Category: Books

| Pubs, The Pub: A Cultural Institution

An Ode to the Pub

Today I was asked by BBC Radio 4 to write and record a short piece for the World At One about pubs, and the news that they are due to reopen on 4th July. If you missed it, or you enjoyed it and want to read over it again, here’s what I said, with an extra intro that was cut for length.

I loved pubs before I could even say the word. 

One of my earliest memories is of being held in someone’s arms in a space that glowed with polished brass. It was also red and green with Christmas decorations, and everyone around me was laughing so hard their cheeks shone too. 

I didn’t know why, but I understood that these people – my parents and their friends – were happier here than I’d seen them anywhere else.  

The British pub is so much more than a place to buy drinks. For a nation that’s famously awkward socially, every aspect of pub life is designed to break down social barriers and bring us together. For much of the last thousand years, the pub is where we’ve socialised with friends, met spouses, celebrated birthdays and weddings, and said goodbye to loved ones.   

The pub is where we play – darts, dominoes, board games, quizzes – and most of the sports we love originated either in the pub or on the village green just outside. 

George Orwell celebrated the pub as part of the informal cultural network that we choose for ourselves rather than having our leisure pursuits chosen from above. 

His 1946 essay, The Moon Under Water, remains the best thing I’ve ever read about pubs, despite spending twenty years trying to write something better. Orwell’s pink china mugs, liver sausage sandwiches and barmaids who call you ‘dear’ may sound archaic now, but the congenial spirit they create – where as a punter you feel not just like a customer, but a stakeholder in the establishment – is still present in ways Orwell would recognise. 

So when pubs were ordered to close on the 20th of March, it felt like Coronavirus was attacking not just our bodies, but our very culture and the bonds that tie us together. We knew it was coming, and on my last visits to the pub, I drank in their everyday routine, their pace and rhythm, as lovingly as I sipped my beer. 

I’ve enjoyed many great beers under lockdown, supporting my local breweries by buying from them direct. But nothing is quite like a freshly poured pint. The weight of the glass, cooling your skin. The bubbles rising. And the first hit at the back of your throat, clearing the dust and cobwebs of the day. 

The only thing that makes this better is being somewhere with others enjoying the same experience, a silent moment of communion with friends you’ve known for years, or even friends you’ve only ever met in your local, knowing that you’re sharing a moment that is simultaneously normal and banal, yet also marvellous to a degree where you might just remember it for the rest of your lives.

You can hear the programme here. I’m on at 42 mins…

| Books, Craft - An Argument, Craft Beer

Lockdown Book Project Week 12: One Week Till Launch!

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: final edits, hopeful uploads, and pre-launch marketing.

free to use stock image from pixels.com

This week, the learning curve is at its steepest. My main learning: if you’re going to do a project like this, allow as much time for editing and production as you do for writing. I finished the first draft weeks ago. We’re still working on the text with a week to go. I now understand why my publishers in the past have allowed as much as a year between me submitting first draft and publication date. The work has split into three streams – it might be useful to summarise them as such.

Final Edits

I mentioned before that there are two main edits: the structural edit and the copy edit. In reality there are many more. I’ve read the “finished” text from start to finish maybe eight times now. Liz, my wife and editor, has done the same. In addition our friend Marian very kindly did a professional edit, and several friends and colleagues I gave copies to have also given feedback. And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. someone has picked up at least one typo, or a word left hanging in the wrong place after some text has been cut and pasted, or a sentence that made sense on the first seven readings but suddenly doesn’t on the eighth.

The detail of the edit intensifies, the scale becomes smaller, and that’s when, to me, it starts to feel like gently sanding and adding another layer of varnish to the book. You go from writing new chapters, shifting sections of text around and doing extensive rewrites, to discussions on English spellings and whether you should keep US spellings if they’re quoted from American books, making sure the line space between quotes is consistent across all quotes, and my personal blind spot: deciding whether a close quotation mark goes “before or after a full stop”. Each time you do, the book develops a patina of professionalism. It now scarcely resembles the first draft that we all thought was pretty good on a first read-through.

Uploads to publishing platforms

We aim to publish the book in three formats: ebook, audiobook, and print-on-demand.

EBOOK

The quickest way to get distribution and awareness for a self-published book. Getting the advance listing on Amazon across all global sites, and on Barnes & Noble, was fairly straightforward, if onerous. There are then two steps: choosing an ebook platform to format and publish, and uploading it to sales outlets. We chose Jutoh to format and publish, because it had the best reviews and was far cheaper than options that hadn’t reviewed as well. It took Liz about two days to feel comfortable with it, and another two to finish all the formatting. Needless to say, while doing this she was still picking up the odd typo and formatting glitch.

