Twitter is such a polite form of communication that seems to promote that good old fashioned courtesy. It is wonderful that good people can ‘like’ your comments and always thank you for a re-tweet; perfect strangers wish me ‘Happy Monday’, or tell me to have a good weekend.
Recently the lovely Diane Need wished me ’Happy Friday’ on Thursday and this prompted a string of humorous comments from others – all very courteous. My phone beep, beeped for two days with various comments until it was indeed Friday and Diane’s birthday. Here are some snatches of the conversation:
It’s your birthday – it can be whatever day you want it to be. x
Such interactions punctuate your day with positivity and make you laugh out loud in public places. How, I wish that we could apply the same etiquette to everyday situations and people would walk past and share a positive greeting, rather than looking at their feet. Wouldn’t it be great if we could hand out cards with emojis on them, just to confirm our feelings? They wouldn’t have to say anything just hold up a smiley face. The only down side could be that one wouldn’t stop saying thank you. In Twitterland, everyone keeps on acknowledging your comments and it is difficult to know when to stop: I haven’t yet learnt this etiquette as I like to have the last word.
I had a great dilemma when Angela Petch sent me a picture of an orchid from Italy and presented ‘an orchid in Tuscany for favourite Blogger.’ What could I do? I couldn’t go on pressing the ‘like’ button forever and working my way through all of the emojis? I had to be courteous and creative so I sent her a picture of a cup with an appropriate message on it. Does anyone know if that was sufficient or if I have missed something?
I adore the way in which Twitterland guides you down the path of courteousness, reinstates good old fashioned values and inspires creativity. I want to share this love and hand out emojis as I walk the streets. Of course, it would be even better if more strangers would just smile occasionally and pass the time of day – just as the lovely people do on Twitter.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone on Twitter for future re-tweets and any ‘likes’ that they want to share. I like you all, with big hearts, and thank you! I am happy, excited and winking simultaneously.
As I collected my washing from the washing line, a hedgehog paused at my feet and rested next to a peg on the ground. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle had come to help me with the washing. I rushed to collect my camera, hoping that she would wait for me to return.
Hurray! Mrs Tiggy-Winkle waited for me to capture the moment. I couldn’t wait to send out the image via Twitter and Facebook. My husband downloaded the image whilst I searched for an extract from one of Beatrix Potter’s books. The photo was saved in a folder labelled ‘Home Hedgehog’, because she was our hedgehog. Having constructed the post, I pressed send and we raised a glass to our hedgehog.
As expected the notifications and re-tweets followed. Jenn Bregman said, ‘Sooooo cute!!’. Angela Petch remarked, ‘Eat those slugs Mrs Tiggy-Winkle…’ The hedgehog charmed everyone. Author, Jacqueline Kirk, asked, ‘Was the hedgehog out in daylight?’ Pondering this, I knew something was wrong. Jacqueline tweeted more information. ‘#WildlifeOrphan1 says they are in trouble if out in daylight. The little fella looks small.’
Reality started to kick in, I realised that this wasn’t Mrs Tiggy-Winkle: it was either Ms or Mr Tiggy-Winkle. Returning to my prized photo, I noticed that he/she was indeed a tiny, fluffy creature. As my grandmother would have said, he/she is ‘nowt but a bairn’. Should he/she have been out at that time of day?
Jacqueline Kirk sent out a Code Red asking for advice. I worried all night about the little hedgehog. The Hedgehog Helpline didn’t answer my call. The following morning, I had a brainwave and contacted John Jackson, author of, ‘Heart of Stone’, and hedgehog whisperer. Thankfully, the lovely man messaged me instantly.
‘That’s early, but not exceptional. We’ve had the hedgehogs out before sunset many times.’
Phew! Feeling better, I made myself a cup of tea and then called the Hedgehog Helpline again. The wonderful woman was so calm and grateful for the call. Her words echoed those of The Hedgehog Whisperer. However, I can call the helpline again if the hog appears and they will assess his/her behaviour. I may have to take my little hog to Hedgehog Hospital. I didn’t know that these wonderful people existed. Thank you, Hedgehog Helpline SEW, John Jackson and Jacqueline Kirk!
