Probably, the most ill-judged decision of very many ill-judged decisions I ever made was to become self-employed, when I decided to make a real go at this writing malarkey. The best part of six years later and success continues to evade me. Another one bites the dust?
Before someone else reported my book and advertising skills to HMRC – and, would you believe, someone literally did – I had decided to do The Right Thing. After all, it would only be a matter of time before my work was on the shelves of Waterstones and in the pages of newspapers and magazines and I’d be in the higher tax category. “I’m a writer,” I sort of told them. “I might owe you some money soon!” Today, whilst I have not given up writing (sorry), I have finally come to my senses and fessed up to my friends at the tax office that I have been wasting their time, and mine, by receiving a self-assessment form every year.
As a former civil servant, you might think that I’d be an expert on things like form-filling, but nothing could be further from the truth. My long-suffering partner is in possession of the vast majority of brain cells and common sense in our house and she worked out my profit and loss situation for the 2018/19 tax year. It did not take long.
My gross profit for the year was – and I urge you to sit down at this point – the staggering sum of £31.72. This represents pennies by way of royalties from my worst-selling book ‘Corfu, not a scorcher’ and the rest comes from advertising on my website www.eclecticblue.org.uk. Suffice to say that once expenses were taken into account, this foray into the exciting world of working for one’s self has not been a rip-roaring success. On the contrary, I’m out of pocket to the tune of – and let’s say this in very general terms, because it’s embarrassing – well over a grand.
Getting through to HMRC wasn’t as difficult as I had expected. The web chat facility was not available or was too busy, depending on what time you tried to use it, so I hung on the telephone for a mere half an hour before a highly competent, friendly and professional civil servant tried not to talk to me as though I were an imbecile. Trust me, if I had been her and she me, I’d have struggled not to.
I asked a series of stupid questions and in turn she asked a series of sensiblequestions about whether I had investments, earned over £100k per year and whether I had made over £1000 of gross income from my writing career. When I replied the actual gross figure was…er…£31.72, I was amazed she was not trying to stifle a laugh because I’d laughed when she asked me her questions.
The HMRC officer patiently explained that I would not need to pay any extra tax (we had worked out at home that I owed 80p in extra tax) and that there was no need to waste her time (my words) unless the figure approached a grand. I assured her that there was no chance of this happening and next year’s figure was likely to be even less. I thanked her profusely because I was very relieved.
I was relieved because I’ve had an endless series of emails and texts from HMRC threatening me with a fine if I failed to submit my accounts before 31st January. I am not exactly sharp when it comes to money so I had thought, wrongly it turns out, I owed money because of my ‘earnings’ and was desperate to get it cleared up. It did seem a little unfair that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 19th century, had a personal fortune of £150 million and his company had paid no corporation tax on £103 million over the last four years whilst I would have to pay a proportion of my £31.72, but it turned out I didn’t.
Now, I can concentrate on my writing, safe in the knowledge that I’ll never make a living at it and that hardly anyone will read it. I know I am not actually fighting against odds to be a successful writer because no bookmaker in their right mind would offer odds, given my background of ‘success’, although a small part of me wanted to get even the smallest of demands from the tax man, just for appearances, I suppose.
Still, when I am on my death bed, at least I’ll be able to say that I gave it my very best shot. If it wasn’t good enough, and plainly it wasn’t, then so be it. Sometimes, dreams don’t die, they just fade away.