For some people, January must be a wonderful month to go shopping. Sales are on, so many things are cheaper and - in some post-Christmas miracle - they're still got money left to spend. For many British freelancers, January is all too often a belt-tightening exercise where any Squirrel Nutkin tendences can come back to bit us in the tail. Accountants always tell freelancers to put aside 20% of all gross earnings so the taxman can be paid when he comes calling. I try to be virtuous and salt away this money, but it can be a struggle in months when no money comes in. Bills still need to be paid, even when employers aren't no forthcoming with money owed.
Another problem arises when your earnings drop from one year to the next. If you're self-employed, you pay tax twice a year: in July and January. In January you pay over a wad of cash on account for the current tax year, exactly half of whatever you paid in total for the previous tax year. But if your earnings do fall from year to year [as mine have done the last two years running, mostly thanks to taking time moff paying work to study for a screenwriting MA], it can make the January payment something of a squeeze.
For the first time ever I'm asking the Inland Revenue to reduce my January payment on account, anticipating the fact my earnings will be down by five to six thousand pounds this year. Hopefully the taxman will agree and the end of this month won't become a thing of dread and horror. It feels like a failure of sorts: you always expect your earnings to go up. Imagine how you'd feel if you worked as hard as ever, but somebody slashed five or six grand from your salary.
But the rational explanation is simple - I've turned down paying work and not pursued other opportunities in order to concentrate on my longer term prospects. Plus I've been investing my reduced earnings in training and courses to enhance those longer term prospects. There's the MA course [£3000 over two years, plus books and travel costs], the TAPS script editing course down in London [although I get did half my travel and accommodation expenses back, thanks to Skillset] and other opportunities like the mentoring project. All of these directly impact earnings here and now, but I chose to do them and they'll hopefully benefit me in the long run.
In other news, ITV has started showing teasers for the new run of Lewis, the Inspector Morse spin-off. My spies tell me Kevin Whately and company should be back on screen before the end of February - no doubt a Sunday night at 9pm, as with the pilot episode last year. ITV1's chronological rerun of every Morse episode in order is continuing on weekday afternoons at 4pm. If all 33 stories are broadcast, the final one should appear on Thursday February 15th.
Happily, this multitude of Morse seems to be creating fresh interest in my tome The Complete Inspector Morse. The book covers all of Colin Dexter's original novels and short stories, along with every TV tale and last year's Lewis spin-off. The new helpings of Lewis will need to be added to some future revision, but I'm guessing the third edition will be a job for 2008.
Back when I was first trying to interest publishers in a reference book about Inspector Morse, the final episode killing off the character had just been broadcast. There would be no more Morse stories from Colin Dexter and the series was dead. As a consequence, several publishers were rather sniffy, deeming Morse a dead duck. Happily, Reynolds & Hearn could see public affection still remained for the books and TV series, people were still discovering Morse.
That got my book commissioned and published in 2002. Fast forward four years and first editions of The Complete Inspector Morse were selling for up to £100 online. The Lewis spin-off proved there was still life in Dexter's characters, so the second edition was commissioned. With any luck the three new helpings of Lewis will lead to further episodes and a third edition of The Complete Inspector Morse. Endeavour may be gone, but his legacy lives on.