Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From Road Trip to Fiction: Writing Carrie Goes Off the Map by Phillipa Ashley (and GIVEAWAY!)

I am happy to have author Phillipa Ashley as a guest on Laura's Reviews today talking about her new novel, Carrie Goes Off the Map. I posed the following question to Ms. Ashley and got a very entertaining guest blog response.

 From road trip to fiction, what about your research trip made it into the book and what was left behind?

I think the old ’iceberg rule’ holds true. You only really use a tiny fraction of the research you’ve done in the finished book. Even with a contemporary novel, it’s very easy to get carried away with dumping knowledge into scenes and that holds up the pace of the story for the reader.

On saying that, my road trip in South West England in a vintage VW campervan trip did made a big difference to the book, both in terms of atmosphere and plot. I’m convinced that if I hadn’t actually sampled such a journey myself, the book would not be the one it is now.

I’d actually started the draft before I went on the trip and had a good grip on the characters and an idea of where the plot was heading, but I knew it would be so much better and more fun to actually experience the campervan lifestyle.

VW campervans have iconic status in the UK. You see them rattling down the motorway, adorned with bright colours and surfboards on the roof, heading for the beaches of Devon and Cornwall. I chose a VW van for Carrie’s journey because it was quirky and individual, like the characters. The van also seemed the perfect vehicle for bringing Carrie up close and personal with her own emotions, challenges and goals in life - and of course, with the gorgeous but infuriating Dr Matt Landor.

I’d been camping with my husband as a student, but this trip was to be the first time we’d stayed in such a small vehicle without technology, home comforts or a bathroom. Not a problem, I thought, I can rough it and camping out under the stars always looks so idyllic...

There was only once slight concern. Carrie and Matt travel in high summer but we needed to take the trip in March!

In early spring, the UK can be reasonably mild, with daffodils are in bloom and lambs in the fields but it can just as well bring thick snow, gales and lashing rain! Plus we were heading for the north coast of Devon, to a stunning campsite that was exposed to the full force of nature. In the end it was fine every day – but boy, was it cold. We definitely had to snuggle up to keep warm, with only the canvas roof between us and the elements.

I thought carefully about Carrie’s itinerary because it had to reflect her emotional journey after she loses everything – her fiancĂ©, her job, her home, self esteem and belief in happy endings. So she starts off by throwing away her engagement ring, feeling bitter and cynical and with no real sense of direction.

In our five day trip, there wasn’t time to do the whole route that Matt and Carrie take, but I had already been to the other main novel locations including St Ives, an old fishing village in Cornwall and the Minack Theatre, an amazing open air amphitheatre carved out of the cliffs. I used North Devon, where we took the campervan, the first place that Carrie and Matt stop. It’s a big surfers’ hang out as you’ll find out from the novel.

Other experiences made it into the book. What a shock it was to take wheel of a 40 year old van! The driving made for some fun scenes and actually provided the idea for a major turning point in the novel. The cramped conditions were ‘interesting’ and I realised the van didn’t have physical space for one scene I had in mind... as you’ll read.

I also learned a valuable lesson: never let research take precedence over the characters. I had planned to have a rescue at sea in the book and so I arranged a visit to an RAF Search & Rescue base in Devon. The visit was thrilling, we saw the SAR helicopter landing and I got to sit in the pilot’s seat and interview one of the crew. But when I’d finished the draft I realised the scene didn’t really fit in, no mater how much I wanted it there, so I deleted it. It stung to cut out all those words and rewrite but I'm so glad I did.

The story always comes first and I can always save that research for a new book!

Carrie Goes Off The Map

ISBN: 9781402241451
By: Phillipa Ashley
Published: 06 Dec 2011

"Wonderfully romantic and funny... fulfills all the best fantasies, including a gorgeous, humanitarian hero and a camper van!"

-Katie Fforde, UK Best Selling Author of Love Letters

Carrie lets her best friend talk her into a scenic European road trip as the perfect getaway from a nasty breakup. Unexpectedly along for the ride is the gorgeous Matt Landor, MD, who sorely tests Carrie's determination to give up men altogether. Careening through the English countryside, these two mismatched but perfectly attuned lonely hearts find themselves in hot pursuit of adventure and in entirely uncharted territory.

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks is going to send one lucky winner a copy of Carrie Goes Off the Map by Phillipa Ashley.

If you would like to win a copy of  Carrie Goes Off the Map please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 23rd.

Good luck!


  1. Enjoyed the interview and slightly envious of the author's personal road trip. I think the part that intrigues me is the travel and seeing new places to heal. Traveling and seeing new places help me deal with internal issues too.

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  2. This sounds like a fun story. I like a good adventure/romance ssandmoen(AT)yahoo(Dot)com

  3. I've always wanted to visit Europe so I like the idea of being to do via this story and a road trip sounds full of entertainment.


  4. I love that this author actually made a trip in a campervan for the sake of her book--that seems so wonderfully bohemian to me!

    Great guest post! Sometimes when I research or find out about something I want to include it in a post (or other writing), even though it doesn't really fit--I can relate to what Phillipa Ashley says!


    Thanks for hosting this great giveaway, Laura. I'll post it in my blog's sidebar.

  5. Thank you for having me on the blog, Laura!

  6. Thanks for the interview! I love the fact that a lot of research goes into writing a contemporary book like this even if only a little of the information makes it into the book. As the author said, unless you physically put yourself in your character's situation (I.e. a tiny, cramped van) you won't know what actions would be possible and plausible. The book sounds great!

  7. I think the iceberg is a great analogy. I've read books that dump in too much detail and boy, does it bog the narrative down.

  8. This wonderful post has me captivated and intrigued. What an opportunity to travel and write. Many thanks. Anne. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. What a fantastic road trip experience. This book would be a treasure. thanks for this feature which is special. Elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  10. I love reading about a writer's process. It's so true that sometimes you just have to forego certain research material from the manuscript because it will just be surplus and readers pick up on that.
    laurafabiani at videotron dot ca

  11. What intrigues me most is that this book will be about what I suppose is an interesting road trip.

    leah49 (at) gmail (dot) com

  12. http://polliwogblog.blogspot.com/p/giveaways.html

    leah49 (at) gmail (dot) com

  13. I love the ideas of long, meandering road trips (not sure I'd ever survive one, but I love the stories!), so this sounds very much up my alley...and lovin' the guest post and the idea of "stashing" research :o)


  14. This giveaway has now ended and the winner has been notified.