Category: Writing

| 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.

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

Lockdown Book Week 4: Open Road, Thickets and Rabbit Holes

I’ve set myself the task of writing and publishing a book during lockdown, and sharing my experience with anyone else thinking of doing the same, especially if it’s the first time you’ve tried. This week, we’re finally deep into the main part: getting the words down.

Word count at the start of this week: 31832

Before I had my own first book published, I used to have a whole shelf of books with titles like ‘How to become a published author.’ I’d read the blurbs on the back cover and they’d invariably say something like “xxxxx is a global bestselling author who has written 18 books, and now they share their secrets!” And I’d think “Well how come I’ve never heard of you then?”

Then, one day, I spotted Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d never read any of King’s books at that point, but I thought, “He’s one of the best-selling writers in the world. I bet he knows what he’s talking about.”

He does. I reread King every time before I start a book. Full or practical advice, it’s also inspiring and makes you want to write.

Wanting to write is the most useful bit.

Actually sitting down and getting the words out is the hardest part of being a writer. There are bits where it feels like your brain is trying to climb out of your ear and make a run for it. Times when you look at the page and you just know that completing a sentence is beyond your powers. Yesterday I wrote 280 words in a day, and they are shit words that will need to be rewritten at some point. Today so far I’ve written 1800, and I feel like I have more to come if I can get other chores finished and still have some energy left.

Most writers I know have a specific time of day when it works best. Only you know when your time is. Bruce Robinson, writer of Withnail and I, wrote in the small hours of the morning, drinking red wine as he did so, until he was wankered by the time his family get up for breakfast. I used to enjoy my attempts at writing fiction in the evenings. But doing what I do now, the hours between 7am and 11am are precious. If I try to write all day, by the end, 80% of what I’ve done happens in that time slot.

For some writers it’s about a word count rather than a time slot. I don’t fetishise my wordcount as much as I used to, but it’s still the measure of success I use in a first draft. Once the words are down you can move them, cut them, change them, polish them. I massively overwrite, and then rely first on my wife, and then my editor, to help me rein it back in. (On this book, that’s the same person.)

Some novelists start writing not knowing how the story is going to turn out. For a heavily researched non-fiction book, you can’t do that. That’s why I spend so much time doing the planning I’ve spoken about in previous posts. I see the research and planning as laying road, and once the road is down, I can run along it. There are various adventures along the way.

I wrote the last thousand words I did today in less than an hour. There was a bunch of italicised notes sitting between chunks of finished text I wrote last week, and whenever I wrote those, for some reason this but wasn’t happening, so I left it to come back to later. I refer to these bits as ‘thickets’. They’re usually caused by me having to synthesise several different lines of research, or link one big point to the next in a smooth way. They can hold me up for hours.

One useful way of getting through them is to switch from typing to trying to write out what I want to say longhand. It seems to call on a different part of the brain that looks at the writing in a different way.

If this doesn’t work, the trick is to leave it and move on to something else, which is what I did last time I got stuck on this part. The brain continues to process its way through the thicket at some deep level, or maybe you were just so close to it you couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Coming back to it today, it was suddenly clear again, a stretch of open road that I galloped down for about a thousand words before I needed a breather.

My other main hazard on the open road is the rabbit hole. This is when I’m running along and get tripped up by something seemingly small and innocuous. Last week, I wanted to write two sentences which showed that, craft beer notwithstanding, there was a general preference among a large number of people to buy from small, independent businesses rather than large corporations. So I googled these words and immediately got a hit on an American study that showed trust in both big and small companies was high, but trust in smaller companies was higher. Then the hit below that was from another study that showed only 30% of people trusted large corporations. Both studies were by reputable organisations with large sample sizes. The discrepancy might have had something to do with how the question as asked – it often does – but apart from that I wanted to find some UK stats for comparison, and soon I’d spent an hour getting increasingly frustrated researching something that will be a maximum of two sentences tossed off in passing, and may even end up being edited from the final manuscript.

So the next couple of weeks are about hitting the open road, getting the words down, and remembering to leave thickets and rabbit holes and come back to them later, as part of what builders refer to as ‘snagging’ at the end of a job.

