IBF2024 Author Spotlight: Mike Billett

Today we are delighted to bring you another in our series of author spotlights, giving you an insight into the wonderful people who will be with us at Islay Book Festival 2024. Today we’re getting to know Mike Billett.

As well as being a whisky connoisseur, Mike is a leading peatland scientist with a background in geology, soil and water science. During his 40-year career in research and education – at the Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling and at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – he researched and wrote extensively on the peatlands of the British Isles, Scandinavia and the Arctic, focusing on water quality, carbon, peatland management and environmental change, writing many research papers, book chapters, reports, and articles.

In recent years he has immersed himself in the landscapes, taste and qualities of Scotland’s single malt whiskies and has applied his deep understanding of the science of peatlands to this passion. Peat and Whisky is his first non-academic book.

We asked Mike about his previous visits to Islay, and what he’s looking forward to this time. He told us, “I have visited Islay many times, and not just for the whisky. My first trip was in my early teens. At that age I was more interested in the wild places of Islay and Jura and their inhabitants. I still am, but have since discovered ‘the Water of Life’ and the island’s rich culture and history. We now visit annually with family, friends and our dog ‘Paddy’, attracted by the warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the island and the Ileachs. Each trip throws up new beaches, walks, whisky and friends, but this will be my first time at the Islay Book Festival and for Bruichladdich Distillery to host my event is special.”

Talking about his book and the session he will hold at Bruichladdich, Mike said, “As a geoscientist in a former life and most recently a peatland scientist, ‘Peat and Whisky – the Unbreakable Bond’ is about so much more than whisky. It encompasses landscape, place, travel, personal memoir, popular science, climate change; it is not just about Scotland and Scotch Whisky. It is my first book and what has really pleased me is that the book has been read and enjoyed both by whisky and non-whisky people, as well as finding its way to readers across the globe.”

Of course, there are many authors who will be with us at the Islay Book Festival this year, and Mike is keen to hear more from them too. “What really stands out to me is the special event surrounding the life of George Orwell. Featuring Les Wilson’s excellent ‘Orwell’s Island’, it marks the 75th Anniversary of the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to think of a more influential novel in my generation and one that resonates deeply with today’s divided and dangerous world.”

You can buy Mike’s book at the Festival, or in advance here: Peat and Whisky: The Unbreakable Bond.

Mike will lead a special event on the Friday afternoon at Bruichladdich Distillery, which will include a whisky tasting – this event is already sold out, but you can join the waiting list.

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