We’re then selling through Amazon Kindle, Apple Books and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. The Jutoh file has to be uploaded to each one separately, and each has its own formatting quirks. It takes another couple of days, and quite a lot of patience. But when it’s done, your ebook is available for sale anywhere in the world!

This is an important point for a book like this one: the topic is far too niche for any publisher I’ve approached, but publishers have to make something work on a territory-by territory basis. Publish this way, and you’re looking at one publication for a global niche, which starts to look far more financially viable.

AUDIOBOOK

Quite a few people seem to enjoy my books as audiobooks but they often ask why I don’t read them myself. Well, I’d love to and now’s my chance! We’re recording it on GarageBand, which comes as standard with MacBooks. I’ve spent £60 on a good studio-quality mic, and will be rigging up a makeshift studio with duvets and clothes driers to deaden the ambient noise. We’re starting tomorrow, and after a bit of mixing and editing, we should be uploading for sale before launch date. More on this next week when we’ve figured it out.

PRINT-ON-DEMAND

Because the book is currently only listed as an ebook, I’ve had a lot of enquiries about a print version. We cannot finance a full print run ourselves: fortunately we don’t have to. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer a print-on-demand service. You can’t make this available for pre-order until you’re in a position to upload your final text, so it’s going to be a tight squeeze on this one.

Marketing and Promotion

Writing a book is one thing. Publishing is another kettle of fish entirely. And then there’s trying to spread the word.

ADVANCE READERS

I’ve sent early drafts out to a few people in each key territory: UK, North America, Australia/NZ, and South Africa. Hopefully they will like it, and if they do they will hopefully spread the word.

PATREON

I launched my Patreon a couple of weeks ago. The timing was key: I’ve put some special offers in to encourage sign-up, including a £10 tier that gets you a free copy of the book and your name listed in the back. I’ve also done advance previews, access to deleted content, and first dibs on tickets to…

LAUNCH PARTY

I’m doing a Zoom launch on the evening of the 25th. I’m keeping it to 30 people so there’s a reasonable chance to interact. The chance to join went out to my Patreon yesterday, and if there are any spaces left, we’ll open it on a first-come-first-served basis on Monday. All of these give talking points to help raise awareness of the book without resorting to simple repetition.

PRESS RELEASE

Later on this than I would like to be, I’ve compiled a ‘trade’ and a ‘public’ mailing list. Liz used to work in PR so we’re fairly confident about writing a good press release. The trade one will major on the debate over the meaning of craft beer, while in the public one we’ll focus a bit more on the story of our challenge as a couple to write and self-publish this book in 13 weeks during Lockdown.

Those are my ideas – obviously all amplified via social media channels. If you’ve done this before or have any ideas of your own that aren’t listed here, please feel free to comment!

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Books, Hops & Glory, Man Walks into a Pub, Miracle Brew, Pie Fidelity, Shakespeare’s Local, The Apple Orchard, The Pub: A Cultural Institution, Three Sheets to the Wind

Father’s Day Presents for People Who Like Beer

Many of my books were originally published around this time of year specifically because publishers thought people would buy them for Father’s Day. They weren’t wrong. If you’re stuck for a small gift, here’s a brief recap.

Every edition of every book so far. Gonna need a bigger shelf…

I’ve always tried to write for a general audience rather than an audience of fellow beer geeks (though I hope they enjoy my books too.) I use beer as a jumping-off point, a vehicle, to explore wider themes. When I do signing events, I’d say at least half of the books I’m asked to sign are for the dads, brothers and husbands of the people buying them. I must stress that the women who have read them have really enjoyed them too, but I’m definitely a bit typecast as someone who writes for blokes who are difficult to buy for and don’t read all that much, but enjoy a beer-based yarn.

So with Father’s Day approaching on Sunday, here’s a recap. The links go to my individual pages about each book that give more detail, a bit of background and some quotes from reviews.

For the Dad who enjoys starting conversations with “I bet you didn’t know…”

Man Walks into a Pub is still my best-selling book. I called it a “sociable history” of beer because I wanted to write it like a long conversation in the pub and so it is, in the words of one reviewer, “full of bar-room bet-winning facts”. Miracle Brew is similarly full of insane facts but with a more specialised focus on what beer is made from. The title happened because of the sheer number of times I thought, “Whaaaat? No way!” as I was researching it.

