In just over 24 hours I turn 40, and I'll no longer be able to describe myself as a 'young writer' in any respect.
I got two good books out during my thirties, and completed a life-changing sea voyage that will be released as my third book, on the shelves before I hit 41. Maybe that will be the one that allows me to give up the day job and write full time. I doubt it, but hope is what drags a writer back to the keyboard day after day, for eighteen months, or two years, or four, or ten.
I got hit by the brainwave to write Man Walks into a Pub (though it didn't have the cool title then - my publishers always come up with better titles than me) on 11th September 1998, two months almost to the day after my thirtieth birthday. This means my entire fourth decade - 25% of my life so far - has been devoted single-mindedly to the pursuit of trying to write about beer in a way that can entertain those who are already into it, but more importantly, to put beer in its rightful place in a broader social context, and get those who don't currently read about beer to appreciate it more.
I guess I've had some success. I've sold maybe 30,000 books, between the two titles. I've got this blog, a few stuttering TV appearances, and some magazine features. Beer has become my life, and has given me a whole cast of new friends who I am so grateful to have met, and who I feel confident I'll be drinking with for the rest of my days. I've been around the world twice, and still get a rush when I'm invited to a bar somewhere to see someone unveil a new brew they're excited about, and want to try on an audience for the first time.
My first editor once told me they had Booker Prize shortlist authors who would kill for my sales figures. I'm sure that's true, but mine are nothing to write home about. CAMRA now has 90,000 members. You've got to be passionate about beer to join CAMRA, and if every person who cared about beer enough to put their hand in their pocket every year to renew their CAMRA membership also thought my books were worth reading, well, I'd now be living mortgage-free and very happy indeed. For me, there's nothing better than an afternoon in a beer garden with a pint of TT Landlord in one hand and a good book in the other, but for many, reading and drinking just don't go together. Maybe I shouldn't have slagged CAMRA off quite so vehemently in that first book - but someone had to.
The last ten years have been a blast. And the thing that both writing and beer exploration have in common is that, as your dreams of being a professional footballer or rock god or fashion model (only one of these three was my dream) fall away as symbols of a youth that you suddenly realise you only ever had one go at, that wasn't a rehearsal, that had no second chance at - both the craft of writing and the simple enjoyment of beer can only improve as you get older. You read more, you experience more, you know more. If you have your health, you've got the rest of your life, unless Alzheimer's rears its head, to refine your craft, and your enjoyment. I hope I get another forty years doing what I've spent the last ten doing. At this age, it's very comforting to think that, in stuff that's very important to you, you're still at the beginning of the journey.
Jesus. This is what Wonder Years would have sounded like if it hadn't been put out of its misery once Fred Savage hit puberty.
Aaaaaanyywaaay. I get the horrible feeling that in the next few days I will be wishing I had deleted the above rather than posting it.
I've spent the last week of my thirties being quite self-indulgent, on a mini-beer-tour around the Great North of England, having a whale of the time. Various posts to follow on my experiences.
More importantly, I'm celebrating the 'beginning' of my life, upstairs at the White Horse, on Saturday, 12th July, from 7pm. Any reader of this blog - even the Anonymous Twat(s) who have no knowledge about beer and no meaningful life in the real world - are invited to come along and help me celebrate/drown my sorrows, so long as you play nice on the night. We've got some free beer - good beer - and when that runs out, there's lots more excellent beer that you'll have to pay for. For fuck's sake, we're talking about the White Horse!
If you've read this far, you deserve the free stuff.
Please indulge me and cut me a bit of slack - and I hope to see you there on Saturday.