsack and discovered designer ‘handbargs’. And, I met a Yorkshire lad who spoke my lingo, understood my jokes and he could cook.

We got married the same year as my favourite designer handbags commenced production. The travel bug made me itch, so I found an excellent job in Wales. We planned to live in Wales for a couple of years, but we have been seduced by the land of song and Welsh cakes.



2. Your blog has a really interesting angle to it – books in handbags. What inspired you to link books and bags (and do you have plans to add shoes to the mix)?

Spotting my Kindle, in my latest bag, inspired the name of my blog: Books in my Handbag Blog. Initially, the purpose of my blog was to review all the books stored, on the Kindle, in my bag. Authors tweeted comments about my handbag and discussed their purchases – I become infected with handbag fever. As I am nosy, I realised it would be great to see authors’ books in their handbags. There are now over 200 handbags, but I do suffer from handbag envy. Everyone has been so positive and kind about the concept, but it is my pleasure to celebrate authors’ work. The authors are quite particular about their compositions and some do accessorise the photographs with scarves, food and even champagne. I adore shoes! Maybe, I could develop a spin-off theme: Books with Jessie’s ‘Shoos’.


3. Your interviews often feature places. How do you choose the places? Do you actually visit all of them? 

Interview settings are selected according to the information received from the author. The setting could be linked to the book, the author’s interests or where they live. I have visited all the places, but I combine knowledge with research. Author, Leslie Tate explained my approach succinctly:

‘Jessie Cahalin who interviewed me for ‘Books in my Handbag’, has a unique way of blogging. She asks her interviewees questions online then fictionalises their response into a face-to-face meeting. It’s a really interesting hybrid form, all her own.’

Having described the setting and constructed the interview script, I ask further questions. A natural dialogue ensues between me and the author. I go with the flow of the author’s response and let them make any changes. It is inspirational for me to work with the different authors, and I learn so much. I adore the creative banter between myself and the various authors – everyone is unique.


4. Tell us a bit about your review policy – what genres do you review? Could you give us a link to your review guidelines?

I read an eclectic mix of books, at Books in Handbag, from romcom to literary fiction. I adore books that: make me laugh or cry, take me to a new place, and educate me about a period in history. My handbag accepts any books that inspire my imagination. Luckily, I received lots of requests within weeks and I am slowly working through them. It takes me about three full days to read and review a book, because it is important to respect and celebrate an author’s work of art. But, I fit the reading around other activities so the hours are slotted into a couple of weeks. At the moment, I am re-editing You Can’t Go It Alone to issue another edition in the spring.

My handbag is currently bursting at the seams so if authors want me to review a pre-release copy, I need to be given plenty of notice. In addition to reviews, I showcase extracts of books and chat to authors in my Chat Room.






5. Do you meet up with other bloggers and reviewers?

I have developed some wonderful friendships with the other author bloggers. Interactions and discussions are currently online, which reinforces the power of words – but I would like to meet with some of them face-to-face, one day.

In the meantime, I have opened the Bloggers’ Café. Bloggers following my site will be invited into the virtual café, located in my dream place. Each blogger is invited to select something from the coffee shop menu. I display the homepage of the invited guests and link to their blogs. Thus, when writers and readers visit my site, I will be able to direct them to other helpful places that inspire me. I also hope the bloggers will interact with each other.

There may also be a creative collaboration between me and two bloggers, from two other continents, in the future, but we are all busy. Owing to the distance, we are planning to meet via Skype to discuss a future collaboration.

My life as a blogger commenced in March and I have been overwhelmed with the support from the blogging community. I wish I had shared the contents of my handbag years ago!


6. You’re a novelist yourself. Between that and the blog, you must be pretty busy. What do you do when you’re not reading, writing or reviewing?

When I am not reading, writing and reviewing then I am usually revising the website, and hatching another initiative. I do like to cook, walk, swim and go on blogging adventures. Visiting places, no matter how near to home, offer me the greatest escape. Each time we visit a place, I meet different people who appear in my writing or Handbag Adventures blog posts. Blogging has made me appreciate the everyday world around me. Friends and family think I am a little too friendly and strike up conversations with too many strangers. I just love people!


7. We often ask industry professionals what they consider to be the next ‘big thing’ – what do you hope to see more of in 2018?

The next big thing for me is to purchase a bigger handbag, with lots of compartments, for all the books on my TBR list. I get review requests daily and cannot deal with them all as there isn’t enough time in the week. I hate turning people away! Fortunately, the interviews and extracts are popular, readers are nosy and like to take a little peek into authors’ lives and their books.

I hope the next ‘big thing’ will be a revolution in collaborative marketing amongst authors to target readers. There’s a lot of competition out there and it is getting a lot more difficult to reach the readers; traditional methods of marketing are not sufficient. Indeed, some of the traditional avenues are no longer free. Authors should get together in much bigger and wider cross-genre author groups to develop new innovative ways of marketing each other – no one can go it alone.

For instance, I have opened the Handbag Gallery to showcase all authors and genres thus allowing the readers somewhere to go to search for new books. I offer this service free to authors and readers, because I have the opportunity to network and to help others. It is an open invitation for all authors, but some are shy. I also target all readers with my Reader Recommends page.



8. Last of all – can you show us your handbag – is there a book in it at the moment?

Carol Drinkwater’s The Lost Girl and Adrienne Vaughan’s That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel are sitting in my handbag at the moment. I have also been re-reading John Berger’s Ways of Seein; although outdated now it has made me reflect on the visual literacy in our lives, today. I suppose this selection demonstrates I like a range of texts: there must be love, humour and some thought-provoking non-fiction. I am always ‘butterflying’ between tasks on my ‘to do’ list, and it is important for me to escape to a book which reflects my mood at the time.

Find out more about Jessie: 







Rhoda Baxter writes feel good stories about strong women and nice guy heroes. She especially likes it when they make her laugh. You can find out more about her award nominated books and mentoring services on