For the Dad who prefers cider to beer

Bill Bradshaw and I wrote the first ever world guide to cider, and as far as I’m aware it’s still the only one. We put so much creativity into the book – Bill’s photos are utterly gorgeous – that we had none left for the title. So it’s called World’s Best Cider. There’s also quite a bit about cider in The Apple Orchard, which is not really book about cider even though some people think it is, because if I’m going to write about apples…

For the Dad who’s into British history

The history of beer and pubs is the history of Britain itself. Man Walks into a Pub got me into way more historical research than I had realised, and I wrote not just about how beer and pubs developed, but why – in order to understand them, I needed to know the context surrounding them. The same goes for IPA specifically – why did beer go on a six-month sea voyage to India? Why were the British in India in the first place? That’s what I explored in Hops & Glory. Finally for the history buff, if you’re watching A House Through Time at the moment, fancy seeing the same idea for a pub? Shakespeare’s Local is six centuries of history seen through one South London pub, in which in all likelihood Shakespeare used to drink.

For the Dad who loves a bit of natural history

The nature writing section of your local bookshop, the bit I like to all “bees and trees,” is big business right now, and I realised it is also a big part of the story of beer and cider. The Apple Orchard and Miracle Brew are very similar books: one about apples and how and where they grow, which covers how they are made into cider, and the other about hops, barley, water and yeast, and the incredible story behind each one before they even get to the brewery.

For the Dad who loves a good fry-up or fish and chips

Pie Fidelity is essentially the same idea as Man Walks into a Pub, but written about overlooked and unfairly maligned classic British dishes rather than beer. It’s my most personal book, full of memoir, food history and eating. It also happens to be my wife Liz’s favourite book of mine, and not just because it’s the one with the least stuff about beer in it.

For the Dad who enjoys a laugh

Most of my books have a good degree of humour in them, even if they aren’t ‘comedy’ books. Man Walks into a Pub has some good gags in among the history, but without doubt Three Sheets to the Wind is the funniest book I’ve written. Mainly because lots of funny stuff happened while I was researching it, and I succeeded in getting most of it down.

For the Dad who’s simply missing propping up the bar

The Pub: A Cultural Institution is a guide to 250 of the best pubs in Britain. It’s a coffee table book, and as such it’s full of gorgeous pictures. It looks incredibly vogueish just now, because the convention around these things is that you take photos of empty pubs, so the pictures have never looked more like pubs do at the time I’m writing this. But as well as being a coffee table book, I’ve also tried to provide little vignettes of what makes each pub, and pubs in general, so special.

| Beer Books, Beer Writing, Craft - An Argument

Lockdown Book Project Week 10: The book’s written – but still so much to do

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: on the mad dash between manuscript and publication.

‘Authentic Artisanal Beer’ – craft beer buzzword bingo in this free-to-use stock photo from pexels.com

Days till publication: 21

I now know my book almost by heart.

A week after finishing it, I went over it and did a detailed edit before giving it to Liz for its ‘proper’ edit. The book is in three parts. She loved part two, hated part one, and was confused by part three. Luckily, part two is by far the longest part.

So I rewrote part one and gave it back to her. Since then I’ve read through and re-edited the book twice more. It’s now just starting to show the kind of polished sheen it needs before it’s good enough to publish.

It’s at a stage where I now feel happy sending it out to a few primary readers to get their thoughts. While I await their response, there’s time to briefly forget about the text itself and start focusing on all the other aspects of self-publishing – much of which is new to me.

Firstly, there are the practical aspects of routes to market. We now have the book listed as an e-book on all amazon territories, and I can see that people are pre-ordering it. Liz is spending most of her time trying to work out how to sort print-on-demand copies, which looks easy but turns out to be needlessly labyrinthine. Next week, we record the audiobook, and then we can work out how to get that listed too.

But it’s also time to crank up pre-release marketing. Liz used to write press releases for a living, so she’s doing one as I speak, and I’m pulling together a list of places for it to go out to. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s definitely a book more for those close to the brewing industry and craft beer movement than it is for a more general leadership. That may be niche, but in global terms it’s a pretty big niche, so we’re trying to make sure we cover all key territories.

All of this is a steep learning curve, but it’s also a springboard for creative thinking. While I was writing the book, Liz was researching Patreon, the platform that allows creatives in any discipline to charge a subscription to access their work. I launched mine yesterday.

