The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie-Antoinette is a quirky, highly entertaining and endearing mix of personal travel adventure and French history. Alongside her energetic and resourceful husband (when he's not zooming on ahead), Susie follows the identical route taken by Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI when they tried to escape from the Revolution, and their journey back to their executions.
Susie Kelly has already walked 900km from La Rochelle to Geneva (Best Foot Forward, pub. blackbirdebooks 2011) and driven the circumference of France (A Perfect Circle, pub. Bantam 2006), but cyclist she is not. By suggesting an electric bicycle to get her through the worst of the uphill slogs, her husband persuades her that travelling on 2 wheels is by far the best way to see the little-known, virtually undocumented part of France they plan to explore. And so, with not a few mishaps and misgivings, it turns out.
After a hair-raising journey through Paris that nearly ends in her own execution by traffic, Susie finds an area of calm waterways and tranquil countryside bursting with history. Idyllic territory for cyclists. Their route takes them from Versailles to the vineyards and champagne cellars of Epernay and Reims then through the Marne valley, the scene of unimaginable horror and devastation during World War 1.
In three weeks Susie and Terry cycle 500 miles, dining sometimes in luxury and often on weird makeshift meals in their tent. Along the way there are traumas, epiphanies, occasional matrimonial disagreements and the odd glass of champagne. Keeping up appearances amongst the petite, chic French at some of Susie's more luxurious stops creates some serious fashion moments, tempered, as always, by Susie's good humour and resilience.
"I’ve bought other books by Susie Kelly before. Like the best travel writers, I find that time passes quickly in her company. When it’s funny it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and when it’s sad it is heart-breaking."
“This book manages to combine history, humor and the best of travel writing all in one. I loved it!”
“So vividly written that you can almost feel the author’s sunburn!“
“Funny, touching, instructive and a darn good tourist guide.”
“This book proved a terrific find! A seamless blend of information, entertainment, out loud guffaw inducement, and thought-provokation, Ms Kelly has the joyous knack of entwining story telling with enlightening education.”
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Interviews: Susie is as entertaining in person as she is in print and would make a lively guest on any talk show. She lives in the wilds of SW France but is available for telephone and online interviews.
'It is unlikely that any other cyclist could be less competent than the author, nor be so unsuited to wearing skin-tight Lycra.' Susie Kelly