The London Beer Writers

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Left to right: Ben Sedgwick, Alec Latham and Csaba Babak attempt to look casual for the camera.

On Wednesday evening, the London Beer Writers Meetup took place at the Craft Beer Company, St Mary Axe in London’s financial district.

The Meetup consisted of a certified beer Sommelier who works for Fullers Brewery (Ben), the published author of Beer Means Business (Csaba) and a blogger and sometimes magazine contributor (me).

As texts to offer feedback on, Ben’s work was about the growing beer scene in northern Spain. Csaba presented part of a project he’s working on about the factors influencing consumer choice in the marketplace. I offered my piece about the debt the public owes to the nation’s bar staff and publicans. These three topics were as varied as the beers showcased along the bar a few feet away from where we sat.

It’s enlightening meeting up with other writers whether they be a simple enthusiasts, bloggers, vloggers or someone who works in brewing, marketing, development or in any other ale-related capacity. The beer and brewing culture has become such a wide magisterium – the insights come from backgrounds that are multiplying. Though all three of us write about beer, our own backgrounds are diverse: civil engineering, EU policy and regulation management and front line emergency services.

The way this Meetup works is we read each others’ work and then write down our thoughts. There are some useful little questions on pages I supply to function as whetters if you’re a little dry. It’s structured but far some scientific and it’s definitely a work in progress. When you read a text, there is no such thing as a right or wrong reaction to it. What kindles the flames for one reader might just snuff them out for another. All viewpoints are equally valid.

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At the London Beer Writers Meetup, you’ll hear praise and the criticism is constructive and friendly. It could be conflicting or you might see patterns emerging in the feedback. You simply mull it over and next time you sit down to write, it might well influence it. The point of this Meetup is to grow as a writer and help others to do so.

What’s impossible to do as an author is become another person reading your own work because as its creator, you can’t shed your own bias. Sometimes only getting someone else’s opinion will do. And it’s as simple as that. It makes you think about what you write about and how you write it.

Some brilliant sites and feeds to pursue:

You can follow Ben Sedgwick’s focus on beer at

www.maltmashboil.com
and follow him on Twitter:
@sedgehammers

Follow Csaba Babak’s work at:

www.beermeansbusiness.com
and his Twitter accounts:
@csabababak
@beermeansbiz

Apart from the three official topics, we also found time to discuss CAMRA’s softening stance on key kegs, the Pig’s Ear Festival, red kites, Sierra Nevada, Belgium, Zurich, Watlington and the Vicar of Dibley. Not only that but we honed our magical skills – namely by making pints of Dark Star, Beavertown, Kernel, Orbit, Weird Beard & Tiny Rebel disappear.

If you’re someone who writes about beer or is thinking about doing so, please join the group. It’s a relaxed environment in which to chew the spent grain with other beer writers:

London Beer Writers Meetup

London, GB
24 The London Beer Writers

Hi my name’s Alec. I love reading and writing about beer. I’ve had some success in being published but would like to improve my skills and help others to improve theirs. I wou…

Check out this Meetup Group →

on writing – cliché

why cliché should be avoided like the … erm … an airborne infectious disease

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Tonight we have an eclectic mix, a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment. Though you’ve probably said “eclectic mix”, do you actually know what eclectic means? Thought not. Neither did I until I looked it up. This is because it’s only commonly seen in that cliché. Cliché can use words most people don’t know the meaning of, but get them to repeat it like parrots (cliché). This isn’t an intelligent state of affairs.

When you start out in writing, cliché seems professional; it’s like you’ve stumbled onto familiar ground (one) and is the most natural and intuitive thing to do. There are, for example, two clichés right off the bat (and two) in these two sentences. Using cliché seems to legitimise your writing precisely because it lends it the comfort of familiarity.

Cliché is the linguistic version of copying and pasting when you struggle to put yourself across. You’re copying and pasting other people’s words as a million have done before you. If you could trace the saying back to the one who originally said/wrote it, you’d probably find he/she was a capable writer or orator as they had to find an original way to epitomise what they were trying to express; it’s a difficult and active process which requires effort and imagination. That’s why as a writer you need to stop at the same junction between prose and cliché and reinvent again.

Cliché is the level of language used by Harvester menus, humorous birthday cards, radio disc jockeys and political press teams.