Patreon will go on to become a workflow and revenue stream in its own right, but it inspired me to come up with what I hope will turn out to be some successful promotional ideas. I created a pledge tier at £10 which gets people a copy of the book, and also their name in the back. At the £6 tier, I’m distributing a sample chapter in advance so people can get a sneak preview and give their feedback. I’m also trying to work out details of an online launch party, where Patrons get advance notice to sign up.

This is all changing the way I approach work and, if successful, is a model I’ll build on after lockdown ends.

If you’re doing a similar project, do remember to spend as much time as you can on marketing and trying to build a buzz. It takes repetition will probably push you out of your comfort zone in terms of how you feel about promoting yourself, but it’s what any business and any publisher would do. Or any good one, at least.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, Craft - An Argument, Writing

Lockdown Book Project Week 8: Why EVERYONE needs an editor.

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: the edit. Or rather, the first of the edits.

Image sourced from pxhere.com and marked free for personal and commercial use.

Publication date: five weeks from today.

Before I was a published writer, but when I knew I wanted to be one more than anything else, I would pore over the acknowledgements page in every book I read, searching for clues. Did these writers have people, or types of people, in common, who made the difference between them and me?

Apart from thanking long-suffering partners and family members, the most effusive thanks were always saved for the editor. I simply couldn’t understand why. OK, so they cut a few words out, checked your spelling and took you out for lunch to celebrate the launch. I’m not saying that’s not important (especially the lunch, now I earn what most writers earn) but it hardly came top of any list I would think of compiling.

And then, an editor at Pan Macmillan called Jason Cooper commissioned my first book.

Okay, that was definitely worth one of the biggest thank yous. But I soon learned that an editor did so much more.

I don’t want to talk too much about professional publishing because this series of blog posts is aimed at people thinking of self-publishing, but you do want to try and get as close to a professional standard as you can, and I’m lucky enough to know now what that looks like.

Once an editor is convinced of the worth of your book, they become your voice, your ally, your champion inside the publishing house, fighting your corner against sales, marketing, publicity, design and everyone else to get them on board with your vision.

They become invested in the book, because this is now their reputation riding on it too. They only bought it because they love it just like you do. At worst, they’re a valuable sounding board. At best, they are co-creators with you.

I over-wrote my first three books to an outrageous extent. Knowing I was brilliant, I couldn’t see where any of my excellent words could be cut. On the first two, Jason showed me. I always remember one page with a very long paragraph on it that I said could not be shortened. Jason eventually took his red pen and crossed out about half the words, and after he’d finished, the paragraph somehow said more than it had before.

Of course, any good writer should be able to do a good chunk of this themselves. But you get too close to the subject when you’ve been working on it for two years or more. You forget where the base level of knowledge of your target reader is. Your forget how much you knew yourself about your subject before you started. So you can lose sight of what detail is important to exclude, and to include. After Jason left Pan Mac, Jon Butler edited Hops & Glory. Editors also need to be able to handle the fragile ego of the author, and my favourite note from Jon on the first draft of Hops & Glory read, “Pete, I’m absolutely loving this. So interesting. My only comment so far is that I’ve picked up a book about a sea voyage to India, and I’m on page 156 and I’m still stuck on a canal boat just outside Burton on Trent…”

The last editor I worked with on a narrative book was Cecilia Stein, who has just moved on from Penguin. Cecilia reminds me of the quote attributed to Michaelangelo, who, when asked how he sculpted so well, replied that he simply cut away all the bits that didn’t look like the object or person he was carving. On The Apple Orchard and Pie Fidelity, Cecilia could see the book inside my first draft that was very similar to the book I thought I was writing, but better, and she helped bring that book out of me instead, cutting away all the bits that were not part of it.

Our confusion around editing is that with a book-length project, there are actually two edits, which in my experience are done by two different people. What Jason, Jon and Cecilia did is known as the structural edit. When we think of the red pen, the punctuation and grammar corrections, we’re talking about the copy edit.

I’m grateful to have worked with such brilliant editors in large publishing houses. Because it’s taught me that, even on a self-published project, I need both edits. I know why I need them, and I firmly believe that any writer of any level of experience or ability needs them too.

So how can you get this level of edit if you’re self-publishing?

There are various options. I’m very lucky in that I’m married to someone who has never worked as a literary editor but is so good at it she’s thinking of it as a next career. Liz is what Stephen King refers to as my “primary reader.” She is my biggest fan and greatest critic. She is the person I want to get engaged in the subject, the person I want to make laugh and, occasionally, cry. She’s perfect for my subject area in that she loves drinking craft beer but shuts off from any geeky discussion about it. When I was working with Cecilia, it turned out that Liz’s instincts were exactly the same as hers. Liz would make suggestions that I would disagree with or be sceptical about, and then Cecilia would make exactly the same points.