Last week, the Handbag Gallery was launched to celebrate authors and their work. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the authors for their overwhelming support. It has been great to meet such a variety of wonderful authors.
The gallery displays authors’ books in their handbags/bags, and each photograph is linked to details about the author’s book. It is an opportunity to celebrate all authors and to introduce them to readers and other authors. Angela Petch also pointed out that ‘it was an excuse to buy a new handbag’.
I am delighted that twenty seven authors have sent me photographs of their books in their bags/handbags. It is gratifying to receive comments from the authors. The amazing Ian Wilfred commented that ‘it was great fun to be part of BookInHandbag gallery’ and he supported the initiative throughout the launch week. Many authors and readers said that they ‘loved the idea’ and it was ‘original’. For instance, Caz Greenham tweeted that ‘it was a great idea by Jessie’. Juliet Greenwood shouted ‘hurrah’ when her handbag was displayed. Imogen Matthews declared that it was an ‘honour to be in such company.’
Viewing the gallery, it is clear to see the creativity informing the composition. Some compositions suggest drama whereas others are more relaxed. Rosanna Ley described her composition as ‘exotic’. Many authors take care to co-ordinate their handbag/bag with the front cover of their books. Every single composition sets the scene and tells a story. There are themes such as mystery, escapism, adventure and romance. The images demonstrate the fact that authors are fun story-tellers who absolutely adore a creative challenge! To find out more, step inside the gallery. You never know who you might meet in the Handbag Gallery…
It would be an honour to showcase the novels of more authors. I invite authors to email a photo of their book in their handbag/bag to email@example.com if they want to be included in the Handbag Gallery.
What next for the jessiecahalin.com blog?
I have been building another room but no builders were required – great savings on the cost of tea and biscuits.
This week, I have been adding the final touches to the Author Chat Room with a picture gallery of My Guests. I have already interviewed Elaine Jeremiah and am preparing for more authors. My guest list includes: Angela Petch, Sue Moorcroft, Imogen Matthews, Emily Williams, Jan Ellis, Rosanna Ley, Diane Need, Helene Leuchel and Rosemary Dun.
I was delighted when Imogen Matthews tweeted that, ‘The Author Chat Room is such a great idea! @BooksInHandbag is going from strength to strength.’
This week, I chatted with Angela Petch in Italy as the Chat Room is still under construction. It was warm out there but a cool glass of Prosecco helped, and we talked for a long time. Angela is charming and the inspiration behind her story-telling is moving.
Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com to read my reviews and subscribe to receive the weekly updates.
Thank you to everyone who regularly visits my website and a massive thank you to my wonderful subscribers. I have been overwhelmed with the praise for my website and book reviews. Angela Petch captured my motivation perfectly when she wrote that ‘your blog shows me that you are a true book lover.’
I am dedicated to reviewing authors’ books as it is simple act of kindness that lets them know that they are valued. For instance, Sue Moorcroft responded to a review with ‘There are few things that give me greater pleasure than people enjoying my book.’ Carol Drinkwater wrote that my review was a ‘wonderful surprise’. Authors are the wordsmiths, the dream weavers and storytellers and it is an honour to read their work. It has made me so happy to discover that Angela Petch was ‘moved to tears’ by my review, and Jan Ellis said that my review made her ‘well up’. It was a delight to receive Diane Need’s comment that she was ‘so thrilled with the review of her debut novel’.
In addition, to writing the weekly review, I have also enjoyed interacting with the authors about their characters. Angela Petch has updated me on Giuseppe, Marisa, Francesco, Anna, Ines, Danilo and the little horses of San Francesco from Now and Then in Tuscany. Diane Need has sent messages from Beth in Press Three for Goodbye. Jan Ellis has kept me posted with regard Eleanor’s social life in A Summer of Surprises. I have exchanged postcards with Leah in Just for the Holidays and as Sue Moorcroft said, ‘it was so much fun’. I will catch up with Leah again soon when I read the book.