To paraphrase Eric Morecambe, it’s about getting the right words down – just not necessarily in the right order yet.

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.

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

Writing a Book in Lockdown, Week 3: Here Come the Hard Yards

I’m writing and self-publishing a book during lockdown, and sharing my experience with anyone else thinking of doing the same, especially if it’s the first time you’ve tried. This week: getting closer to the real words.

Every book has its own reading list

Word-count at the start of week 3: 21581

I started this series of blog posts by showing how I plan a book on my wall using post-its. To show what happens next, I need to jump back a bit.

This book was inspired by my having read one book in the stack above: Cræft, by Alexander Langlands. As the idea took shape, and grew from a rough talk to a scripted slideshow presentation, and then to a long essay and finally into a book-length treatment, so my reading expanded. I think this is only the second time I’ve had a book idea directly as a result of reading someone else’s, but even if a book I telling the story of me taking a physical journey, I always do a lot of desk research before I set off. My reading for this project has been going on for about a year now.

The first few weeks of the process are great fun. I usually start off with one book, or maybe a Wikipedia entry, and check the sources and bibliography for other titles. Certain books are mentioned again and again, and you soon realise these are the pre-eminent books in their field. I tend to be a bit of a generalist with my own books, covering a broad area, so I’m never that worried about finding someone else who has done exactly what I’m aiming to do.

Once I have a list of every book I need, I can pick them up pretty cheaply. If you haven’t come across it, AbeBooks is an aggregator of thousands of bookshops around the world. Unless one of the titles you’re looking for is particularly rare, you can usually pick up any book for less than a fiver, including postage. If you’re looking for something old and out of copyright, there’s a good chance you can download a PDF or kindle of it for free from sites such as the Gutenberg Project.

The above photo shows the main pile of books I’ve used on this project.

Once I have my books, I have a fairly laborious research process that I would love to improve upon, but haven’t been able to. I read each book with a pencil in my hand, marking the passages I think I might want to directly refer to, and writing any thoughts that occur to me while reading in the margin. After I’ve finished each one, I sit with the book at my desk, and write up a set of notes, each book in a separate word document, copying out the marked passages and either paraphrasing them or typing them as direct quotes. I write up my marginalia in italics so I can see what were my own thoughts and insights and what I’m taking from the text itself. At a certain point, when I think I have enough research (and it’s never easy to drag yourself from the research to the writing phase) that’s when I go through all my notes and generate the famous wall of post-its, to which I add much more of my own material, notes from travel if I’ve done any for the book, and so on.

I detailed last week how I get from a wall of random post-its to an outline of the book in a word document. At this stage, I would love it if I could just start writing, referring back to my notes as and when I need to. On an article, that would be easy. But for a 50,000- to 100,000-word book, the scope of it, the expanse of it, is simply too much for me to keep in my head at this stage. I think this is why so many people who would love to write a book are daunted by the prospect: how do you keep any kind of coherence over such a long slog?

By the time I’m close to finishing writing a book, the whole thing is alive inside my brain. I know where every key point is, almost down to the page number. I can almost see the shape and structure of the book in my head, and turn it in virtual space to look at it from all angles, checking the joins and the flow. But when I’m in that state, there’s no room for anything else in my brain. If my wife pops her head round the door and asks if I’d like a cup of tea, I forget my name and what day it is, and find myself completely unable to answer. This is not a good place to be for any longer than a week or two. So to get to that state at the right time, I have to use more tricks.

(By the way – if you’re writing a book that’s more of a reference or guide, you don’t need to worry about any of this. If you know you’re writing a guide to, say, the best 300 beers from Belgium, you know how long each entry has to be and what information has to be in it. It’s no less of a slog, and the monotony of it brings its own special endurance challenges, but at least the route is clearly marked out for you. With a long-form narrative – fiction or non-fiction – you have to lay down the road before you can travel upon it.)

So here’s what I’ve been doing over the last week.

My notes from books gave me my post-its, and the post-its gave me my outline. But by the time I’ve written the outline down, I can’t remember who said what or where most things come from. At this stage, I have no option but to go back to my notes and go through them in detail to start fleshing out the outline.