A book is like having a baby. You have to completely trust whomever you hand it over to to look after. That bond of trust is a special thing, and when you find it, you have to trust what that person says. They’re nearly always right.

On Craft: An Argument, Liz gets the dubious honour of being thanked as both long-suffering partner and editor. She even came up with the revised title, which editors usually do for me – I’m rubbish with titles. She’s spent most of this week reading a paper copy of the first draft, scribbling notes furiously on a pad beside her, making noises of surprise, confusion, and occasionally, satisfaction. If you’re looking for objective support from your biggest fan and greatest critic, then, “This is brilliant, I really enjoyed reading it, especially part two, and except for part one, which is all over the place and I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, why we’re here or why you’re talking about any of this,” is just what you need to hear.

If you’re not lucky enough to have such a partner, at least try giving it to two or three friends who you know are going to be straight with you – people who are close enough to you to know that they’e not going to hurt your feelings or jeopardise the friendship, but are on your side and aren’t going to take the piss or be cruel just because they’re jealous of your ambition. Even Stephen King does this. If you are part of a community of writers, you could even do a contra deal with another writer to do a through and honest structural edit of your work and return the favour for their future project. I believe a writer can learn to do a structural edit pretty easily. I just don’t think a writer is capable of doing it on their own work.

If you have a bit of budget to spend, websites such as peopleperhour.com are full of freelancers who would be happy to do an edit for you for a modest hourly rate.

Whatever you do, don’t assume you can get by without this fundamental step. Sadly, a solid structural edit seems to be going out of fashion thanks to big name authors being too important to disagree with or push back against, and topical books being rushed to market to capitalise on news or current affairs or the notoriety of the author.

I promise you this, as someone who has now been through the process ten times: however good you think your first draft is, and however confident you are in your abilities to write brilliantly and then be an objective judge of your own work, a firm structural edit WILL improve the quality of your book.

I won’t talk too much about the copy edit, which we’re hoping to get to early next week, because I think it speaks for itself: I mean, have you ever read my tweets?

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Art of Beer, Beer, Beer Books, Beer Marketing, Beer Writing, Books, Writing

Brewers! Design agencies! I want YOU for my next book project.

You wait ages for a book and then two come along at once. Here’s a new project I’m delighted to be working on with CAMRA Books: “The Art of Beer”.

In a perfect world, as a full-time writer of books you should be promoting the book that just came out, finishing off the next one, and planning the one after that, all at the same time. Lead-times are long in publishing, and a years gap between finishing one project and starting the next can easily turn into a three-year gap between the publication of one book and the next.

It never works out like that in reality. Timelines get stretched in some places and compressed in others. Coronavirus has really exacerbated this.

So: the paperback of my last book, Pie Fidelity, was published on 23rd April but thanks to warehousing and distribution issues related to lockdown it is only available this week. I’ll come back to that later in the week.

My self-published book, Craft: An Argument, is almost finished and will be published on 25th June.

And now I’m starting work on my next one. The Art of Beer will be a lavishly illustrated book about beer design and packaging, published by CAMRA Books in October 2020.

I came into beer from marketing and still occasionally get involved in consultancy on packaging design. As Chair of the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards, I’ve had the job of overseeing the judging of best beer packaging design sat a time when designers have thrown the rulebook out of the window. Now I get to celebrate all of this in book form.

It would be very, very easy to gather together images of the coolest craft beer labels and cans around at the moment, and fill a book with wonderful designs like these:

Magic Rock, by Richard Norgate

Black Iris, by Kev Grey

 

Siren, by voyagebrand.co.uk

 

And we will certainly be doing a lot of that. This is book to be gazed at with longing.

But I wouldn’t be able to think of myself a a writer if that was all it did.

So while the book will major on beautify craft beer designs, it will also tell the story of beer design, labelling and packaging from when it really took off as a discipline in the late nineteenth century until the present day.

We’ll start with why brands became so important, looking in particular at why the UK’s first ever registered trade mark was for Bass Pale Ale:

The first UK trade mark

We’ll look at the theory of how branding is supposed to work, and the tricks designers use to make a product stand out from the competition, and make you desire it.

We’ll explore the how and why of beer logos:

Since 1964, the ‘e’ n Heineken has been tilted so it ‘smiles’.

