Death of a book

This website has been gathering dust for a considerable time, for various reasons, and reflects the decreased focus that writing has in my life. One consequence of that is that there are almost certainly no new travelogues coming any time soon (the last of my three books was published in 2014).

I had, over-optimistically, imagined a fourth book based on travels to Scotland’s island breweries and created a holding page for it. Island Hopping, as I provisionally titled it, was a fun concept, aimed at exploring the region under my nose, fitting nicely into family holidays, and picking up on the growth of craft beer in places that are often more famous for beer. It wasn’t to be, however, for three reasons.

Firstly… just life, really. I’m busy. I have been for years. Similar to my neglect of this website and of writing generally, I have let this book slide way down my list of priorities. There’s little to suggest it, or any writing, will move back up in any significant way. That’s not a problem. Don’t feel sorry for me. Everything’s fine. It’s just the direction I’ve taken in life these days.

Secondly, the book idea didn’t quite get the hold I was hoping when I began the research. I actually got a couple of trips done a few years back, taking in five of the breweries on my list, and I did lots of research and reaching out to the others. Reactions from the companies, however, were not always quite as welcoming and supportive as I’d imagined. Some, bizarrely, didn’t return my calls and emails. Some owners and brewers I’d been in touch with before my trips even failed to meet as arranged when I’d arrived at their premises after long journeys, either through forgetfulness, disinterest or, quite possibly, just rudeness. It reflected a lack of slick professionalism from what were in some cases, to be fair, very small-scale labours of love or hobbyist shed-based operations. Most of the people I met were considerably better at making beer than marketing it. As this strand of the story emerged, I found it increasingly hard to conceive of a way of writing about it without being overly negative. Of course, I’m no stranger to failure in my travels, and that has great comedic value at times, but when the failure is rooted in others, there’s a danger of writing with negativity and bitterness, and it was certainly not going to be my style to put the boot in.

That said, not all responses from breweries were negative, and some were hugely friendly and welcoming and appreciated my mission. Moreover, the trips I did undertake were a lot of fun, ticking off a number of islands, meeting some great people, and opening up some excellent side stories about the economy, societies and environment of the Highlands and Islands. It had the makings of a travelogue with a good social conscience, and perhaps a not too subtle streak of politics in it. I would have enjoyed writing it had all gone smoothly on the brewery side, but my failure to engage with the breweries would not have sat comfortably in that narrative. Perhaps one day I will trawl my notes for some short vignettes to share from those few adventures I did manage to undertake.

Thirdly, and it perhaps relates to some of the breweries’ less than slick business operations, but there have been some closures. Of the thirteen on my original list, at least four off the top of my head have shut down. The past few years have been difficult economically for a number of reasons, and it’s perhaps arguable that the craft beer revolution was not quite so sustainable in the long term, especially for what were often pretty tiny productions. Indeed, one brewer I met on my journeys predicted that not all of the island breweries would survive and he was quite right. A book about breweries some of which have closed (whether before or after my visit) isn’t quite such a coherent or positive story, and melancholy would not have been a suitable vibe for a book that was supposed to be something of a celebration of Scotland’s islands and their breweries.

So the book lives on purely in my imagination. That, however, is not a bad thing given I have an entire series of travelogue concepts I’m highly unlikely to to ever bring to fruition. It makes sense, therefore, to now add Island Hopping to this fanciful collection of Books on the Horizon. There it shall gather dust along with its new friends, unless a remarkable change of circumstances happens.

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