All Nick wants to do is take his dying father for a perfect father-son weekend in the Scottish Highlands. It’s not much to ask, is it? A log cabin, a roaring fire, a bottle of fine whisky and two days to paper over the cracks in their relationship.
However, Nick didn’t plan on making the trip with a dead neighbour in the back of his car. Or the neighbour’s dog. He really didn’t plan on being pursued by a psychotic female assassin intent on collecting body parts. And he really, really didn’t plan on encountering a platoon of heavily armed mercenaries, or some very hungry boars, or a werewolf.
A Heart in the Right Place – a horror comedy about setting out with the very best intentions and then messing everything up.
Today the authors ask themselves why road trips are so well-used in books, films and stories
Let us offer you some thoughts on the matter.
When we think about travel in very general terms, the act of getting from A to B can be a source of enormous frustration. Air travel at its best is a means to an end. We insert ourselves into the machine and hope that it spits us out at our destination in a convenient time frame. Air travel at its worst is utterly soul-destroying. Victims of the recent problems at Gatwick were suspended for days in a broken machine, unable to move forwards or backwards. Compare this with a non-urgent walk or a drive through an unfamiliar place. We can see the changes in the landscape as the miles roll by. We get a sense of gradual progress, and it feels like a journey because we can see it unfolding before us. If we want to, we can stop and look more closely or talk to people. What do we have in common with them? Does the place where they live alter their perspective? Travel not only broadens the mind, but it has also been shown to increase creativity in those who have spent time away from home. Maybe that’s why writers are drawn to the possibilities of a road trip. If you’ve ever read Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, you’ll know that he set out on a huge road trip specifically to meet people; he had a pick-up truck modified to be his temporary home and set off with the dog (Charley), so that he could make a connection with his compatriots.
This book had such an impact on Heide that she bought a camper van. Yes, you read that right, a book made Heide buy a VW T25 camper van (called Vera) and haul her son out on adventures. Her son is older now and she no longer owns Vera, but she regrets nothing, and still sometimes mentally plans road trips for fun, mainly because she loves looking at maps and imagining what the place will look like in real life.
It’s a natural step for writers to want to take their characters out on the road to experience change for themselves, against a backdrop that offers variety and adventure.
The second compelling reason for a roadtrip in a narrative is the way that it forces the main characters together for long hours at a time. There’s something about travelling with a companion, where your eyes are drawn to the passing scenery that invites the sharing of confidences — characters can say the unsayable.
Here is a very brief extract from A Heart in the Right Place. Nick is taking his father, Tony for a weekend away. They have a strained relationship, but Nick is determined to give his father a perfect weekend, as Tony has cancer. Things don’t go to plan, in fact they get off to a rocky start when Nick has to hide a body in the boot, but still, there are miles to go and the two of them need to talk.
“Nick had been trying to find a way to unravel the uncomfortable atmosphere in the car. It wasn’t all in his trousers, although that was becoming almost intolerable. Theirs was not a family which indulged in emotional exchanges, but he wanted to show his dad he cared about his illness, and wasn’t just freaked out by the ghoulish possibility he might drop dead while in Nick’s care. Actually, he realised, he was extremely freaked out by the ghoulish possibility his father might drop dead while in Nick’s care. How likely was that, exactly?
“You want one of your sucky sweets now?” said Tony.
“No, dad. Can I ask you about your, um, condition?”
“What about it?”
“What have the doctors said? How much do they know?”
Tony looked at him. “Son, they’re doctors. They know as much as anybody because they’re the experts on this stuff. They don’t have a crystal ball, though. Nobody really knows how things are going to play out. No point in dwelling on it either. I’m a firm believer in not giving something headroom if you don’t want it taking over your life.”
“Yes,” said Nick, who recognised the signs of his father terminating the conversation, “but I wasn’t sure if there’s anything I should look out for. Like if you might get symptoms I should tell you about, or something. You know?”
“There have been studies which say people on their own are more likely to die because they don’t notice things, or act on them. It’s particularly bad for men, because we just don’t tell people when something’s up. Suffer in silence and all that.”
“Nothing wrong with suffering in silence,” said Tony.
“I just want to know what to look out for.”
Stories, like journeys, like relationships are all about getting from A to B. In A Heart in the Right Place, Nick isn’t just hoping to travel from their home to an idyllic cottage in the Scottish Highland – he’s also hoping to steer their relationship to somewhere new in the short time the two of them have left together. A to B. And like relationships and road trips, the really interesting stories aim to go from A to B but end up going to J, Q, X and Z instead, perhaps ending up at B in the end, but not via the route intended. Nick is a very bad navigator, both geographically and emotionally. Do they get to their idyllic Highlands cottage? Do they patch up a slightly broken relationship? Well…
Thank you, Heide Goody, Iain Grant and RachelsRandomResources.
About the author
Heide Goody is the stupid one in the writing partnership and Iain Grant is the sensible one. Together, they are the authors of over a dozen books.
The ‘Clovenhoof’ series (in which Satan loses his job and has to move to Birmingham) has recently been optioned by a Hollywood production company.
Heide and Iain are both married, but not to each other.
Social Media Links: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Clovenhoof-Books-285544508177333/ Website: http://www.pigeonparkpress.com/ Twitter: @HeideGoody and @IainMGrant