Alcohol: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

by Tim Relf
The Internet Writing Journal, November 2005
Cover of Stag: A Story About Coming of Age -- In a Bar by Tim Relf
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Think of some of the happiest times of your life -- and where did they happen? In pubs and bars, I'd bet.

Time with friends, your student years, birthdays, parties, weddings. Alcohol's inextricably linked with so many of them.

The funny thing is, try thinking of some of the unhappiest moments of your life -- and what's been responsible for them too? Booze, probably.

Acting selfishly or inconsiderately, embarrassing behaviour, feeling unhealthy, feeling hungover, feeling plain stupid. Most of us can attribute these emotions to drink at some point or other, too.

It's this, the two sides of alcohol, that I wanted to explore in my book.

I wanted to get inside the head of someone who, without realizing, was sliding across the line between "social" drinking and "problem" drinking.

It's not as if it's unusual. It's a national pastime -- going out and drinking too much. We do it most Friday and Saturday evenings in Britain. The modern name for it's binge drinking, but we've always done it.

Prime Minister Tony Blair recently warned it was fast-becoming the "new British disease." He's had some first-hand experience, too: his son was once picked up by police in London, comatose with drink.

My hope, though, is that anyone who's ever woken up and muttered the words "never again" might see a little bit of themselves -- or someone they know -- in this book.

Books have a habit of evolving as you write them, but from the start, I knew one thing about my main character, Rob Purcell. I didn't want him to be the cliché drunk: someone who sleeps on park benches or drinks cheap wine for breakfast. He was going to be a normal everyday guy. A successful guy. Just someone who always happens to be the first into -- and the last out of -- the bar.

In tandem with this, I wanted to write the story of a reunion. The special qualities of the friendships you make when you're young have always fascinated me, and I was keen to follow a group of guys on a get-together 10 years after they were students.

This gave me the chance to look at how their friendships had endured, how their lives have changed and follow the comic and tragic consequences of their reunion.

As for how I researched the book, well, you don't have to look too far nowadays. Go to any town or city in Britain on a Friday or Saturday night and you'll see millions of people sliding across that perilously line between social and problem drinking. Or, rather, falling across it.

Plus, I certainly know what a hangover feels like. In fact, that's probably one of the best things about having written a book set in bars. All the time I've spent in them now counts as research!

Tim Relf **Tim Relf is an award-winning journalist who has written for numerous publications including the Times, Daily Express, and Front. He lives in England. Tim Relf likes cats, walking and American books but he dislikes broad beans, small dogs and the M25. His latest novel, Stag, is a book about the fine line between "social" drinking and "problem" drinking, told from the perspective of an everyday 29-year-old man who's slipping across that line.

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