I’m learning a lot of new stuff here, in a subject area I haven’t explored before. I’m not yet quite confident enough with the fine detail. The structure is different from anything else I’ve written in that it’s not a story – chronological or based on a journey or whatever – it’s an argument. So I know the book falls into parts 1, 2 and 3, and that part 2 itself splits into an intro and three main sub-parts: (o), (i), (ii), and (iii). So I go through every page of my notes, and mark up which part of the book each point belongs in.

As I write or cut and paste each point across, I put a line through it.

Often, as I’m copying a point across, or I put two previously separate bits together, it will spark a thought and I’ll write a sentence, a paragraph, or even a page or two. Every single rush or spark of inspiration is precious, so I let it run its course before going back to transcribing the notes. Anything that’s cut and pasted joins the italicised outline, to distinguish it now from my own text in the main font.

I’ll be honest: this bit doesn’t feel like proper writing. But by the end, I know that, say, part 2(i) is all about the nineteenth century Arts & Crafts movement and that every point I have about Arts & Crafts is in part 2(i) of the document, in approximately the right order. I now have a 20,000-word manuscript, some of which has random outbursts of writing which hopes to make it to the finished text, the rest of which still needs to be rewritten and joined up into a proper narrative.

So that’s the boring bit out of the way. I have nearly everything I need in the document that will eventually become the book. Next task: actually write the bastard, in my own words.

The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why the term ‘craft beer’ is completely undefinable, hopelessly misunderstood and absolutely essential, which be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June.

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

Thinking of writing a book on lockdown? Here’s how I start mine.

I’ve set myself a task of writing and self-publishing a new book in 13 weeks. I’m sharing the process in case it helps anyone else who is thinking of spending lockdown starting a book they’ve been wanting to write. Here’s how I plan the structure of my first draft.

I posted some slightly psychedelic images on Insta a couple of weeks ago. From 13th March I was in quarantine in my study and our spare room, and you could have been forgiven for thinking it was sending me mad. But this is how I’ve started every book since Shakespeare’s Local.

As readers of my narrative books will know, my style tends to be rambling and discursive. But it does have a method. When I write about beer, I want to link it to the wider world and place it on context. For me, a good book (of mine) should contain some history, some storytelling, some personal experience and insight, and various other elements running through the book like threads. I think this multi-faceted approach raises the chances of it being more relevant to a wider group of people. You probably wouldn’t want every beer book written in my style, but it works for me.

When I did Shakespeare’s Local – the story of one London pub over 600 years – I realised pretty quickly that the history of the building itself – which the books was supposedly about – was not book-length and was only really of interest to students of architecture. The book couldn’t just be about the building – it had to be about the area and why the pub was there, and why it was so important. It had to be about the people who drank in it – but just listing the famous people who may or may not have drunk there wasn’t enough. To tell the full story I had to talk about commerce, theatre, the River Thames, the Guilds of the City of London, the evolution of pubs more generally, and much more that helps contextualise the pub and explain why its existence is significant and interesting to read about.

One option could have been to have a chapter on each aspect. But I wanted to tell a chronological story where each chapter had all these different themes running through it. This was a complex undertaking, and trying to plot and plan how to do it would bring me out in a cold sweat. So I adapted a method I started using when writing Dungeons & Dragons scenarios as a teenager and mixed in some techniques from strategy workshops in my advertising days – I’m not sure which of those two admissions I should be most ashamed of – and came up with this.

As I’m reviewing and finalising my notes, I put each key point I want to make on a post-it. I use different colours for different themes. For Shakespeare’s Local it might have been green for the local history of Southwark, pink for the history of pubs generally, yellow for my lame jokes and so on. For The Meanings of Craft Beer, pink is how the craft beer industry works, orange is the history of craft in a broader sense, green is an insight or idea I might have had myself while reading, pale yellow is stuff on the nature of work, blue is about the definitional problems of ‘craft beer’, and on it goes. Over a period of weeks, as I’m working, the post-its gradually populate the wall. The image above was taken when I’d almost finished, when I was nearing the cut-off of what I was going to read and explore before I stopped putting off writing the thing.

