Monday, 22 July 2013

Going Away To Get Away

"Have you booked a holiday yet," friends have been saying all year. "When are you going away?" "We're not," I reply, "at least not in the sense you mean."
 We're fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country (Devon), we work for ourselves, so have no bosses to get away from and, having travelled internationally for many years on business, have nowhere we are burning to visit. As my husband says frequently, if ungrammatically: "what would we be going away from?"
However, I’m in the middle of my own, very special, summer holiday at the moment. For 17 days in July, our small town has a summer festival, Chudfest, followed by CarnivalWeek. I am one of the organisers of the festival and also take part in some of the Carnival events. Since 5th July, I have: marshalled at a rock concert; danced at the Summer Ball; applauded the entrants of Chudleigh’s Got Talent; served squash to more than a hundred toddlers at the Teddy Bears’ Picnic; assisted the question masters in the Quiz; sold books, listened to workshop leaders and other authors at the Literary Festival; marvelled at Nicholas Parsons’ memory for Lear’s poetry; laughed until I got stitch at the Comedy Club; supped at the chocolate fountain, drunk pink fizz and taken part in my first ever Karaoke session at the Pink Pamper Party; finally got the hang of line dancing at the Hoedown; sold programmes and won on the ferret race at the Fete; marshalled for the 6 mile road race and walked in the Carnival Procession as part of the Chudfest entry (we came third in our class and the fact that there were only three entries did not dim our pleasure one bit!).
In addition, I’ve slept in the marquee three times (on security duty, not because I couldn’t find my way home) and learned: it gets very cold at night, even in the middle of the hottest summer for years; the church bells ring out the hours every hour, throughout the night; and we have owls, seagulls, pigeons and crows in the playpark - all of whom can be very noisy!  I’ve also been part of the team that liaised with the local press, put up banners and delivered brochures to every house in town.
I spent two wonderful days working with the local primary school, putting together a Chudfest special edition of Chudleigh Phoenix, our community newsletter. Our Junior Press Team were a credit to the town, the school and their parents.
What I haven’t done is write. I normally try to write everyday and set myself goals on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. I don’t always keep to them, but they provide a structure which this scientist and former production manager needs. At the back end of June, I started feeling guilty that I was not able to spend enough time writing — and I knew it would get harder as we moved into July.
I ‘gave up the day job’ to write full-time in March 2012. In fact, writing is now my day job. I love being a writer; I enjoy it especially when the words flow and the word count grows. I don’t want it to be a chore, although I realise there are times when one stares at the blank page or screen — and it just stares back! And I certainly don’t want to end up feeling guilty when other things have to take priority.
So, I gave myself a month off! I made no plans to write during July (although there has been an occasional burst, like this posting, which would not be suppressed). My notebook is brimming with ideas for new stories. An old friend visited us last week and left me with a brilliant plotline I can’t wait to get written. I am keen to get back to the novel and implement the advice I got during the Winchester Writers Conference. In a couple of weeks I will be heading to Derbyshire for this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, which is the traditional start of my writing year and we’re launching the fourth annual Chudleigh Phoenix short story competition. It’s going to be a brilliant year.
But first, I have a few more fun things to do before the end of the month and I’m going to enjoy my holiday to the full.
What are your views on holidays? Do you have to go away to get away?   

Monday, 1 July 2013

Who You Gonna Call? The Professionals

Last week we talked about informal networks and especially the support we can get not just from the writing community but also from other small businesses. Today, we’re going to think about the support we might need from the professionals.

When we talked a while ago about financial matters, emphasis was placed on simple, appropriate systems and preferably low-cost options for our business. However, it is very likely that we will need to use an accountant at some point, especially if we have a limited company. Accountants, or should I say accountancy firms, come in all shapes and sizes, from the local one-man/woman bands to the larger practices with many partners. In general terms, the smaller the practice, the lower the cost, but also the more narrow the expertise and experience available. When we started our company more than twenty years ago, we used a small local accountancy firm. It was simple, like our affairs. However, as the business grew and moved into more complex areas of finance (just how do you deal with a tax demand from Kazakhstan?) we moved to another practice with more partners and the right experts for our business. It is most important that our accountant (or indeed anyone else we turn to for advice) understands our business.
As well as financial support, we may well need legal advice on occasion, for example when we are setting up our business, signing contracts or drafting our wills. The obvious option, and one that many businesses will use, is to engage a lawyer. However, that is not a low-cost solution and there are alternatives that can be explored. There is the Business Link helpline which provides a quick response service for simple questions about starting or running a business or a more in-depth service for complex enquiries. There is the Citizens’ Advice Bureau which would be able to provide support to individuals, but probably not to limited companies. Or there are business support organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses which provides members with legal and financial advice. As writers, we have our own support via the Society of Authors which can help members with queries relating to the business of writing. Services include the confidential, individual vetting of contracts, and help with professional disputes.   

I’ve often found the answer to a query on the HMRC website, but there are also helplines that deal with specific questions, such as the New Employers Helpline, the New Self Employed Helpline, the Self Assessment Helpline and the VAT Helpline. These numbers can be found via a quick internet search.
So whatever our query or problem, there will be someone who can help us, either for free or as a paid service, depending on the circumstances. It’s worth being aware of all these services, so we can call on them rapidly if we need them.

I posted my first article on the Business of Writing exactly a year ago. Today, I am finishing the series (at least for the time being). We’ve talked, among other things, about setting up a business, selecting the right business structure, writing our objectives and designing our financial systems. I’m going to put the whole series of articles into an ebook, which will be out later this year. I will also be presenting a short course on the business skills toolbox at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School next month. But for now, it’s time to get down to business and for me that means writing more short stories and flash fiction, while holding my novel’s hand while it takes its first steps into the big wide world that is Agent Land. Maybe I’ll meet some of you on your journeys?