"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

All material on SHIMMERCASTDREAMS copyright of Marie Bruce and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


It has been in the news lately about major high street companies and big brands not paying their fair share of UK taxes.  While these companies are not doing anything illegal, it has ensured that the public have been very vocal in demanding a crack down on tax avoidance. HMRC have answered this call by deciding to crack down on small businesses and hobby earners.

Basically this means that if you are making money from your writing (or any other kind of hobby) then you are classed as a small business.  It is in your own interests to register as a Sole Trader with HMRC as soon as you start to earn money, however little your writing income may be.  Not only does this demonstrate honesty to the Tax Office, but it covers your back against spitefulness too.

When people know of your published work they might assume that you are NOT tax registered.  If you have a fall out with someone, or someone seems a bit envious of your work, calling the tax office to report you for tax evasion is an easy axe for them to grind. 

This is not paranoia - it is something that has happened to me more than once so I speak from personal experience.  The traitor is always the one you just don't see, and it is usually someone close to you.  On both occasions when the tax office has phoned me to alert me to a false report made against me, the report had come from spiteful, jealous women I had previously considered friends and neighbours. There was also the strange case of a shop keeper in the Highlands who rang one of my editors demanding to know if I was tax registered and how taxes were paid via the publisher etc.  It's just such an easy target for the envious and malicious to try and hit - they can't seem to help themselves.  Of course, they were all left with egg dripping off their faces when they were told by the tax officer that I'd been registered for years and HMRC know all about my writing and recording etc. 

The Tax Office have a duty to inform you of any false reports made against you and to let the informer know that you ARE tax registered and all the paperwork is in order - that is, to nip the spite in the bud as a lot of their time is wasted by such false reports.  If however, you are NOT tax registered then they have a duty to investigate you - and your enemies have won.  So cover your back from back-stabbers by making sure you register with your local tax office as soon as you get published.

It's not just publishing though; it's any small hobby earning enterprise, so if you are involved in multi-level marketing (Avon, Betterware, Cleaneeze etc) or any online sales (Ebay, Amazon Marketplace) or any kind of casual trading (car boot sales, nail and beauty services, etc) you must register this activity with HMRC.  If you earn very little you might not have to pay tax at all or you can pay self employed income tax via your PAYE tax account.  You just need to complete a tax return form once a year and keep track of income and expenditure - that's it.  Yes, the paperwork can be a bind, but as it stops spiteful people in their tracks, it is well worth the effort.  It looks good on you CV too, as you will be a Sole Trader with your own part time business enterprise going on in your free time.  Who knows how big this enterprise will grow over time?

I know tax is a boring subject and  it is my least favourite part of being a self-employed freelance writer.  There was a time when I didn't think I had any enemies at all, but that's because they'd successfully disguised themselves as friends and good neighbours.  When their masks fell off, I had the satisfaction of knowing I'd done the right thing from the start and of knowing that the local HMRC tax officer had deflected their spite on my behalf. 

Take a tip from me; register your writing/business properly to cover your back, before the axe falls at the hands of someone you trusted. You will then have the satisfaction of knowing that their malice has been successfully thwarted and your enterprise is safe from spite.
Writing and publishing is a business. It pays to be businesslike.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

WRITER'S DREAM; Respectfully Yours...Working With Editors.

When new writers are first trying to get their work published it can very much seem as if editors are the enemy.  As the rejections keep coming, often with no explanation at all, it can be very disheartening.  It can also be extremely frustrating to watch other authors consistently publishing their work, when you never seem to get a break, or a leg up, or your foot inside the door.  It is quite natural to feel a touch of envy from time to time, especially if you have been consistently sending out your work without success, but if this envy poisons your attitude towards the industry, editors will pick up on it. 

The role of an editor is to preserve the quality of their publication or House, which means that they have to be very selective about who and what they accept for publication.  They have to make sure the work they do accept will fit in with their overall list and that they don't have too many authors all writing similar things.  This is one of the reasons why coat-tail hanging is ineffective - there is no point approaching the House of a particular author with a carefully copied and virtually identical style, or with a synopsis for a book that is similar to what they are already publishing.  You are courting rejection if you attempt this. 

For a short time my brother and I were writing for the same House, although the editors there were initially unaware that we were related. We were also writing on completely different topics, as you can see from the picture above; I was writing my popular Wicca titles, while he was writing a more mainstream self help title (Learn to Live Your Dream and Success Is Guaranteed by Ian Bruce).  It is only by chance that we were writing for the same House at the same time, and I don't think this is a common practice within the publishing industry as a whole.  But it did make for some interesting conversations and comparisons!

Being respectful to editors is of course basic courtesy, but it is also vital for your career prospects. It is possible for unpublished authors to get a negative reputation for themselves, simply because they cannot handle rejection without a petty comeback, or a whinging demand for an explanation. Editors don't owe you anything, unless you are one of their contracted authors and even then you are only one of many, so you need to be respectful of their time.