The next step is to look at all the post-its and start to group the ones that seem like they belong together in a narrative sense. That takes a couple of days, and this time it ended up looking like this:

Most of these post-its moved many times over the couple of days I was doing this – connections can be made in different places. This is the bit where I stare at the wall and pretend to be a DCI in a crime show. Often I just stare for hours. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get things to connect. Other times your brain does a lot of sub-processing and eventually sees the pattern. If you’re old enough to remember the brief, strange craze for ‘Magic Eye’ pictures in the early 1990s, and you were one of the people for whom it worked, it can be a bit like that.

I don’t think this one works, by the way.

While I was sorting and grouping, I had a breakthrough which you can see from the three big post-its, which I added afterwards – the book naturally fell into three parts, as I outlined in my previous blog. That hasn’t happened before – usually I get six, or seven, or eight or ten clouds of post-its and have to work out what order they go in. This time, as I was shifting things around, the structure emerged and I realised it was a linear argument: break something down, learn a lot of new stuff from different sources, use the new material to build it back up again.

That’s when I knew I had the overall book here. Then it was a question of refining. A day later, it looked like this:

I’ve now got each point in order. I can see just from looking at it that the first part, the left-hand column, is mainly about definitional semantics. I can see the middle column is the main part of the book, which starts by explaining broader themes of craft and then brings in more beer stuff, and I can see that, rather pleasingly, part three is a mix of all areas.

When I’m happy that everything is in the right order (with a few points that don’t belong anywhere on the far right, probably to be dropped from the book) I take them down carefully in order to my desk, and then write up an outline of the book in note form. When I finished this, I had the first 3000 words of the book down. One of the hardest parts in writing any book is looking at the blank page and summoning up the courage to start. Sneaking around that is just one advantage of this method.

That was two weeks ago. I’m now up to 13,000 worlds as I start to flesh out the structure out and do the actual writing. The quality of the writing is not yet good enough. But I now know what I want to say and where I want to say it, so I can now concentrate on rhythm and tone, and focus on finding the right words.

I’ll post again with how that’s going, and more thoughts on what might be helpful if you haven’t done this before. I’m also planning a live webinar to chat through the book-writing process if enough people are interested. But now, the word count is calling…

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

The Meanings of Craft Beer: My lockdown book, out 25th June

I’ve set myself a 13-week project: to write and self-publish a new book that I’ve been wanting to write for the last year. Here’s what it’s all about.

I find myself between jobs. Between assignments. Between books. We have no household income for now. Being a freelance writer is precarious enough at the best of times. Being a freelance writer in the first industry to be completely shut down by Coronavirus is pretty absolute.

Lockdown is psychologically tough for everyone. The thing is… back in the olden days I used to pay good money to hire a cottage near the sea where I could be on my own, not speak to anyone, and rarely leave the house. It’s something I do at least once, if not twice, in the process of writing a book. I get the most insane amount of work done in those writing weeks. So now I’m presented with similar circumstances (albeit without the sea, sadly) the sensible thing to do would seem to be to write a new book. So yesterday, I took to social media to gauge interest in a self-published e-book and audiobook (the lead times on paper books are much longer) and the response has encouraged me to make it happen. So here goes!

This is an idea that grew out of a short, ten minute talk, into a longer 25-minute talk, and then into an hour-long slideshow presentation. I was expecting people to be annoyed by it. Instead, the audiences of those shows asked me when the book was coming out. When I said there was no book, they told me in no uncertain terms that there should be.

It’s fair to say that it’s a niche topic and both my agent and the usual publishers I work with have no interest in it. But publishers work in one country at a time and the niche audience who will be interested ion this book on a global scale os pretty big, hopefully. So digital self-publishing is the way to go.

OK Pete, but what’s the frikkin’ book ABOUT? I hear you ask. OK, here goes.

A year or so ago, I picked up this then-newly published book:

It mentions craft beer once on the first page, and then never again. Instead, it puts forward an argument for working with your hands and reviving skills that our technological age has seemingly deprived us of.

It made me realise that the word ‘craft’, when shackled to the word ‘beer’, has had its meaning changed quite substantially. It also made me realise that one big reason there is no satisfactory definition of ‘craft beer’ is that in order to have one, you need to have the definition of the word ‘craft’ fairly locked down. And it isn’t. It’s a word that shifts meaning and struggles against being pinned down.

