Christmas present idea: a signed first edition of Slow Travel: Shropshire

Who set his own shirt on fire to cure a bout of hiccups?
What experience did John Betjeman describe as like “being lifted up to heaven”?
Where can you pet a llama, go down a mine, sing in an old-time music hall or stand with one leg in England and one leg in Wales?
When was Shropshire a coral reef in a tropical sea?
Why did weeping Victorian tourists flock to a ‘grave’ in Tong?

Find the answers to all these questions and more in Slow Travel: Shropshire, published by Bradt Travel Guides to a very positive reception in February this year.

Between now and the end of November 2016, I’m taking orders for signed copies – the ideal Christmas present for anyone who loves Shropshire already, or who deserves to be let in on the secrets of this quietly beautiful, unjustly overlooked, historically impSlow Travel: Shropshireortant county.

Get your signed copy directly from me, the author, for only £12 (RRP £12.99) plus £2.30 P&P*. Just send me a message with your details: I’ll forward you a link for instant payment and get the book to you right away, with the handwritten sentiment of your choice inside.

Please hurry, though, as I have only limited stock. This offer will end on Wednesday 30 November.

Read what people have been saying about the book.

*Price for UK second-class postage. Please let me know in your message if you’re overseas or need it sooner than a second-class service can deliver.

Slow Travel: Shropshire is out now

My book for Bradt Travel Guides is available to buy now in online bookshops and some of the best real-life mainstream and indie ones too (cover price is £12.99).

Slow Travel: Shropshire

The book came out two days before my second baby so I’ve been very busy (and awake) ever since.

Here is just some of the lovely feedback I’ve received so far:

On Instagram

“an interesting read even for a local, puts a really interesting spin on places you normally only ever drive (or ride) past”
Instagram recommendation

From Shropshire Review

. . . “an excellent guide book, packed to bursting with information and painstakingly gathered detail which will have not only visitors but also natives of the county wanting to get out there and explore.”

Shropshire Review review
From a PhD student at the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage at the University of Birmingham:

“it’s a lovely format and felt much more like travel writing than a traditional guide book. I was really impressed by the depth of research that went into it and the way it drew me into the stories of the places in it.”

PhD.jpg

Over at Amazon:

“I found myself reading it almost from cover to cover.”

Amazon reviewJust a few of many sweet tweets:

Tweet Wenlock Books

Tweet Pitchford Estate

Tweet Shrewsbury Museum

Tweet interesting and informative

You’ll also find lots of extra content at the Bradt website.

Slow Travel: Shropshire

Slow Travel: Shropshire

At this very moment it is likely I am wearing wellies, hopping over a stile, falling in a mere, climbing a hill, testing cream tea (VERY important), scribbling down museum opening hours or waiting for a train. Or just holed up in my office writing …

Slow Travel: Shropshire will be published by Bradt Travel Guides in February 2016. Available for pre-order now.

Feature on Norfolk in Real Family Travel

I’ve got a feature in August 2013’s special coastal edition of Real Family Travel, the brilliant iPad magazine based in the US.

Real Family Travel_August 2013

My piece is on five magical things to do with your family in Norfolk, England. You can subscribe to the magazine via realfamilytravel.com or download a PDF of my article here.

Three travel articles in Motherhood magazine

I’m delighted to have been commissioned by Motherhood magazine to write three articles for its ‘Travel with Kids Guide’ this month – about flying in pregnancy and holidays with small children. Did you know all Singapore Airlines’ cabin crew are trained to help deliver babies? I found out some other interesting things while researching these features: take a look at my published work page

Legflaps

I was coming down with a cold. My throat felt raw and my forehead was burning. Determined not to miss out on a single hour in Chengdu, I dragged myself around the city alongside Steve, slurping giant bowls of hot soup noodles and watching grubby street kids playing elaborate games of hide-and-seek in glass lifts outside a gleaming shopping mall. We visited the centuries-old Wenshu Monastery, failing to spot the NO PHOTOS sign and casting disappointed frowns across the faces of two monks who were lighting incense and praying to Buddha statues. In the outdoor teahouse behind the lofty Thousand Buddha Peace Pagoda, hundreds of grey-haired people in their sixties and seventies were laughing and gossiping on bamboo chairs, clinking cups and clicking chopsticks over toy-sized plates of delicate dumplings. We passed a dingy restaurant where half a skinned white dog hung by his jaws from a butcher’s hook. His legs were stiff and bent at the knees, giving the cruel impression he was leaping for a ball.