The phenomenon has a mayfly existence in political circles. The cabinet, shadow cabinet and their advisors push a series of media soundbites when a notion needs to be polished to be repeated in lieu of actual argument by the masses. The public really do end up repeating them – especially with the epidemic spread of social media. It’s a form of echolalia.

In the past few years the phrases “difficult decisions”, “too far too fast”, “fix the roof while the sun’s shining”, “cost of living crisis” etc etc have been absorbed via osmosis into the public psyche but won’t be remembered for long. With regards to these political salvoes, historians of the future will be able to date a cliché’s vintage. If a newspaper cutting were to be found without the date, examining the clichés in a political column could be as reliable a test as carbon dating the paper it’s printed on.

Not all clichés are so time-specific though. Whether it’s to be in stitches, in a pickle, to be eaten out of house and home or even to be as dead as a doornail, these were seeds of vocabulary all planted in the sixteenth century by one Will Shakespeare – proof that a cliché’s origin can come from a competent wordsmith. When you mine a good phrase, it can catch on in which case it gets repeated. Now we have a larva turn to a rote chrysalis that might hatch into a cliché.

Cliché could be used in technical writing but such a document’s brief is not to evoke emotion nor make a connection with the reader. Its remit is to set out things in a logical sequence and illustrate quantitative data. As long as the logic is there, cliché won’t really harm the text.

Where cliché does the most damage is in expressive writing. Imagine if you replaced every cliché with the words “what he said” That’s actually what you’re doing. Cliché is therefore a crutch that supports you as you straddle the voids in your own prose and the more clichés that are to be found within it, the more obvious that crutch becomes to the reader.

Some clichés are perfect: to not be able to get a word in edgeways is like it’s a physical object you’re trying to shunt into the gaps in a speeding convoy of words from the other party. The openings are so narrow it keeps glancing off and so never penetrates the dialogue. To have a rapier wit is another beautifully crafted example – it incises, thrusts and parries in the debate’s exchanges. To have a memory like a sieve is exact in its construction. A raft of measures (actually a common political saying) is a good analogy for something that is humble but will keep people afloat through difficult times. Whoever first came up with it was a deft embroiderer of the English language but then it becomes robotic in the repetition.

Is there anything good to be said about cliché? Maybe. It reinforces a sense of shared language and by extension, a shared culture. But this benefit is also its restriction. It’s also a retrospective compliment to its creator, but again, we don’t usually know who that is to attribute the praise to.

The English language is a veritable smorgasbord of choice words – an eclectic mix of saying. At the end of the day we just need to roll with the punches, grin and bear it, and come out fighting for our native tongue.

Or alternatively,

The English language is our dew glistening hedgerow: an embarrassment of fruit we should never plunder but tend to. We must prune, feed and cross-pollinate to warp the droops and berries into sumptuous shapes and flavours. We need to ensure the sweet, the tart, the sharp and the running juices of its yield. Let’s keep our native tongue fertile.

The more you employ cliché, the more you disappear as a writer. Avoid cliché like the…….. well, it’s over to you.

on writing – a rest before publishing

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I haven’t written for several days as I take baby steps building a website. Whilst checking that the tabs work, I happened to read something I recently published. I discovered an analogy so comprehensively tortured it had been mangled. How had I managed to write it?

I’ve given this oversight some thought and I think it came about at the end of several days’ interminable tweaking to the post whereby I focussed on the grammar, structure and individual detail but not what the sum of their parts was actually up to. Each component was intact, but when turned on, the machine sodomised itself.

There’s just enough ambiguity in those last sentences to avoid a mixed metaphor.

At the time of writing the original post, I was being careful to avoid cliché. By swerving to avoid a collision, it’s possible to drive into another car. That sentence sums up the point I’m making quite well, it’s just not very imaginative. In fact, if you stand in that sentence, you can just about make out cliché in the distance.

Several days’ break from the post allows me to read it anew and that cataclysm couldn’t be more clear – it’s the whorl at the centre of a spiral that devours the rest of the text.

Our modern ability to cut and paste also harbours potential risks: the care you took to avoid the repetition of words can be scotched as the top line of one paragraph grinds with a crepitus against the bottom line of the one above it – they didn’t used to border each other but now, like countries, there’s a skirmish.