From here I went off on a journey exploring the concept of ‘craft’ in its broadest sense: the difference between craft, art and science; the artificial separation of manual work and intellectual work; the difference between learned knowledge and innate knowledge and how craft unites the two. I explored the Victorian Arts & Crafts movement and visited William Morris’s house in Walthamstow. I read books by hippie furniture makers, Victorian wheelwrights and professors of linguistics. Each book I read had something important and life-affirming in it. It was a diverse selection of voices, but each one spoke about what makes work, and ultimately life, more meaningful.

Coming back to conversations around craft beer with this broader perspective on craft, I realised that we’re talking about the wrong things. Craft beer is – or can be – an important, meaningful and nourishing concept. In fact it is. When I’ve been speaking to drinkers and makers of craft beer about some of the ideas I’ve explored, they recognise them from their own experience, instantly. But our conversations aren’t framing that experience in a useful way, and that’s why all those debates around the definition of craft beer are so fruitless and infuriating.

So at the moment, the book is called The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ Is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood, and Absolutely Essential. Like most of my books, it’s totally about beer, and at the same time, kind of not really about beer at all.

The book falls into three three parts:

Part One: ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable

I kick of by looking at the evolution of the concept of craft beer, analysing and demolishing attempts to give it a concrete, technical definition, and exploring why this is an impossible task.

Part Two: ‘Craft Beer’ is Hopelessly Misunderstood

Here, in the main part of the book, I explore the broader concept of craft and, where relevant, give examples from beer. I look at the definition of ‘craft’ itself, before going into detail around what I see as three key times when interest in craft spiked, and why:

i) The Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century, in response to the industrialisation of work (when brewing was going through its own industrial and technological revolution.)

ii) The craft revival of the 1970s, in response to the automation of manual labour and the growth of big brand corporations (when CAMRA appeared in the UK and what would later be called craft brewing emerged in the US.)

iii) The craft revival of the 2010s, in response to online existence, the absolute dominance of corporations, and the deskilling of white-collar work (when the craft beer boom went global.)

Part Three: Craft Beer is Absolutely Essential

Having destroyed definitions of craft beer, then looked at the world of craft more broadly, we come back to ‘craft beer’ and rebuild it using what we’ve learned. I’ll argue that even if it can’t be technically defined, it remains a meaningful and important concept, and focus on the issues that make it so. I finish by looking at alternative terms and dismissing these too, before suggesting a tongue-in-cheek solution for what we should in fact call it.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, keep checking in here, where as well as writing the book, I’ll also be going through my process, sharing my thoughts around it and talking about how I work, in case that’s useful for anyone else who is considering using this strange time to write that book you’ve always wanted to write.

I’m currently weighing up different options for publication, looking at the pros and cons of Kindle, Patreon etc. I’ll share my experience of this side of things too. My intention is to publish an e-book and audio book (with me narrating) on 25th June, retailing at somewhere between £5 and £7.

I hope you’ll buy it.

| Beer, Original Gravity

The Future of Original Gravity: A Statement

The print format of our beer magazine is taking a break. But it’s only a temporary one…

When Daniel Neilson created Original Gravity at the end of 2014, his vision was for a different kind of beer magazine, one that was like ‘your slightly more knowledgeable best mate, full of interesting, readable stories that appealed to both beer novice and expert’. It has always been singled out for the design by Adam McNaught-Davies (lindoneast.co.uk).

Pulling together a quality print magazine that consistently lives up to expectations is a lot of work — too much for one person. So at the start of 2017, Daniel brought on board award-winning beer writers Adrian Tierney Jones and Pete Brown, as editor and editor-at-large respectively. As a team of three, we raised our ambitions even further, with a lofty mission of attempting to become ‘the New Yorker of beer’. Big goals should always be out of reach — you have to try much harder to reach them, and we think we made some big strides, introducing fresh and incredibly talented voices to beer who had real human, engaging, often moving stories to tell.