Milton Glaser’s original sketches for the Brooklyn logo

We’ll talk about why some brewers prefer typographical designs, and how that works:

Devastatingly simple, universally admired, and much copied: The Kernel

And we’ll look at why certain picture-led routes are enduringly popular:

Local history is enduringly popular for cask ale

We’ll also  be looking at the history of bottles and cans, the clever use of different bottle shapes, crown cap designs, and secondary packaging such as gift boxes, six-pack holders and so on. 

If you are a brewer or design agency that is really proud of your design work, and you’d like it to feature in the book, please drop us a line on petebrownsemail@gmail.com. We have only two rules:

  1. 1. While we’re not limiting this to British beers only, any beer featured must be readily available on sale in the UK.

2. Whole there’s a lot to be written about poor or questionable design, this book will only feature designs that the team think are beautiful or are otherwise important in the history and evolution of beer design. 

So please – sen us your beers! And if you’re a beer fan rather than a brewer and you think there’s a beer we should definitely feature, let me know. (And thanks to everyone who did so when I asked this question on Twitter and Facebook last week.)

  •  

 

| Beer, Beer Writing, Books, Craft - An Argument, Craft Beer

Lockdown Book Project Week 7: “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”?

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: a major milestone, and my experience of combining drinking and writing.

If it looks a little thin, that’s because (a) it’s printed double-sided, and (b) it’s a bit thin – compared to my previous books.

Final word count, Tuesday night: 53,572

I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!

Ten days later than scheduled when I started, I reached the delicious moment of printing out the first iteration of the book. There’s still a long way to go: I reckon 8,000 to 10,000 of those words need to come out. There’s a lot of repetition, and a lot of digressions, some of which help, and some that don’t.

Even though most editors I work with now work online using Microsoft Word’s ‘Track changes’ tools, I like to start with a physical copy. A few weeks ago I talked about Stephen King’s book, On Writing. One of my favourite bits is his advice on what to do when you finally reach this point. He suggests a total change of pace – “Go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle.”

Jigsaw puzzle it is then. I spent most of yesterday putting together a painting of Padstow Harbour.

But here’s the best part:

“How long you let your book rest – sort of like bread dough between kneadings – is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, ageing and (one hopes) mellowing.”

I don’t have six weeks. I’ll be leaving it for about four days. But it’s a lovely image, with wonderful results:

“If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange and often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognise it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”

That phrase is King’s analogy for the hardest bit you will face if you write something book length: there will be a sentence or paragraph that you love, the best thing you’ve written. And it won’t belong in this book and you must cut it out. But that’s still to come…

To get to this point, I had to play with the famous quote in the title above. Like most great snappy quotes, it was never said by the person to whom it is commonly attributed. Ernest Hemingway was, if anything, a vocal opponent of trying to do good work while drunk.

But Hemingway wasn’t a drinks writer.

I’m not necessarily recommending writing drunk, but I thought it might be worth sharing my experiments and experience with it.

I normally write completely sober, in the mornings. But when I’m travelling, or covering beer events, my note-taking usually happens when I’m not. I wrote many of the notes for Three Sheets to the Wind while living up to the book’s title. It’s hilarious to go back through those old notebooks and see how my handwriting deteriorates as the day wears on:

Notes written in Dublin, around opening time.

Notes in the same notebook from Madrid, written around 2am.

The thing is, if you can decipher the writing, there’s some good stuff there. This went on to become one of my favourite passages in the book, because I managed to capture the giddy joy of closing down a bar in a strange city at 3am. Often, when we wake the next morning after a boozy night and can vaguely remember laughing till we were fit to burst, we know we had a good time but we assume whatever we are laughing at can’t really have been that funny – it was just because we were drunk. My experience of trying to record drunken nights revealed to me that when we are drunk, often we really are funnier – a lot of these notes made it into the final book, and it is without doubt the funniest of all my books.

That’s writing while drunk, as in, capturing the experience of drinking. But what about writing up your final draft? What about drinking as an accompaniment to writing, rather than the notes above, which are writing as an accompaniment to drinking?

The first thing to note is that the quote in the title falls into the common trap of treating drunk/sober as binary, when they are in fact two points tethering either end of a scale.

Think of inebriation as a graph, with the x axis as time and the y axis as some measure of how drunk you are. The path of inebriation follows a curve. One reason I’ve always loved beer is that it provides a gentler, more manageable curve than wine or spirits. I find that between one and three pints in, there’s a buzz of inebriation that seems to make the blood flow quicker and opens the synapses. Ideas flow more quickly, inspiration comes more easily. But I’m not drunk. Any more than three pints, and my typing becomes clumsy and my flow starts to become disjointed. It’s harder to focus. I rarely go beyond this point.

