* Long self-indulgent post alert – I beg your forgiveness, but this one’s been years in the making… *
It’s the week of ‘The Beer Trilogy’. Pan Macmillan have released rejacketed, shiny new editions of my three books. And it’s also Stoke Newington Literary Festival Week – the event organised by the Beer Widow which, perhaps inevitably, I’m speaking at, and perhaps more inevitably, the event I’ve spent the last month or so working full time co-organising. I’ve got a bit of a taste for it to tell the truth, though with only four days to go my organisational skills are starting to unravel.
Man Walks into a Pub was my first book. I’d wanted to write books since I was nine years old. When I was 25 I won a short story competition run by Time Out. I thought this would be the first step on the road to literary stardom, that the phone would ring off the hook with agents asking if I had a novel, and I’d reply “Why yes, here’s my coming of age novel about a bloke who went to university in St Andrews and now works in London in an ad agency and fucking hates it. Totally fictitious obviously.”
Nine years after the Time Out short story, Man Walks into a Pub was published. Lots of people bought it, and continued to buy it over the years. At first it had this cover, the idea for which me and Chris came up with in the pub:
That’s me at the bar in the background – that’s how long ago this was. When I did readings and events and interviews, any women present struggled unsuccessfully to hide their disappointment that I wasn’t the bloke in the foreground. CAMRA felt this cover was ‘yobbish’ for some reason, when they slated the book, and WHSmith didn’t like it either. But I did.
Then, when we moved from the posh ‘trade paperback’ edition to the ‘mass market’ paperback, it had this cover, which I hate beyond reason, and snarl at whenever I see it:
The first time I saw it I said, “Hmm, not sure about the rough; when do we see the finished design?”
“This is the finished design,” replied my editor.
“It can’t be. I could do better myself on PowerPoint. The image looks like a piece of clip art, for God’s sake,” I said.
“Well WHSmith say they love it and with this cover they’ll order seven thousand copies,” said my editor.
“I love it,” I said, “It’s a fantastic cover.”
And so we went with it, and then Smith’s changed their minds and didn’t take a single copy, and we were stuck with it for six long years.
Not many authors get the chance to do a revised second edition of their books, but you lot kept buying it, and it continues to make a bit of money for Macmillan and a much smaller bit of money – about the price of a cheap holiday – for me each year. But as time went on, it wasn’t just the shit cover I felt guilty about.
MWIAP narrowly beat Martyn Cornell’s Beer: The Story of the Pint onto the bookshelves (something for which I think Martyn may just about have forgiven me). They’re two very different books on exactly the same subject and I’d urge you to buy both if you haven’t already done so. Mine is definitely the easier read. But one of the reasons for that is that I simply repeated all the tall stories that have been handed down through beer books over the last century or so – everyone says it, they were saying it in that book in 1912, it must be true. But we live in an age when that’s no longer good enough. The blogosphere, especially writers like Martyn and Ron Pattinson, pinpoint myths and bullshit and destroy them with forensic analysis. The start of that – for me at least – was reading Martyn’s book and realising that key parts of mine were inaccurate.
On top of that, the world moved on. Man Walks into a Pub was finished before Progressive Beer Duty caused an explosion in microbrewing, before most beer fans in Britain were aware of the stunning beers coming out of the States, before the rise of neo-prohibitionism, before beer duty hikes and the smoking ban, before the Licensing Act and the liberalisation of pub opening hours. It was badly out of date.
Finally, it was my first book – and it was trying too hard to please. The tone and overall voice of the book was still right, but occasionally the footnotes grated and some of the ‘jokes’ made me wince on rereading them.
So: new cover that pisses all over the previous two and provides an essential addition to any beer fan’s book shelf aside, if you’ve bought/read MWIP before, do you need to buy it again? Here’s a list of changes. Depending on your level of interest and sanity, you can decide for yourself:
- Overall, a general read-through correcting bits that were factually inaccurate, removing the jokes and footnotes that didn’t work, changing bits that were just too gauche or naive.
- A new preface to the second edition which expands on the story of how I went from Stella ad man to beer writer, and the thinking behind the new edition.
- Some newer, more clearly thought-out stuff on the origins of beer and what early beer was like.
- A completely new section on the origins and history of Porter, which owes a debt of thanks to Messrs Cornell and Pattinson. And the admission that the most often quoted bit of the first edition – the Meux Brewery disaster – was a load of bollocks. I’ve tried to atone for this by offering the most detailed, factual account so far of what really happened on that fateful day in 1814.
- A new section on IPA – a very brief precis of the story in Hops and Glory.
- A more accurate and expanded version of the origins of Pilsner.
- A fully updated and revised version of the chapter on CAMRA. I first gained notoriety with this book by being the first beer writer (that I knew of) to slag off CAMRA in print. Since then I think I’ve changed and I think CAMRA have changed – for the better in both respects (my recent spats notwithstanding). I set out to cut down the slagging bit and write a new section on how the organisation has progressed over the last decade. That part is present and correct. But I wasn’t quite as successful in cutting down the criticism as I’d hoped. OK, I admit it, the critical bit is even longer than it was. But it is balanced by fulsome praise where it is due. I hope it also comes across that I no longer slag CAMRA as one homogenous organisation: some bits and people do great stuff, other bits and other people do silly stuff.
- A fully revised and updated version of the chapter about big lager brands. Gone are the pages of praise for Stella. I’m not recanting my admiration for the brand of ten years ago, merely documenting its rapid fall from grace, as part of the account of the decade when big lager brewers simply ran out of ideas, and the craft beer revolution took off.
- A fully revised and updated version of the chapter on the recent history of pubs, taking in the PubCos etc, and all the shit that pubs now face, the impact of licensing reform and so on.
- Finally, a new last chapter on the rise of neo-prohibitionism. This is not a rant. Nor is it a forensic analysis of the bullshit claims of the neopros like I did in January on this blog. It’s a history of binge drinking as a media and political phenomenon, which demonstrates that the current case against drink is built on a tissue of bad science, political expediency and media bollocks.
Apart from that, large sections of the book – the core story – have not changed. But only one chapter out of fourteen has had no revisions at all. I’d say 15-20% of the total text is different.
The official release date is Friday (4th June), and Amazon is still showing the horrible old cover. But the new editions are already in my local bookshop and if you look closely, the version on Amazon is the revised edition. We just need to get the visual changed.
If you haven’t read it before, I really think you should order it right now.