A notion tailing the end of one section can also bend the meaning of another at the start of the next; they’re touching each other now and contaminating each others’ previously isolated ideas. They used to dwell in different parts of the landscape but now you’ve unwittingly made them interact as neighbours.

When you’re constantly on your own writing, you’re too plugged into it. You actually need repose to unplug so you can see it more as the reader than the author. Even though you subject the text to multiple read-throughs, I believe you become like an orator rushing through rote passages and only concentrating on the recent edits. After a few days’ absence, you get to hear like the audience again.

Best is to actually work on another post completely and get intimate with that. When you’re close to completing, go back to the previous post instead. Give it the once over and the errors will stand out like the last glowing embers in a hearth.

I like learning as I go on and several days were taken before I pressed the publish button for this post. I made quite a few edits! If you can (but often you can’t), give yourself this break to actually read the words as if for the first time.

On writing…

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Alec Latham
The context:
 
I am in awe of some beer writers and they’re as varied and personal as the beer styles they scribe about. What I love is that writing about beer has become such a widespread phenomenon that the bar is constantly being raised. Unfortunately, this also means that there’s ever more competition to beat and to judge your own abilities by. 
 
On July 14th this year, I’ll have been in full time employment for twenty years since plunging in at eighteen – unfortunately my job has nothing to do with beer or writing. It was seeing this anniversary hove into view at the end of 2014 that spurred me to finally start writing and I’ve been keeping it up ever since. I used to be good at writing back in school so hoped I could still churn a readable paragraph. I was thrilled to get published by Hop & Barley in my capacity as an essay writer and later by doing Moor Beer taste comparisons. I’ll also be published in CAMRA’s beer magazine later in the year. 
 
I should make something quite clear right at this point – I don’t really know what I’m doing but I care deeply about the fact I’m doing it. I stopped going to school at fifteen and my highest qualification is my driving licence. I crave to be better at writing. I want it to be as beautiful as Kernel brewery’s Biere de Saison. I hope my passion goes some way to making up for my lack of training.
 
The field:
 
There’s plenty to consider if you want to write for an audience. First and foremost, how do readers even know you exist? Assuming the audience gets as far as seeing what you’ve written as a website link, how do you actually hold its attention? I apply this to how I read others’ work. What I read on the computer is different to what I’ll read on a smart phone because of the format.  Longer posts will suffer on a phone screen as they’re forced into a narrower vertical channel but be under no doubt – the smartphone is now the primary vector for written articles.
 
Des De Moor writes about beer but also about walking and I will stay with him through a 5000 word post even though (pun completely intended) it’s a trek. But I still need to wait until I get back home and fire up the computer for him. 
 
Short posts of several paragraphs are more likely to be read from start to finish so I can easily manage pub curmudgeon whilst standing at a bar. Personally, I like to write substantial posts because there’s a lot I want to get down. Retrospectively, I hope I learn a tiny lesson each time.
 
I’d like it if someone was suggesting ways I might improve this short post right now. What I need is someone to tell me when only I find something I’ve written funny or when I’m rambling, going off on a pointless tangent, splitting paragraphs apart or misguidedly forcing others together. I need to know what the reader thinks and at what point I cease to be original, make sense or merit its attention.
 
The solution:
 
I don’t believe I’m alone in wanting this kind of feedback as us writers want to be read and remembered. We want to improve our game. This is why I’ve set up a London-based group through the website Meetup called The London Beer Writers. It’s been a slow start but if you are London-based or London-centric (I live in St Albans) and would like constructive feedback about your writing, please join it – it’s completely free.
 
 
It works like this: We meet up in a quiet pub with a good beer range and bring our written work on laptops or printed out. However many there are, we offer our work in a circular way round the table so if there were four of us, we’d take the member’s work from the left and give ours to the right. We’d then repeat this so everyone’s work had been seen by every other member. Each time we’d make notes about what we think (constructively of course) and when everybody’s read everyone else’s work, we offer our feedback to the writers one by one. This way we can get a better insight into our strengths and weaknesses and exploit and address them respectively. 
 
If our thoughts are dry, I’ll supply a paper with little questions to get some responses coming. Above all, I’d like to help you and learn from you. So how about it?
 

 

After that, we relax with a few beers. It is after all what motivates us 😉