Monday, January 9, 2012

Author Interview: Phillipa Ashley of Carrie Goes Off the Map

After a few mix ups only days before Christmas, I am excited to get the opportunity to interview the talented Phillipa Ashley, author of Carrie Goes Off the Map, Wish You Were Here, and Dating Mr. December.  I've thoroughly enjoyed her novels for their great escape read and chick-lit, star quality. I hope you enjoy my interview with Phillipa!

Me:  Thank you so much for letting me interview you about your newest book for my blog! Your book was an undeniable treat, just as your previous two have been.  I have loved reading and reviewing them on my blog, so I’m extra excited to have you stop by my blog to share a bit more.

In the three of your books that I’ve read, there always seems to be a journey involved.  Is there a reason for that, or is that just a fun element thrown in for our couples?

Phillipa:  Apart from Carrie, I don’t think I consciously planned to send the characters on a journey but now you come to mention it, you’re absolutely right! Someone once told me there are only two basic plots for a book, namely ‘A Stranger Comes to Town’ and 'A Journey.’ That’s oversimplifying things, of course, but it does apply to an awful lot of stories. I’d say that Dating Mr. December was A Stranger Comes to Town and Wish You Were Here and Carrie are journeys. A journey makes a very relatable metaphor for the characters emotional discovery.

Me:  Your books are endlessly romantic, with a lot of tension leading up to the endings.  How do you work out the pacing so that you don’t frustrate the reader (which I never have been), but hold us off long enough to make us want the couple to get together?

Phillipa:  Oh gosh… I guess some of the pacing just happens naturally, I start off with a beginning and end and usually two or three big scene ‘turning points’. Then I start writing and the rest of the story unfolds naturally, or I think it does. There are times when I’ve stuck to a plan and realized that it’s not really happening naturally enough so I go back and scrap thousands of words. That hurts but it’s important that the characters lead the story, not my whims. I don’t micromanage scenes – I have no idea what ‘beats to a scene’ are etc.; I write in a ‘train of thought’ way which sometimes works and sometimes leads me into a lot of trouble!

Me:  Has anyone ever mentioned that you don’t describe your female lead characters very much?  In a way, it makes me picture myself in their positions.  Is that on purpose, or am I really overlooking the physical descriptions here?

Phillipa:  No one has said straight out but you are spot on! I think I want my heroines to be every woman and for the reader to fit right into their shoes and hearts and minds - but also I don’t want them to be bland! I made Carrie the most volatile of my heroines. I wanted her to show real reactions to her situation – she’s a bit of a drama queen in every sense and she reacts by turns, devastated and angry, vengeful and confused. Her fight or flight instincts keep kicking in, leading to a journey of true emotional ups and downs. I don’t think I could ever write a ‘kick ass’ heroine but my girls could cut any one down to size with a tongue lashing!

Me:  Specifically for Carrie Goes Off the Map, her fiancĂ© who chucked her seems completely unhappy by the end of the novel.  Was that just me, or was that just wishful thinking in my once-dumped experience to hope that he was miserable without Carrie?

Phillipa:  Of course he’s miserable, lol. Serves him right. Happily, you can take revenge in a book in a way you might not in real life, but people do move on and find new partners who are more right for them than the person they thought was ‘The One.’  I found writing the scene where she returns pretty difficult to write. I wanted their resolution to be quiet and regretful – the ultimate revenge, of course, being to live well as Carrie has started to do. Huw’s not a bad man but he’s made a very bad decision that he has to live with. The worst scene to write, however, was one with Natasha and Carrie that made me cry and made my agent cry. She won’t let me send a book off to an editor unless it has made her shed a few tears!

Me:  I loved Doctor Matt in Carrie Goes Off the Map and kind of think he felt like the reserved version of Mr. Darcy.  In fact, at one point in the story you said he was like a “dirty Mr. Darcy.”  Is that who you pictured here? 

Phillipa:  Matt is my favourite hero. In fact, after I wrote Carrie, I found I couldn’t write for a while (my books are published out of sequence in the USA.) It sounds odd, but I fell hard for Matt and no one could top him for quite a time. The Dirty Mr. Darcy thing comes from a couple of places.  One is the fact that Matt was inspired by a photo of Richard Armitage who had been playing John Thornton in North & South. There had been a lot of stuff in the press referring to Thornton as the ‘Industrial Darcy.’ Matt has that Darcy class thing going on – he’s typical of your posh Oxbridge boy and I did a lot of research with my daughter’s medic friends from those universities. He tries to hide his seriousness and passion all under a veneer of sarcasm and bravado. I can’t give away any spoilers, but yes, he knows exactly how to handle Carrie and exactly what she needs and he gives it unselfishly as he does to his patents. Question is, what does he need?

***Sidenote:  I mentioned to Phillipa on twitter that the "dirty Darcy" bit had me laughing aloud and completely picturing the male hero in a much different way.  What a great way of describing a hero!  :)  (Thank you to Phillipa for providing this awesome picture of Richard Armitage.)

Me:  Do you have any other books that will be coming out in the U.S. that have already been published, and do you have any other books that you’re working on for the moment?

Phillipa:  Just Say Yes is being published by Sourcebooks in June – it’s probably a bit lighter and funnier than Carrie, more of a romp and a stab at reality TV culture. It has a blond, uncompromising, working class hero who was a real challenge to write. After that I have my fingers crossed for the publication of a new longer book featuring a history-loving heroine who has no past of her own and a tortured modern day aristocrat who share a romantic island castle

Me:  I can't wait!  I will definitely be picking them up!

Thanks again Phillipa!  Your books are a real treat for this overworked high school teacher.  In fact, they make me want to escape back to the U.K. and can’t wait for the day that I can travel back over for a longer visit.

Phillipa:  Becky, it’s always a pleasure and thank you for such interesting questions. I’ve loved answering them and would love to meet you if you come over here in future.

Phillipa Ashley
Me:  I can't wait to get back over to the U.K. for a visit and would love to get in touch.  Thanks for such a great interview and for sharing more about your books with us.

Honestly, I can't recommend Phillipa Ashley's books enough.  She has great, romantic-comedy meets British Chick Lit.  There is substance to her writing and a great escape for any reader.  Although Carrie Goes Off the Map was recently released in December, you can also check out her other two novels--Dating Mr. December and Wish You Were Here.  Happy reading!

Knowing Phillipa Ashley based her hero on our fan-favorite Richard Armitage, how does that shape your reading?  Does it change the way you view the character and make you love them more?

What great questions do you have for Phillipa?


  1. This was a wonderful interview with some great questions! Thanks to both of you!

  2. Thanks for stopping in! :) Phillipa is so nice and approachable--besides being a great author!

  3. Great questions, Becky! I love Armitage. :) Usually I like to figure out what a character looks like in my head, though.

  4. Heidenkind--Yes, and the fact that he also inspired the "Dirty Darcy" bit makes it even more intriguing eh? :)