Today I have something a little different for you. I have a wonderful Q&A with Cali Bird, the author of Tales of the Countess. This is one for chicklit fans and here is what it is all about…
How can a woman so capable at work be so useless at getting a man?
Kennington, London, 1998
The Countess of Kennington awakes one morning after a heavy night and realises it all has to stop.
She has to stop drinking her problems away. She has to stop acting irresponsibly. And she has to stop obsessing over the MSL: the Man She Loves.
But things are often easier said than done, and when she discovers the MSL is attending a conference where she is presenting, she cannot hold back her burgeoning hopes.
In a Sex In the City meets Toy Story scenario, the Countess lives in an unusual household where her chief confidantes, known as the accessories, are a collection of beloved handbags, a beautiful sheepskin coat and her teddy bear who provide her with support and advice.
As the conference gets underway, the Countess tries hard to focus on work, but encouraged by the accessories, she cannot resist the draw of the MSL.
The bags might talk but this is no kids book…
Tales of the Countess is a highly original chicklit novel by British author Cali Bird, about the need to find happiness in yourself before you get your man.
Buy it now for the perfect piece of romantic escapism.
Now for the Questions & Answers…
Hi Cali. Tell us about Tales of the Countess. What’s the book about?
The book is about the need to be happy in yourself and then you get your man. The main character, known only as the Countess is a modern woman, living in London, who is very capable in her work but useless on the relationship front. She drinks and parties too much and is faced with a situation where she really needs to sort herself out.
Is there any man in particular that the Countess has fallen for?
Yes. It is someone that she used to work with in New York. There had been a few sparks between them but he always insisted on remaining friends because of their work relationship. The book opens with her having left that job and returning home to London. She tries to get over him but then runs into him again through her work. She discovers they will both be going to the same conference which makes it much harder to put him out of her mind.
I’ve heard that some of the characters are handbags that talk. Is this true?
Yes. They are inspired by a collection of handbags that I already owned. I loved the film, Toy Story¸ where the toys are their own community and do their own thing while their owner, Andy, isn’t around.
I imagined the same thing happening with my handbags when I was out at work. When I bought a new one, and it became my new favourite, I always wondered what the others made of this and whether they were jealous.
Unlike Toy Story, the bags interact with the Countess. They try and advise her on her love life. When she gets upset because something has gone wrong, which seems to happen a lot, they support her through her emotions.
How did you decide what characters to give them?
That happened quite naturally as I started writing. One of them is very bitchy, while another is a girly-girl true romantic. The Countess’s teddy bear also features. I’ve always thought that teddy bears are very wise and her bear is no different. He works with the bags to try and support her. Later in the story she buys a beautiful sheepskin coat which has more of a tough-love personality and tells her a few home truths which initially, she doesn’t like.
Was it easier to write for them than the people in the book?
Yes. I always found that the conversations between the bags, including their squabbles, flowed easily.
With the people characters it was important to make sure that they were realistic and carried the story forward in a way which works for the reader.
Do you have a favourite bag?
Tough question! The bags in the book vary between something you’d take clubbing, a formal handbag and some beautiful fake fur casual bags. The formal bag is called the Queen Mum bag. I bought it in the late 90s at the end of the January sales. It has a cream tortoiseshell patent print and I used it for work. Wherever I went with it, it was men, not women, who commented on how much they liked it. It must have reminded them of their grannies or something! I used it for years and eventually the clasp broke. I sought out a specialist handbag repair shop but they couldn’t fix it without changing the look of the bag, which was a heart-breaking moment.
Recently I bought a bag by Aspinall which is very similar to it. I call it the Queen Mum Redux and I am often found stroking it and referring to it as “my precious”.
The book is set in the late 1990s. Is that when you started writing it?
I started writing it in 2000. I’d had the idea for a few months. For a laugh, I used to call myself Countess Cali of Kennington. In 1999 I started writing and as I worked through some creativity exercises, I realised that there would mileage in a fictional version of the countess and her handbags.
It originally began as a short story but kept growing. I worked on it for a few years but then run out of steam as my own life had moved on and I was no longer single. I parked it for nine years and it sat in the proverbial drawer. During those years I learned a lot about story structure and other novel writing techniques, and worked on other projects. Three years ago, I decided to return to Tales of the Countess and this time was determined to get the story fit for publication. Twenty years after I began writing about her, the Countess is finally out in the world.
How does the book mirror your life?
I was single when I started writing it, and suffering one of many heartbreaks. Another liaison with someone I liked didn’t go the way I would have wished. Initially I was attracted to writing the story because, unlike real life, I could choose the ending!
Once I got into writing it though, the story took on a life of its own. As I revised it, the elements in the initial draft which had been based on real events dropped away. Over time it developed its own truth.
I guess I’m similar to the Countess in that at the time I was doing the same kind of work. She’s much more capable than me though. I’ve been too busy playing around with creative stuff!
Thanks very much Cali. It sounds like a fun read.
Thank you. That’s the feedback I’m getting from people who have read it. It seems to be the perfect piece of escapism for the current times.
Cali is in her mid-fifties and lives in Bedfordshire. She was single until she was nearly forty and used to be the archetypal career girl, living in Central London and working in investment banking. One day, she had an epiphany, realised that she needed to honour her creative side and started writing. Since then, she had various side projects including running a life-coaching business, giving self-development talks and blogging about creativity at www.gentlecreative.com. She has practised Buddhism for over thirty years and is a self-confessed tree-hugger.
Cali has known her husband, Graham, since they were at school together. Although they once had a smooch when they were nineteen, they didn’t get back in contact for many years. Within a month of their first date, they realised they had found someone special in each other, but it was another few years before they were married at the tender age of forty-six. It’s never too late to find love!
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