Connecting with the virtual world of WordPress, Twitter and Facebook has encouraged me to find a message in the ordinary world around us. I am always looking for photograph opportunities to support a tweet, Facebook post or blog. My mind is constantly buzzing with ideas and it’s great. These adventures can result in some fulfilling interactions in the real world, but my photographing adventures can also get me in into trouble.
On the whole people are very accommodating and let me take photographs of their shops, museums, pubs, gardens, houses etc. For instance, the porters on The Grand Hotel, in Brighton, were happy to let me capture the glamorous setting with my camera. I needed the photographs for Ally Bunbury’s book review and interview. The helpful porters even cleared some luggage to enhance the shot. Later that day, a kind gentleman pointed out various signs for me to capture in his grocer’s shop, but I did get a little suspicious when one of the signs read: ‘New husband for sale’.
During my adventures, I have learned to smile at the museum curators and carry on. Unfortunately, I was chastised for photographing Churchill’s writing desk. Though, I was delighted to be informed that Churchills would ‘fight me on the beaches’ if I dared to take photos. Another curator pretended not to see me taking a view of the garden from the window. One antique shop owner looked at me suspiciously when I declared, ‘I need pictures of old spades etc to display as murder weapons.’ I intended to use these in a murder story lark developed, on Facebook, with Angela Petch and Patricia Stoner. On this occasion, I didn’t use the photos but they will be useful at some stage.
Walking through the Beacons, I decided to write a blog about the inspiring environment. I spied an opportunity to throw a stone in the water to represent a big splash. The splash would represent a thought or an idea. Unfortunately, I was chased away from the lake by the people who were fishing for trout. I did ask if they would like me to ‘sling my hook’ but they weren’t amused.
Sue Moorcroft’s ‘Just for the Holidays’ got me into the most trouble. I required some images of holiday items as mine weren’t glamorous enough for a friend of Leah. While shopping in a supermarket, I saw lots of holiday goodies. Bingo! I set to work removing the various items, placing them in better light and clicking my camera phone. The Canadian security guard was not impressed with me and said, ‘Ma’am, would you please follow me?’ I followed him. Disappointingly, I was led to his security post and not his horse. He was very polite and soon accepted my explanation.
The most frightening experience occurred when I was taking a photo of a street sign for Muddles Green. That day, I was in a muddle with editing so the sign was perfect. I stood in the middle of the quiet country lane to snap the image. A motorbike almost ploughed into me as it raced around the corner. It was worth it when lots of authors connected with the message.
Not everyone can connect with my adventures. I asked shop owner if I could place Jan Ellis’s The Bookshop Detective’ in his window display and then take a photograph. Sadly, he wouldn’t allow it as he was concerned that there would be breakages. How did he know that I am clumsy? Maybe, he thought that I was the detective and wanted to get inside of the window display.
It is great fun to think about representing my adventures through social media. It is a bonus that my everyday experiences and thoughts mean something to like-minded people out there in the world. My handbag adventures have enabled me to connect with a wealth of creative people who challenge and inspire me. These connections wouldn’t have happened without social media, and now I am exploring how I can further develop some creative collaborations. I am looking forward to working with Jenni Lopez from @TheJennieration.
This week has been a busy adventure for @BooksInHandbag.
I have been communicating with fictional characters and trying to get into their world. I feel as if have been residing in a corner of my mind that is neither reality nor fiction and it’s a great place.
Leah, from Just for the Holidays, has been sending me postcards about her dilemma out there in France, and other characters from the books that I am reviewing have asked for help. Annoyingly, the author, Angela Petch is also travelling to Leah’s holiday destination and she has been trying to get into the heart of the gossip. I am sure that Angela wants material for her next book.
