Friday, January 25, 2019

The Scary Standalone

I should have listened to Michael Stanley. I recall him/ them/ one of them, or maybe both of them shaking their heads, saying, we should never have attempted a standalone.

I am better at taking pics while out walking the dog.


That might be a fabricated memory of mine but  the purpose of a fabricated memory is to make you feel slightly less foolish when you follow the same path to the hellish frustration, the inferno of the unknown character, of the new setting, the new genre  , the  flibberty gibbet, why did I even think I could do this school of writing.  Better writers than me have had the thought of doing a standalone after writing a series. It’s a good thought, it’s a happy thought, how difficult can it be?

Creative genius? Tick

Writing ability? Tick

Fingers and keyboard? Tick

Alcohol ? Tick

Faithful hound ? Tick

What could go wrong?


But that little thought you had in the back of your head should stay there and never try to break out onto the page. There, with its lack of parameters and free range prose, the standalone becomes an evil little beastie that easily bites the hand that writes it.

Then I recalled – and I think this is a true memory, Michael Stanley saying something about having to take their main character and talk to her, giving her a story and finding out how she would react to any situation.  It’s a far cry from the well-known characters of the series zipping and dashing around, solving the mystery, they are like old friends. The standalone is like walking into a party where you know nobody. Or walking on stage, to act in a play where everybody knows the script and you don’t – and you are the lead actor.

Oh dear.

So I finished my standalone. As it’s not a police procedural, it was very easy to write (badly). The characters walked about and did stuff. A few dogs appeared, somebody died, there was a lot of weather, and some snazzy dialogue.

And it was s**t.

I really had made a huge boo boo.


It’s not easy writing the standalone.

So I went into a bad mood and did some tweaking. And then tweaked again, not really changing any big concepts in the book, just making sure that character didn’t disappear off the scene for forty pages when they should have been doing something important.

And did I mention, I have an unreliable narrator … oh that’s hard. It’s difficult to distinguish between crap writing and an unreliable narrator. I kept having visions of a reader getting to the end,  and throwing the book out the window. Or getting to chapter four, and throwing the book in the fire. Or the editor saying, ‘why are we giving her money for this complete pooh.’

Even an unreliable narrator needs to be reliably unreliable. If you see what I mean.

Doing my talk last week I even let the audience into a little secret; I had invented an entire new genre.

A psychological thriller that was neither psychological nor thrilling.

They laughed, but I was being serious.

I was being an unreliable narrator. But unreliably so.

I was so worried I gave it to a good friend to copy edit. Not something I have ever done before. I was behind, hurried, stressed and my heart was being mental. He read it, corrected all the typos and handed it back, I could tell he only said he enjoyed it because a) he’s a good friend
                                                       b) He is quite scared of me.


And I could tell that he really thought it was pooh.

I delivered it two weeks ago, and kept waking up in the morning at 3 am thinking, Why did I do that? 
I mean why??

In publishing terns there was a lot riding on this book, for reasons that I don’t really understand. Let’s just say, it would be good if it was considered good or even vaguely acceptable. I have two books being published in June. And this was going to be one of them. Hopefully.

The email came back. On Tuesday.

Drum roll.

Here’s a quote “You’ve set yourself an ambitious narrative structure in the respect that you have two intriguing narrative voices neither of whom the reader can quite trust – but obviously you’re an extremely clever writer who knows exactly what you’re doing and in my view you absolutely succeed in pulling it off. Having read through the novel twice now, I don’t think there’s anything I can suggest editorially that can improve it. It’s wonderfully, subtly done.”

I slinked away with a huge glass of Prosecco…


Caro Ramsay. Or am I?
25 01 2019


  1. Who knows who you really are, Caro, but you're cool with the camera. Or maybe it's the cool subject of your camera? Maybe you stole the photos from a professional photographer? Who gives a shit. You never fail to entertain. Best wishes for the 20-pound baby!

  2. Congratulations Caro! I think by the time the book is finished -- regardless of standalone or series -- the author is the last person who has any subjective view on its quality. That's quite a ringing endorsement from your editor, though. Now, the next one will be easier... Or will it?

  3. As one who recently succumbed to that Stand Alone siren song, I felt your pain, and because I could relate to your admitted state of mind, I must admit I was getting a bit concerned at all the bleak, forbidding deep-water images, utterly devoid of any living presence. But then came the drum roll (and Prosecco)!! Bravo to your editor for having the confidence to accept a brilliant work untouched, and to you for having made it all happen. Time to post a smiling selfie!!!

  4. Good for you! Unreliable narrator works well here, says the editor. That's what to take home with you and remember, no matter what.

  5. I'd like to sign up for lessons!