With the autumn temperatures falling by the day, I was pleased when we found ourselves a pair of heavy coats for the onward journey – a cheap parka for me and a green communist-style army jacket for Steve. In the military surplus store where we bought Steve’s, the gentle old man with liver spots on his bald head formed a misguided impression that I could interpret Mandarin, and relied on me to translate everything to Steve. I was slumped in a chair, a little feverish, and hoping we could return to the hostel for a nap soon.

“He says do you want this hat to go with it?” I bluffed, as the man pushed a furry brown trapper with earflaps over Steve’s head. It wouldn’t go on properly and sat perched atop his hair like a cinema ice-cream tub.

“He says it looks good on you, but I disagree, I’m afraid,” I said, giggling. “Ah, now he says that the coat can button round the inside of your leg – ”

” – Woah there!” said Steve, as the old man knelt down, grabbed Steve’s inner thigh and began demonstrating the extra warmth afforded by the coat’s inner legflaps.

But then I failed to understand the next part of the conversation and my fraudulent Mandarin was uncovered. “Sorry, no,” I said, shaking my head.

Perhaps thinking I spoke a little-known dialect, the man scribbled a few Chinese characters on the back of a crumpled receipt and looked up at me questioningly. “Sorry, no,” I said again, although I had a distinct feeling he wanted to discuss the possibility of Long Johns. We paid for the green jacket and left the shop, with the man chuckling and shaking his head after us.

This is an extract from Marie Kreft’s book, Love on a Third Class Ticket, due out in the autumn.

Baby on board

Vincent
Have hat, will travel: Vincent at one month

Further to my previous post, I’m overjoyed to tell you that my baby son Vincent was born in February at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions that have, for me, come with motherhood: intense love, wonder, worry … the bittersweet feeling that, if my husband and I do our jobs right, Vincent will inevitably grow away from us and one day want to explore the world for himself. I hope he does. I hope he also comes home for dinner sometimes.

In the meantime I’m excited about the years of family holidays that lie ahead: the trains, planes, castles and campsites that lit up my own childhood. We’ll have adventures in buckets and spades. While getting out with a new baby felt at first like a moon mission, Steve and I are improving on the two hours it took to prepare for Vincent’s first pram ride in the park (there was explosive poo) and accepting of the fact that the amount of ‘stuff’ we must now cart around is in inverse proportion to the little man’s size.

I’ll be looking for baby-friendly travel ideas in the coming months and look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

A bumpy journey

I haven’t travelled far lately and yet I feel as though I’m on the biggest journey of my life. My first baby is due in the middle of February.

Fittingly, it was at Schiphol Airport back in June when I first suspected I might be pregnant. My friend Becky and I were in transit from a screenwriting course in Bremen, and she bought me a glass of prosecco to celebrate the past few days. It was deliciously crisp, the way I like it, and yet it didn’t sit right in my stomach. Deep down I think I knew it was my last drink for a while, and I’m grateful to Becky for making it a special one.

Two days later those stark blue lines confirmed why I felt so strange. I wrapped up the pregnancy test and left it for my husband with a Post-it note that said, “Hello Dad”. I’ll never forget the sight of Steve looking up at me with his eyes shining, saying: “Is this real?” He twirled me around the kitchen and I could hardly see him through the tears in my own eyes. The spell was only broken when he realised with horror that I must have peed on the stick.

When I was eight weeks pregnant, I flew to Nova Scotia on a press trip. Most of my family and friends didn’t yet know I was expecting – Steve and I were waiting for that reassuring 12-week scan – but I had to tell my hosts why I looked like a blanched sea urchin. They were wonderful, taking special care of me, and the three square seafaring meals each day kept my morning sickness somewhere out near the Bay of Fundy. I threw myself into all the activities, even managing to prise a few live clams from the squelchy seabed, defeated finally when they squirted fishy water in my face.

