Author, lover of Tea, Cocktails and all things Whisky
Alice Parsons (@alicetheauthor) is a New York born and bred author, who upped sticks and moved to Australia. Incredibly busy as not only an author, but a mother of four, with a menagerie of animals. Alice’s first book, The Magic of Tea, has been described as “A beautiful homage to the enchanting world of tea”. Keep your eyes peeled as Alice is definitely a writer to look out for! Alice hopes to be in the UK for a book launch in May, so don’t miss it, I know I won’t.
You were born in New York and grew up there, you have traveled extensively and have now settled in Australia, what prompted the move and why Australia?
Australia became my home when a “brief” visit here in 1983 turned into a romance, a marriage and four wonderful children. I had only planned a short stay. As it turned out, my stay was not overly short, as I will clock up 31 years this April!
You’ve now written two books, The Magic of Tea and The Lore of Whisky, was it always your dream to become a writer?
It was certainly one of my dreams. I have always been passionate about words and as a teenager I was addicted to journal writing. I did imagine producing something for a broader audience one day but imagined it to be a work of fiction. What has become clear however is that my brain and sense of humour are far better suited to non-fiction.
Why did you decide to write the books, especially your latest on Whisky, were you already a whisky fan? Or was this a subject that held your interest?
Having been engrossed in editing for a number of years which I enjoyed immensely, I was approached to write a book about tea. ‘The Magic of Tea’ was the result. Then, when the subject arose with my publisher about what book might follow, the notion of writing about whisky came to me – right out of the blue. As with ‘tea’ before it, ‘Whisky’ was a subject which interested me hugely, but about which I knew close to nothing. I loved the clear fresh flavour of it and was drawn in by its mystery, so it was thrilling to have the task of really looking into that barrel!
You write about whisky from all over the world and tracing whisky right back to its origins, this can’t have been an easy task, especially as much of early distilling, has been handed down, almost like myths. How did you carry out your research?
My starting point for research was an invaluable library of books lent to me by a young friend. This coupled with all those questions for which I wanted answers that I addressed either to anyone within reach, or to the infinite roadways in Cyberspace in the form of Whisky societies or Whisky blogs and even Whisky podcasts. I then assembled a story integrating all the material that I had gathered from all these sources and pieced together the book.
The Lore of Whisky has been highly recommended by the Australian “Godfather of Whisky” Bill Lark, of Lark Distillery, this is high praise indeed, did you already know Bill or did you only come to know each other during the writing of your book?
I was on my way to Tasmania for research in January 2013 and some Whisky friends in Sydney, knowing about my book, encouraged me to approach Bill and the team at Lark Distillery (@larkdistillery). I could not have been more warmly received; Bill even agreed to read my manuscript and fact-check it; and Mark Nicholson (Lark’s second in command) later flew to Sydney specifically to launch the book for me which was amazingly generous of him.
What has been your favourite memory or moment of writing The Lore of Whisky?
My favourite memory is the abstract yet very real sense of connectedness I had to the Whisky community the whole time I was writing the book. The conversations haven’t ceased, but I was exhilarated by the daily challenge of pursuing information and building up the story. When the writing process is underway, the facts and the words and the way you express your information flow tirelessly and indiscriminately around and around in your head, so every morning I would fall towards my manuscript re-inspired to revise and update it, and would find myself launched in all sorts of directions. When the work was done, there was huge relief but also anti-climax as my adrenalin eased and normal sleep-filled nights returned!
What do you hope The Lore of Whisky achieves?
To have had a nod from Bill Lark, whom I respect profoundly is huge, and to me a solid achievement. So is the testimonial from Hew Blair at Justerini & Brooks in the UK. Beyond this I hope to entertain, inform, amuse and surprise my readers. The emphasis being on entertain.
You look in depth at, not only whisky and its origins, but also the effect the various governments (in various countries) have had on the whisky market, this is fascinating, what prompted you to explore this avenue in your book?
Indignation I suppose. I do respect the dark side of alcohol but equally I despair at the sometimes callous manipulation of governments to garner revenue at very material cost to their own people. This happened in America and Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and indeed in Australia it is going on in the twenty-first century.
As one of only a handful of women writing about whisky, have you found this to be a help or a hindrance?
As I can only experience writing and research as myself I can simply say that not for one moment in any circumstance was I treated with anything other than incredible generosity and patience and respect. I felt supported at every step, even by people who didn’t know me. Possibly there was some quiet amusement about a woman treading into what has legendarily been a man’s domain, but no-one conveyed that to me openly.
Do you think there is an under representation of women in the whisky industry?
Not anymore. When Mark Nicholson (Lark Distillery) launched the book in Sydney he pronounced that I was the only woman who had written about Whisky. Maybe that is so, in the format I have chosen, however the evidence is clear that there is massive interest among women, and the Whisky sisterhood is expanding all the time and indeed more and more women’s writing is emerging.
Did you have to do much “tasting” of whisky (all in the name of research of course) when writing your book?
A fair bit yes! The Lore of Whisky is not a Whisky encyclopaedia though. I qualify at the time of writing every dram that I tasted personally, but relied on research to give generalisations about types.
What’s your favourite whisky?
One drunk with a friend – in particular a member of my family. Truthfully, to date there has been no Whisky I have disliked. However I am less inclined to the strongly peated malts preferring my liquid amber to be on the mellow side.
Aside from all we’ve spoken about here, in your own words, why should we buy The Lore of Whisky?
You should buy The Lore of Whisky because you will have fun with this book. It’s an adventure. It is easy to read and genuinely full of surprises, even for experts I am told. Its scope is very wide although it certainly does not pretend to be scholarly; it just aims, with a fair bit of jest, to provide some worthwhile and solid background to the Whisky story right across the globe.
I love that you include cocktail recipes in the book, would you share your personal favourite with me?
It must be New York still in my blood! With your indulgence may I offer three favourites? (Three for the price of one, fantastic!).
The Rusty Nail – A blend of Whisky enhanced by the even richer Whisky essence of Drambuie; this is hard to go past;
The Godfather – While Amaretto, the confection of our Italian cousins, marries mightily well with Whisky in The Godfather;
The Handsome Man – My dear son Harry, who owns a bar in Montenegro, came up with The Handsome Man combining the Amaretto and Whisky of The Godfather with pulverised orange over crushed ice. A winning combination!
So what’s on the horizon for you this coming year, will there be more books, in particular a follow up to The Lore of Whisky?
I am coming to England in May to be with family for a number of months and to promote The Lore of Whisky. My writing is not yet done but I am pulling back for a brief spell so as to bring real freshness to my next project.
That concludes our interview Alice, It’s been a real pleasure and very educational, thank you once again for your time.
You are so welcome.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstypryde1)