I have been desperately trying to get out to France to support Leah, but it is proving to be quite a challenge. Locating a ferry ticket has been an absolute nightmare, holiday shopping has been horrendous and I am petrified of driving in France. As I write, I am planning how to get out there to Leah and find out what is happening. It is difficult because I can sense that she doesn’t want me to go out there for some reason, but doesn’t want to offend. I need to see Leah face to face. It is a concern that Angela will hunt out any gossip and spill the beans in her next novel. Despite my reservations about driving in France, I will just have to get on with it and race out there.
Must stop!!! Someone is knocking at the door and the next-door neighbour’s dogs are going mad. Who is it? I can see a camper van outside. I will be back soon…
It’s me…I am back again.
The characters from my debut novel You Can’t Go It Alone were knocking on my door. Sophie and Jack have arrived in a camper van and they have said that I can borrow it for the journey to France. It is so typical of Sophie and Jack to think of others when they are going through so much. However, I don’t know why they have changed the lovely tangerine orange colour to a yukky pale blue. I might have to take them up on their offer, if I can find an available ferry crossing.
I hope that I get to France on time!
It’s frightening as the characters, from the books, are taking over and I am not sure what is reality and what is fiction: all I do is write, write, write the events of my day. It’s great fun, and it’s amazing to connect with the creative minds of other authors. I may never have to face reality again thanks to Twitter and the power of the imagination. The author Linn B Halton has just messaged me to say that there ought to be an ‘Authors Anonymous’ to assist with our addiction to writing.
Are the characters, in the books that I am reviewing, taking over my life?
Imogen Matthews was born in Rijswijk, Holland, to a Dutch mother and English father, the family moved to England when Imogen was very young.
Imogen contacted me and asked me to review her novel. She told me that The Hidden Village is an ‘intriguing historical fiction’ based on historical facts that have remained hidden in Holland. My interest was piqued when she told me that she ‘needed to tell this WW2 story for the people of the hidden village.’ Obviously, the novel is on my Reading List but I wanted to find out more about the author and the book.
I was delighted to welcome Imogen Matthews to my Chat Room. She is the first author to visit the completed room. I was a little alarmed when she greeted me with, ‘Dag!’ but explained that it is Dutch for hello.
Imogen came into the Chat Room wearing a navy biker jacket over peach-coloured culottes and strappy navy sandals. Of course, she had brought an enviable bag for the occasion and it was an elegant mushroom tote bag.
She requested a black Americano and brought some Dutch “koekjes” (biscuit) called “krakelingen” – lovely crisp flaky biscuits topped with sugar and cinnamon.
She said, ‘In Holland, you always get a “koekje” with your coffee and I miss that in England!’
How is Dutch culture different to British culture?
The Dutch have a word “gezellig” that is an emotion we don’t have a word for. So you can make your house “gezellig” by having lots of table lamps and tealights (strictly no overhead lights). A sociable meal with friends and family is also “gezellig”. My mother also used to say it was “gezellig” whenever I used to pop over for coffee. The Danes have stolen a march on this idea with “hygge”, but I can assure you that I’ve been using “gezellig” long before “hygge” became fashionable!
Imogen is an engaging, lively and positive personality and this reassured me that the narrative voice in her book would also be appealing. It was obvious that her determination has served her well as a writer. She cares passionately about the hidden Dutch history and this made me want to read on for the sake of the lost voices.
Set in WW2 Holland, deep in the Veluwe woods, The Hidden Village is a story about survival, hope, despair, and ultimately, love, as a community pulls together to build a purpose-built village to shelter those persecuted by the Germans. The lives of young Sofie, Jan and Liesbeth become entwined with devastating consequences for their futures.
Tempt me with an extract from the novel
“It was the smell of a cigarette that stopped him in his tracks. A man wearing a grey belted coat stepped out from behind the tree. ‘So’, he said, grinding his cigarette with his boot.”
Why did you decide to digress from your usual genre of novel?
