All the Gods pass through here. The walls are thick with photos: Odin, back in the two-eyed days; Zoroaster poking two fingers up behind Zarathustra’s head; Kali with her arms around Mister Vitelli. A lot of Gods with Mister Vitelli. He might own the place, but you’ve never met a bigger starfucker in your life. And Mister Vitelli has lived several.

Four weeks ago, I started an online writing group — The Ministry of Reformation — with the brilliant Chuck McKenzie for the purposes of encouraging a group of writing friends who had fallen away from our regular habits (for whatever reason) to simply pick up our keyboards and hit a small, achievable target each week, to be the intervention we all needed just to sit us back in front of a screen and recover the words we all miss so mightily, no matter how few we capture at each sitting.

Declan pulled his jacket closer round his shoulders and kicked his way through the mud towards the pressing shed. The vines surrounding him were stunted and blackened by sleet. They wouldn’t bloom for countless months. Declan shivered. He’d lost track of time while he wandered aimlessly along the rows. He had no purpose, no drive. Nothing is as useless as a vintner in winter, he rhymed to himself, striking a rap-star pose and then sighing self-consciously. Time to head back to the homestead. Hot chocolate and a Jason Statham DVD, that was what he needed. The opposite of the thinking that threatened to drive him into an office job every time he stopped to contemplate what too many more weeks of this blight would do to his savings. He reached the end of the row of vines, and turned towards the small cottage tucked away at the back of the vineyard.

            “Hello,” he muttered.

In 4 weeks I’ve managed to complete Vitelli’s, a short story that’s sat unfinished for well over two years — that’s the first excerpt, up the top — and put 1500 words down on something that feels like it’s going to be a novel, but is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever attempted before. At the moment, it’s shaping up as a thriller very much in the LeCarre mould of retired bad-men-on-the-side-of-good being drawn back into games they thought they’d left behind. It’s called The Retiree for the minute, and that’s where the second excerpt above comes from.

I’ve no idea how well any of these projects are going to go; whether they’ll end up being remotely sellable; if I’m even capable of pretending to scale the tiny heights my writing career reached before everything fell apart. But I do know that I couldn’t go on as I was, blocked and miserable and depressed at the mundanity and featurelessness I had devolved into. So this group, as gentle and minimal as the targets we’ve created and the interventions we perform are, has become uncountably important to me over the last month.

If I can keep producing something, I can at least believe I can get back onto the treadmill, sell the odd story, perhaps a novel again, and lay the foundations of a second attempt at being something more than just a middle-aged nobody doing his five days a week while he waits for retirement and decline.

Second chances don’t travel in herds, and this is the best shot I’ve had at one for a while. It’s only four weeks, but the signs are good.

So it seems to be working for me, at least, is what I’m saying…

He hung up, finished his cold meal, paid, and left. As he swung out of the parking area he pulled up to a rubbish bin. He pulled the sim card out of his phone, snapped it in half, crushed the phone beneath his heel, and threw the whole mess into the bin. Then he drew the car onto the highway and drove away, keeping respectfully to the speed limit the whole time.


Three weeks ago, as part of my determination to make what might be, perhaps, one last attempt to take the sputtering embers of my writing career and see if I can fan them enough to light at least one match head, my good friend Chuck McKenzie and I invited a few colleagues — all of whom were in a similar situation, and had spoken of a similar mind-frame — to create an online group dedicated to supporting each other as we tried to reignite what we all once had, and at least occasionally enjoyed.

After some discussion around format, and desires, and structure, we set our first writing target this week. Very small, very simple, real ‘hurdles for baby bunny rabbits’ stuff: 100 words, or half an hour cumulative writing time.

It’s easier to aim low, and surpass, than aim high, and not even try.

So this morning, gifted with a third consecutive sick day (thanks, inflamed lung!), I finally sat down to try my first writing session since determining to do so at the start of the year (Turns out new jobs and house moves are time-consuming. Who knew?). I dusted off Vitelli’s, a short story I’d churned out a couple of thousand words on the last time I tried to restart things, and which fell apart before I could finish it and even contemplate what came next.

Today, armed with the knowledge that I had to get at least 100 words down, or front up to the writing group I started and explain why I couldn’t manage the first, smallest target I set, I managed 800 words and brought a long-dormant short story from somewhere in the midst to just about finished.

That, my friends, is a good feeling.

Baby steps.

First steps.

But oh, they do feel nice.