On Monday night, I did.

I hadn’t been happy with that day’s work. I was in bed with my eyes wide open, and I decided to get back up and do an experiment. I drank spirits and took the time to write very carefully and slowly, allowing the ideas to come but spending longer clearing up my typing than getting it down in the first place. I wrote till 4.30am.

The next morning, the few paragraphs I had were not nearly as good as I thought they had been when I wrote them. The flash of inspiration I thought I’d had was not nearly as bright as I’d believed. But there was something there, something that I hadn’t been able to reach while sober. More than that, I was in a different place in relation to the book than I had been the day before. Something from the night before had stayed with me. I wrote for the next ten hours straight, finished the first draft, and the last paragraphs I wrote are better than anything else in the book at the moment. Just as I had found my voice, I’d finished. But we still have the edit to go.

Apart from unlocking the inspiration I needed to finish, sometime around 4am I also had the idea to write this blog post. I’ll finish by transcribing the notes I left for myself, written in wonky capitals to ensure they would still be legible:

WRITE SOBER – IS THIS WORD WORKING HARD ENOUGH? IS THERE A BETTER WORD?

EDIT DRUNK – THERE IS NO EDIT DRUNK.

WRITE DRUNK – IS THIS WORD PLAYFUL ENOUGH? MIGHT THIS OTHER WORD TAKE ME SOMEWHERE I DIDN’T EXPECT?

EDIT SOBER – (I think I’m referring to the output of writing drunk here) RESULTS MIGHT BE BETTER THAN YOU THINK.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer, Beer Writing, Books, Craft - An Argument, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Lockdown Book Project Week 6: Available for Pre-Order!

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: shit just got real.

Word count at the start of this week: 43,530

Week six: the end of this week will be the halfway point in this project. And after the terrible doubt I wrote about last week, I believe I’m going to hit my completely arbitrary and self-imposed deadline.

There have been many important developments over the past week. The first is that Evan Rail, one of my favourite fellow beer writers, gently reminded me that in 2016 he self-published a short e-book called The Meanings of Craft Beer. I thought I had come up with this title, but clearly I was subconsciously remembering Evan’s. So my book is now called Craft – An Argument. If you are working on a writing project of you own, I strongly suggest doing an Amazon search of your proposed title before settling upon it.

Evan’s book starts off in a similar place to mine but then goes on a quite different journey around the topic – which is a huge relief. If you can’t wait until 25th June to read a thoughtful exploration of craft beer, please buy Evan’s book first.

Up to now, this series of blog posts has covered the process of writing. But alongside that, there’s a whole other work stream going on. My wife Liz normally runs the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. That isn’t happening this year, for obvious reasons, so this project is about giving her some structure as much as me.

She’s been busy.

Liz designed a range of possible book covers using Canva, and we settled on the brilliant design above. It’s free and easy to use, and even has some rights-cleared photography that you can use publicly if you pay a whopping 99p. You can of course use your own photos if you took some good enough ones pre-lockdown, but we didn’t.

This week we also bought ISBNs for each edition of the book: ebook, audiobook, and print-on-demand. You can publish a book without an ISBN, but if you buy one it allows the book to be tracked accurately and greatly increases you chance of third-party sales. In the UK, ISBNs are £89 for one or £164 for a pack of ten.

Having done that, we were able to upload the details of the ebook to Amazon and make it available for pre-order! This was a hugely exciting moment. It always is. It’s the first real manifestation of something that begins life as a thought in your head having a separate, tangible presence of its own in the world. It can now start doing things without you being there, interacting with other people without your knowing. Coming at this stage, just when the writing got so difficult, it’s a massive boost. The writing this week is fast, passionate and joyous. This is why I do it.

People often ask me how I feel about people buying my books through Amazon. We will be exploring other platforms and I’ll share details of these when we sort them. But for all the issues surrounding it, I wouldn’t have a career as a writer without Amazon. We uploaded the book to Amazon.com, and with a few clicks, it’s available anywhere in the world, through every manifestation of the site.

I’m hoping to finish the first draft this week. I’m about a week behind where I wanted to be, which is not too bad. Reading through the parts I’ve completed, they need so much more work on them. Bits I agonised over for days are flabby and confused on a first read. But it’s important to ignore that for now and just press on. Once the first draft is complete, I can relax, have a breather, then start again. This time next week, I hope to be able to share the joys of the editing process.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer, Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, Craft Beer, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Lockdown Book Project Week 5: Hitting The Wall

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: what happens when you lose your way.

