Marie, first of all a big thank you for agreeing to write a flash fiction for Double Espresso. I’m particularly grateful, knowing that you have an extremely busy life in the form of a small son – and a copywriting, editing and proofreading business, ‘Good As Gold’. And on top of all that you are currently writing and researching a ‘Slow’ guide for Bradt Publishers (more of that later). So how do you pack it all in?
Helen, I feel honoured that you asked me – thank you.
I think Vincent (my two-year-old), Good As Gold and the book tend to manage me, rather than the other way around. I’m always a bit crumpled-looking! I know I’m lucky, though, because I love being a mum and I love writing and working. They’re fulfilling in different ways. I haven’t achieved the perfect balance yet, but I’m learning to compartmentalise my roles and I’m definitely more productive than I was pre-baby. I’m also fortunate to have Steve (my husband), who takes joint and equal responsibility for all the domestic stuff.
I first came across your name, Marie, though the Bradt-Independent Travel Writing Competition which you won in 2010 for Rumia – a love story. You know a piece of writing has achieved something special when it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it, and this was definitely the case for me when I read Rumia. It’s a very human story, poignant and humorous at the same time – and just written beautifully with description and observation that throws a punch. What did winning the competition mean for you?
Ahh, thank you for your kind comments. Winning the competition gave me a little more belief in myself and allowed me to dare to think I could call myself a ‘travel writer’ rather than a freelance writer who dabbled in the odd bit of travel. Both Bradt and the Independent on Sunday were encouraging, and having articles published in a national paper was valuable for my portfolio. I was just beginning to secure a few commissions and get invited on press trips when I decided to go and have a baby. What on earth was I thinking?!
And going back even further – what brought you to travel writing? How did it all begin?
I think it was a way to combine my two first loves: having adventures and scribbling. As a child I kept holiday journals and compulsively glued postcards, small amounts of currency, tickets and receipts into each entry. So it probably came from being a slightly strange little girl …
I started intentionally travel writing in 2005 when a friend suggested I enter the Bradt competition. I wrote a piece about being, by chance, in Pope John Paul II’s hometown (Krakow) on the day of his funeral. It didn’t make Bradt’s shortlist or even the longlist but I was delighted to be commended and that was encouragement enough for me to keep trying.
I mentioned that you are writing a ‘Slow’ guide for Bradt, Slow Travel: Shropshire – as I am writing the Peak District version, Slow Travel: Peak District, both books due for publication in March 2016. And indeed this is how we came into contact. Both of us have written travel articles and entered travel writing competitions (although you have done much more so at a professional level), but writing a full-scale book is in another league. How are you finding the experience of writing 80,000 words over say 800?
It’s scary, isn’t it? To stop my head from imploding I’ve had to break the task down into units: areas of Shropshire, then smaller sections on individual towns, villages, attractions and walks. So actually I’m still thinking in only a few hundred words at a time. I’ve given myself a daily word count target (as I know you have for Slow Travel: Peak District) and created a stern-looking spreadsheet entitled ‘PROGRESS’. Of course there’s the added pressure of having to visit everywhere and sample everything (and in a Slow way, too, wherever possible) but I’m madly in love with Shropshire and still think of the research trips as my fun time. Steve and Vincent are nearly always with me, too.
I wonder whether I’ll feel quite so upbeat, Helen, as our shared deadline looms larger?!
And at the other extreme, writing a flash fiction of 300 words? How have you found that – writing both fiction and flash? Is it something alien to you, or have you dallied in flash fiction before?
I’ve always noodled with fiction (very little of which will ever see the light of day) but flash fiction is new to me. Thank you for giving me a way in. It sounds counterintuitive but I think having a limited word count can be liberating. It’s refreshing to think I could explore a situation or character without feeling I’m tied to them for the long haul – and maybe this will free me to be braver in style or content.
When I gave you a list of Peak District place names to choose from (taken from the Peak District Ordinance Survey maps), you told me that Rain Gauge was ‘whispering’ to you. What made you plump for Rain Gauge in the end? How did you find your story?
I made a rain gauge from an old bottle at primary school, in the same way the grandfather in my story makes one with his grandsons. For some reason the memory has stayed with me. Then I started thinking about people who get obsessed with the weather (my dad, for example!) and wondered what might happen if that obsession went too far.
When I first read your version of Rain Gauge, I was baffled. Then one by one (or two by two) – the clues dropped into place: the pair of elephant slippers, two granite penguins, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Jav and Ash, the apocalyptic rain, the wood building, the inventory and the zoological society communication… and that final pair. And in that eureka moment, I laughed out loud. Genius! This was more than a story – it was a puzzle to solve. Did you mean to write it as a series of clues to solve? Tell us about the creative process you went through, from idea to structure.
I’m happy you solved my puzzle. I knew early on that this old biblical story – or part of it – was the one I wanted to tell. And that I wanted it to be slightly offbeat and hidden from view. But I had no idea whether I was being too obvious or overly subtle. An earlier edit ended with the wife banging on the shed door and yelling “NOAH!” but that was far too heavy-handed a punchline – and about as funny as an inflatable comedy sledgehammer too. So instead I decided to work back through the piece and drop in a few more clues, including the animal pairs (which I’m pleased you spotted). As for structure, I thought it should open and end with immediacy and action, and be told from the point of view of the woman.
Finally, what’s next for you, Marie? I know the book is going to keep you busy for a while – but after that? Another travel book? More travel articles – or something completely different?
More travel and more writing, definitely. Alongside Slow Travel: Shropshire I’m toying with a non-fiction manuscript on the initial incompatibility of parenthood and travel (and travel-writing ambitions) and how we can relearn the art of adventuring with little ones in tow. It’s turning out to be a long-term project as Vincent grows, but in the meantime it’s a place to record my joys and vent my occasional frustrations. Steve and I also need to work on our house: we had our kitchen renovated a year ago and still haven’t finished painting it …
Thank you very much again for your contribution to Double Espresso, Marie. It’s been a real honour to have you on board.
Thank you, Helen! I’m looking forward to reading your ‘Rain Gauge’ too.
You can find out more about Marie Kreft on her website ‘Indelible Journeys:http://mariekreft.co.uk/