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Billy Scobie on history and the hard stuff

This book was inspired by the Irish folk song from which it takes its name. It’s a song I’ve loved for fifty years. It’s a song which tells a story, and when I used to sing it as a teenager, I saw the action, in my mind’s eye, taking place, not in Ireland, but in the beautiful Glen Finals on our own Loch Lomondside. So that was really the earliest beginning of the manuscript.

In this book you get two stories for the price of one. There is the historical tale which involves, for the greater part, real people who did live around these parts in the late eighteenth century. I researched the story as closely as I could so that the historical background would be accurate. The characters are set in the real political, social and geographical background of the time and place. Many of the things described really happened. Illicit whisky distilling and smuggling around the glens and islands of Loch Lomond were carried out on a large scale. So the story can be read in the confidence that it could have happened.

The other story is about how the book was written… and to a large extent about my own personal problems. These particular problems – agoraphobia and a resulting dependence on alcohol – are common but complicated. It’s not just as simple as being unable to leave your house, or drinking a bottle of whisky a day. Different people are affected in quite different ways. I became afraid of many different situations.

I personally am still ashamed about the way I responded to these problems. Fear does that to some of us. That is why I hid behind a pseudonym.

If “Whisky in the Jar” is to have any value. If it is to do any good in the world (and I hope I will be forgiven for such a pretension), then I’d like to think it would be twofold – First – the historical story should entertain and perhaps even inform a little. Secondly – the confessional aspects would hopefully help some people who are suffering from agoraphobia. Help them in the sense that they may recognise a lot of the stuff that I went through and realise that they’re not alone, that these feelings and experiences are elements of a curable illness which affects very many people.

These are weird and crippling mental states and there can be a terrible sense of isolation arising from them. People who have not experienced agoraphobia might think they understand it – they don’t. Seeing a television documentary or reading an article in a magazine does not give you real knowledge of agoraphobia.

Phobias – and resorting to drink – are things which often develop gradually. They creep up on you. If nothing else, I hope that “Whisky in the Jar” might act as a sort of early warning manual which can alert folk in the earlier stages to how things can develop if they don’t seek help.

In the book I describe the way I, personally, fought back. Let me be very clear, though, I do not pretend to have pioneered a cure or anything of that sort. Different things will work for different people and it’s always worth consulting the professionals. I had professional help, but perhaps more importantly, I received wonderful support from some very dear, very patient and long-suffering friends. Good friends… Oh, yes – and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

I’d like, once again, to thank Allan Sneddon, my original publisher, for making the dream of this book a reality.

“Whisky in the Jar” by Alexander Tait (Billy Scobie) is available from the Loch Lomond Craft Centre, Mitchell Way, Alexandria, or from http://www.neetahbooks.com. New copies of Whisky in the Jar arriving this week. http://www.neetahbooks.com

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