OG is distributed to quality bars and pubs and is free to pick up. Every penny of production costs has to be met by advertising. We pay the writers we commission and hopefully, there may even be some profit left to split between the three of us. Achieving the required amount of ad revenue has been getting increasingly difficult. We don’t press the ‘Go’ button until we know there’s a surplus. Original Gravity #23 was due to drop in September, but it didn’t hit that surplus.

For the moment then, the UK print edition of Original Gravity is temporarily on hold (the Canadian edition launches in Alberta as well as Ontario next year). We still believe the model works, but we need to take time out and rethink it in the UK. In the meantime, we’ll be publishing original content on originalgravitymag.com, including commentary on issues in beer that we feel we want to talk about (as well as continuing with occasional Original Gravity Live events). At the moment there is no budget for new writers, so it will be Pete Brown and Adrian Tierney-Jones who will be putting in the words, which means that the message of OG that has been there from the start — independent, asymmetrical, unconventional — will still be heard.

A big thank you to all the advertisers, distributors, stockists, writers and readers who have supported us so far. We’re not giving up. And we’ll let you know as soon as OG is ready to return to print.

| Beer, Beer Writing, British Guild of Beer Writers, Writing

Write (or tweet, or Instagram, or podcast) about beer? If so, what can we do to help?

Calling fellow beer communicators – what, if anything, would you like the British Guild of Beer Writers to be doing?

 

Like, for instance, should we change this logo, or does it still work?

 

I’ve sent a version of this post by email to all Guild members this morning. Now I’m posting it here to reach people who communicate about beer who may not be members of the Guild.

Last month I was elected Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers, succeeding Tim Hampson who steps down after twelve very successful years during which he dragged the Guild into the twenty-first century, overseeing a growth in membership to record levels, a significant improvement in what the Guild offers its members, and a transformation in how fun and successful events such as the annual dinner and summer party are. 
 
I have some big shoes to fill.

We say it an awful lot, but twenty years after starting work on my first book I really believe it: this is the best time there’s ever been to be drinking and writing about beer. 
 
But at the same time, there’s arguably never been a worse time in recent memory for people seeking to make a living from writing. Print titles are struggling, and word rates and book advances are going down. For those of us who spend most of our time doing this, I doubt there’s a single one of us who hasn’t been asked to do what we do for free, or rather, for that precious currency, ‘exposure’. Of course, if you’re doing this as a hobby, maybe that’s OK – it’s easier than ever to get your thoughts, opinions and stories in front of people if you’re not expecting anything in return. And the Guild must represent your views too.    
 
The nature of beer communication is evolving so rapidly I doubt there’s a single one of us who can keep track of the full scope of what we all do and how we do it. 
 
The Guild exists to help its membership communicate about beer. To do that well, your board needs to know what you want from us. We’re working on loads of different projects and over recent years the Guild has greatly expanded the services it offers members. 
 
But there’s more that we could be doing. To work out what that should be, I’d like to make the board a bit more transparent and encourage you to engage with us more.  
 
The board meets approximately once every two months. We’ll post the dates of these meetings well in advance, so that if there’s anything you would like bringing up or would like discussing at a board meeting we can make that happen. 
 
Pretty soon we’ll be setting up a ‘members only’ section. of the Guild website where, if you’re interested, you’ll be able to see key documents such as minutes of board meetings. 
 
We’re also considering having meetings in different parts of the country. This would mean an increase in expenses, but if members outside London would be interested in meeting and chatting to the board where you’re based then that may be a good investment. (If that doesn’t appeal to anyone, we’ll save the money!)
 
And I’d like to ask you now: if you have any thoughts, ideas, opinions, inspiration, complaints, concerns, or bounteous praise (especially that last one) about the Guild and how the board is running it, please share them with me below. Anything I can deal with myself, I will. Anything that needs taking to a board meeting, I’ll make sure it’s on the agenda.
 
If you’re based in the UK and you communicate about beer but you’ve decided for whatever reason that you don’t want to be a member of the Guild, I’d love to hear if there’s anything we could be doing that would make you consider (re)joining. Should we be doing more to represent podcasters? Do you want to see more training? Do you want us to organise brewery visits? Could or should we be doing more to improve access to brewers? I’m open to all suggestions.

If you can make it next week, I look forward to sharing a pint with you there.
 
Cheers
 
Pete