It is also true that editors network and move in the same circles, so if you get a bad name with one, you might find others automatically give you a wide birth.  Like lots of upper and middle class occupations, word of mouth recommendations are a part of the publishing industry, but you generally have to wait to be invited into the fold before you can start to use nepotistic networks.  Don't be fooled by an editor moving on to a new publication either - it is highly likely that you will meet them again at a different House or magazine, so you need to ensure your working relationships are positive ones from the very beginning. Try not to get your name black-listed by piggy-backing, over-entitlement or a bad attitude.

I have worked with editors from all kinds of backgrounds, from an old school working class 'cub reporter' who had steadily worked his way up the ranks of the newspaper, to the descendant of  one of England's finest poets for whom publishing is literally in the blood. This diversity of background serves to enrich the industry as a whole, though there is no doubt that it is increasingly difficult for someone to get a foot in and learn 'on the job' as I did.  In that respect I was quite lucky to get published when I did, because things have changed greatly in the past decade or so. 

Working alongside editors is an education in itself. You are effectively working with highly skilled, highly educated, quite well-heeled people, especially if you work with London publishers.  It is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the art and craft of writing and how the industry works.  You will pick up the lingo so that you can speak their language when you make submissions to magazines etc.  You will be able to tell them exactly what you are offering - a feature, lead-feature, article, column, snippet, nib and so on - but you must get this accurate!  Moreover, editorial polish rubs off and you will become much more refined in your day to day communications.  Friends and family are likely to be the first to notice this and comment upon it. 

So far from being the enemy of new writers, editors can be potential allies and referees.  They might hold the door fast against you for quite some time, but if one day they swing it open and invite you in, be aware that you are joining a whole new world and give the opportunity the respect it deserves. 

Friday, 8 April 2016


There is nothing quite like illness to liberate the tongue.  I can remember when my grandmother was dying of cancer - always a caustic woman, she became truly vicious. I suppose she felt she needed to say what she really thought and say it fast, before death silenced her and she missed the opportunity!  My mum was the same when she had cancer too, but her vitriol ebbed away in tune with her recovery.  I do come from a line of plain speaking women but even I struggled to understand this cutting level of honesty. I mistakenly believed that illness can soften someone and make them more inclined to lean on loved ones for support.  

However, since I started having flashbacks back in 2010, I have discovered that illness reduces the need to be polite all the time!  I used to go out of my way to prove how tolerant I was; this meant I would turn a blind eye to things which should have been addressed.  I thought it was the best way to enjoy a quiet life. In fact, it was the best way to invite people to take advantage of my good nature, which of course they did with great gusto. 

Over the last few years I have had a change of heart. As I already have enough on my plate I have lost the inclination to try and be everyone's friend.  Now I don't care what the neighbours might think of me or what they might say about me.  They and their opinions, are irrelevant to me.  I'm less inclined to put up with the mischief of other people's kids - if they are misbehaving around me I have to say something.  I have had a complete reassessment of all my relationships and I have booted the free-loaders and users out of my life altogether.  I have had altercations with people who thought they could steal from me, use me, lie to me, trespass upon my kindness  - and get away with it; that I would still want to be their friend afterwards. As if. 

Any soldier will tell you that PTSD is a bitch to live with.  It can be exhausting and debilitating.  I have found though, that it can also be a source of empowerment because it means that you are always battle ready.  This doesn't mean that I am constantly looking for a fight. I'm not.  I just want a quiet life.  What it does mean is that I have a new way of tackling people who try to dump drama into my life, or who are taking advantage, or being two faced.  I simply won't put up with it.  I don't need it and I don't need them.

I have always stood up for myself when absolutely necessary, but now I'm more assertive than I was before.  Now I prefer to nip such things in the bud as soon as they become apparent. I don't wait to see if things will change or improve - I just deal with it right away. Of course some people don't like it - namely the ones who have been taking the piss!  But I have noticed that they give me a wary respect these days and a wider birth, rather than treating me like a bff just so they could get close enough to stab me in the back.  I got my back covered now. 

When I first had this change of strategy I was surprised how well it worked.  Being too nice didn't get me the quiet life I wanted - being brutally honest and assertive did.  The bottom line is this;

  • If you phone me looking for an argument, you will get one - but you will not win
  • If you knock on my door looking for an altercation, you will get one - but you will not win
  • If you stop me in the street to try and learn all about my life for your gossip-mongering - you will be told where to go
  • And if you send me whinging letters demanding an explanation, you will get a reply - but you won't like it one bit.

This new level of assertiveness seems to be working. It has rid me of hangers-on I can do without and it's told the local gossip what she can do with her feeble-minded tickle-tackle. In the bigger picture it means that even in the darkest times of illness we are still growing and maybe the illness has something to teach us. Perhaps there is a lesson in it that will make us stronger in the long term. The Universe is the best tutor if we are prepared to be attentive students. 

I'm proud of myself for having the courage to stand strong in the face of adversity. Illness has made me better able to stand up for myself and to speak my mind more freely than ever. After all, its not like I'm going to remember the argument long enough to be upset by it!  So it hardly matters. 

I feel battle ready and this is not a bad thing. It means that I am living up to my name and proving that a Bruce is not to be crossed without a reckoning to be paid for it.  It means that I am living up to the motto of the thistle "None shall irritate me unscathed".   Maybe it's time to be a bit more charmed and dangerous?