Word count at the start of this week: 40381

Word count this morning: 38345

There’s a point when you’re running a marathon where you hit a wall – or so I’ve been told. And if writing a feature or blog post is a sprint, writing a book is a marathon. The wall is waiting here too, halfway through. Everything stops. Your confidence runs like piss down your legs. You’re a fucking idiot for even trying this. What were you thinking, you deluded twat. Go home. Get under the covers. Never show your face again.

I try to achieve something different, something more, as a writer with each book I write. I go to different places. I wrestle with how much of myself to put into the text. It’s always difficult – I make sure of that. My last book was my most personal yet, in a subject area I hadn’t really written about before. It got really tough in the middle. At one point I turned to Liz and said, “I don’t think I can do this. I’ve taken too much on. I can’t deliver the book I promised to the publisher. I think I’m going to have to pay back the advance. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. I’ve never felt like this before.”

She looked at me steadily and said, “Lovely, you’ve said that in the middle of every single book you’ve written.”

This time is different, but of course it always is. This time there’s no advance, and Liz is the publisher. The motivation to keep going has to come entirely from within.

This project was designed to provide structure and purpose to our lives during an indefinite period of lockdown, and also to provide a source of income at some point in the near future. It’s a buttress against the stress we all feel around Covid-19, but yesterday the fear and anxiety got through.

I had a bad day.

I bet every single one of us is having bad days and good days. Yesterday I heard some grim projections about the future for pubs – even grimmer I should say – and became very pessimistic. I compartmentalise as a way of dealing with negative thoughts, and yesterday the bulkheads went and they flooded in.

This happened when I was already struggling with the book itself. Last week I talked about thickets. I’ve been in a really big one. People often say to me, “Ooh, you write just how you talk!” It’s the biggest compliment anyone can give me, because it shows I’ve succeeded in hammering the subject into my style. But because my style is easy and open and readable, people sometimes think it must therefore be easy to write like that. It really isn’t. Especially when you’re dealing with complicated topics that are new to you, and you’re trying to understand academic writing, retain it in your head, put your perspective on it, and then get the whole thing down in your own tone of voice and make it look simple and conversational.

I’m currently writing about the history of work, division of labour, and scientific management. I’m lightening this with reminiscences of going through the round window on Play School, and the enduring popularity of The Good Life, then trying to round it off with the story of a car advert from 1979. At the end of this bit in my notes, there’s 2500 words on tools and machines and their relationship to craft and craftspeople. It doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t belong anywhere. But it’s really important that it goes in somewhere. I can’t find where it fits, but it has to. Whether it goes here or not, I need to link either it or the car ad directly to the meditation on nostalgia that follows, which then jumps to a bit about Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider, before coming back to nostalgia again in a craft beer-specific context via a discussion of pricing. In other words, despite all my careful planning, it’s a fucking mess.

I don’t think I can do this. I’ve taken too much on. I can’t deliver the book I promised. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. I’ve never felt like this before.

I can of course, because I have nine times before. As a source of – not comfort exactly – but bitter, empty strength, I remember my favourite line from Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” I pissed away yesterday afternoon playing Warhammer Total War, drank too much, slept through my alarm this morning, got to my desk two hours late.

And then I sat down, said goodbye to the 2500 words that had been blocking me, and started writing again. It’s going quite well. I wouldn’t have had the energy to stop and procrastinate and write this instead if it wasn’t.

It happens to all of us. The difference between people who want to write a book and the people who have written books is the stamina to get through this wall.

When I was writing Man Walks into a Pub, one Saturday morning I heard the thwack of something heavy hitting the doormat. It was an A4 brown envelope which contained – I think – the fifth round of changes requested by my editor. “I can’t do this,” I said to Liz. I threw the envelope and its contents in the bin. I said “Fuck it. For the first time in six months, I’m going to read something that isn’t about beer. Maybe I’ll try again to be a novelist instead!”

I went to the book shelf and picked up a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I got as far as the dedication, which said something along the lines of “To my editor, for saying this is not good enough. Again, and again, and again.” I went to the bin, too out the envelope, and got to work.

That stage is still to come – Liz has promised me she will be as tough as she needs to be when she assumes the role of editor. So this is not the last wall. But it is the first. I think I’ve got over it. Or through it. Now I just need to go on.

My new book The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. It really bloody well will.