In August, hours after our 12-week scan (and overjoyed to have seen a healthy, wriggly baby on the ultrasound monitor), Steve and I caught the Eurostar to Paris. Usually we love nothing more than pounding around a big city for days on end, discovering backstreet eateries and local characters. But we’d both underestimated how tired pregnancy would make me feel and I ended up frustrated and aching, revived only by regular ice-cream stops.

We caught the overnight Le Train Bleu to Nice and took the rest of our holiday at a slower pace: swimming, eating fresh pasta and hanging out in the Old Town.

And that was my last proper trip. We recently bought a small Victorian terrace which Steve has nicknamed our Little Donkey house (because we’ve “got to keep on plodding onwards” with the repairs and decorating) and that’s all the adventure I need at the moment. I’m too pregnant to fly, even if I wanted to, and my wanderlust has been temporarily quashed by a desire to strip walls and sand floorboards. I think they call this nesting.

Sometimes I catch my breath and feel momentarily stunned by how much parenthood is going to change our lives. Clip our wings. No more impromptu camping weekends or road trips for a long time; babies need so much stuff. I never did complete my pre-family travelling to-do list; I haven’t been to Japan; haven’t seen much of Africa. I never got to share with Steve the fabricated wonders of Universal Studios in Florida. When we do go, there will be a smaller person (maybe people) dictating which rides we queue for.

But I am delighted by the idea of becoming a mother. Every time I feel my baby kick, poke or flutter, I’m surprised by the strength of my feelings for someone I haven’t even met yet. I feel fiercely protective of the tiny life growing inside me – as the ten-year-old who came hurtling towards my belly on a shopping trolley last week discovered to his detriment.

There is nothing for it: this baby will have to be a good traveller. And I’m looking forward to experiencing life’s adventures as a mum.

Marie Kreft with baby bump

Winning the Bradt competition: one year on

July 2010 was a golden month for me, passing in a tangle of organza and pearls as I prepared to marry my boyfriend Steve. It was special for another reason too: I won the Bradt / Independent on Sunday travel-writing competition.

The prizegiving evening took place on a Wednesday evening at Stanford’s bookshop in Covent Garden, with the six final entries adjudicated by journalist and broadcaster Matthew Parris. I felt like a fool for even turning up. In my eyes, the other five were far more profound, literary and worthy of winning than mine.

When Matthew Parris skipped over my entry in his comments, promising to return to it shortly, Steve nudged me hopefully in the back. I ignored him, wincing a little. Probably mine wasn’t worth talking about.

So when my name was called, it took me a moment to realise I needed to make my way over to the stairs where Hilary Bradt was waiting to hand me a golden envelope. I don’t know whether I was expected to make a speech, but I made do with grinning and blushing and waving awkwardly at the camera. I remember thanking Jonathan Lorie of Travellers’ Tales, as I’d learned lots from his writing workshops.

I won a five-star holiday in Malta and Gozo, plus a commission with the Independent on Sunday. Kate Simon, the IoS‘s travel editor (and another of the judges), took me for lunch and dished out excellent advice on pitching and writing saleable features. The Irish Independent reprinted my winning article and I’ve had more commissions from them since, as well as work with other publications. I’ve just returned from a press trip around Nova Scotia too – the kind of assignment I could only dream about before.

The most valuable part of winning the Bradt competition, though, is that it’s allowed me to think of myself as a real travel writer – or at least someone who writes real travel articles. I was bashful about this at first, but every time I have a feature accepted, it gives me a tiny bit more credibility and confidence. I’ve even dared to send my book manuscript out into the world and, while I haven’t managed to sell it yet (it’s probably not commercial enough), the positive feedback I’ve received from two well-known publishers has encouraged me to start reworking it.

I can’t make it to London for this year’s prizegiving evening (thank you to Bradt for inviting me), but I wish the six finalists all the very best and hope they find the competition is a springboard for their writing too.

Bradt prizegiving ceremony at Stanford's
Left to right: Catriona Rainsford (the winner of the 'unpublished' category); Hilary Bradt; a red-faced me (Marie Kreft) and Matthew Parris.

PS. In case you’re wondering, Steve and I did get hitched! My article was published in the Indy on the morning after our wedding and, as it was our hotel’s publication of choice, all our guests were reading it at breakfast. Surreal, embarrassing and wonderful all at once.