This was a story I felt I had to get down, so when I’d finished I felt pleased I’d told a story that so many people won’t have known anything about.
What do the reviewers say about your novel?
Sensitively written. “From the first chapter you are engaged with the characters and I even found myself warning them when they were due to be raided – OUT LOUD! Sensitively written, with a page-turning plot, this is a wonderful new book from Imogen.” Ms E. Holmes-ievers
I couldn’t put it down. “This skillful blend of fiction within the factual events happening to many at those times, holds you till the end. I couldn’t put it down, nor did I want to until the final page.” Gilly Cox
Highly recommended. “Though the subject matter is tough, there are lighter moments and the book rattles along at a good pace. The varied cast of characters, especially the younger ones, keeps your interest. Highly recommended.” Clarky
How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
It left a big hole as I’d spent so long on the book and I realised just how attached I’d become to my characters.
So yes, I miss my characters lots! I miss Sofie’s feistiness and determination not to let her life change by hiding away from the Germans. And I miss her best friend Liesbeth, who sticks by Sofie through thick and thin, even though she also has to make her own big sacrifices. I even miss the enigmatic Henk, the head woodman, who’s instrumental in getting the hidden village built, but struggles with his loyalties. I particularly miss Jan, who’s always getting into scrapes but is only trying to help others and do good. He goes through so much that I just want to give him a big hug and tell him that everything will turn out alright.
It is obvious that you are genuinely attached to your characters and care about them – this always bodes well for the reader.
Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
I’d love Anita Shreve to read my book as I’m a great fan of her writing. She has a great ability to say so much in so few words. Her book Resistance, set in German-occupied Belgium, is brilliant and inspired me when I started working out the plot for my book.
Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Because it’s so gripping that you won’t want to leave it out of your sight!
What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
I’ve been writing for years and have notebooks all over the place, so that’s a hard one. I guess it’ll be something along the lines of “to be continued.” That sums up how I feel about writing -I’ve always got something more to say.
What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?
Getting noticed. You have to work really hard to get people to find your book as the competition is increasing all the time. I self-published my first book Run Away by Alex Johnson (my pen name) in 2012 and got a great response quite quickly and lots of reviews. Then in 2014 I published the sequel The Perfume Muse and it was already much harder. For The Hidden Village I was fortunate to find Amsterdam Publishers, who have been enormously helpful in helping to navigate the many pitfalls when launching a book.
What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
A writing tutor once said that you should write every day, however little and however bad you might think your writing is. She also recommended writing before doing anything else first thing in the morning as it’s so easy to get distracted by other things and then never get down to it. I took her advice to heart and sometimes I only write 100 words a day, but these words do add up and eventually you can see you have written a book. Of course, that’s when the hard work starts, but you’ve built the framework which gives you the confidence to keep going.
Tell me a little more about yourself.
I live with my husband in Oxford and love to go on runs, walks and cycle rides in the beautiful surrounding countryside. I love cooking Moroccan and Middle Eastern inspired food, particularly Ottolenghi and Persiana recipes. A favourite is lovely crumbly tahini cookies.
Tahini Cookies (from Jerusalem) by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamiimi
130g caster sugar
150 unsalted butter, at room temperature
110g light tahini paste
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
25ml double cream (you can sub this with milk)
270g plain flour
200 degree C/180 degree C Fan/Gas Mark 6
Put sugar and butter in mixer bowl and with a beater attachment work for 1 minute at medium speed. Add tahini, vanilla and cream, then the flour and work for a minute till a dough comes together. Transfer to a work surface and knead till smooth.
Pinch off 20g of dough and roll between your palms into a ball. Squash down onto a baking sheet (no oil necessary) and use the back of a fork to flatten and make a prong pattern. Sprinkle each cookie with cinnamon. Make sure the cookies aren’t too close together as they do spread a bit.
Into the oven for 15-17 minutes till golden brown.
Turn onto a wire rack to cool and try and resist eating them when hot! Yum!