Sunday, 21 August 2011

To preface or not to preface?

It seems to be an interesting choice, whether to preface or not. Increasingly it seems that books (especially in YA) use a preface, my own included. So why?

I started writing my series without having read much YA literature, (I soon realised this mistake and rectified it.) But right from the beginning of writing The Forest of Adventures, I included a preface.

My writing history had been mainly in poetry: I still think at heart I am a poet more than a novelist. For me, the use of a preface is poetry in prose piece at the beginning of my tale. For both books, the preface (per word) was the piece that took the longest time to write, edit and revise. It is often the first thing that is written and the last that is rewritten.

A preface is an attempt to capture the essence of the novel in it's purest sense; to sort of distill the spirit, (or as I like to imagine, the perfume) of the story. It is a chance to set the tone of the piece, hint at things to come. In a way it acts like an appetiser for the main meal; exciting the imagination buds.

It's a risky game though, this whole preface decision. It forces you to make a bold statement; to drag the reader straight into the world you are creating. It doesn't allow for a slow seduction. Some readers will fall in love at first read, others will form an instant dislike.

So here is my preface for #1 of The Knight Trilogy: The Forest of Adventures. I'd love your comments on whether you have used prefaces in your own work (if so why?) or as a reader how do you feel about them.


Sleep is for the innocent. For the guilty, the night is a time when we are fearful prisoners locked tightly behind heavy eyelids. We look asleep but we’re not – we’re living in nightmares, and it leaves us exhausted and half crazy. This is the punishment for our crimes.
It always starts the same, with the thick scent of wildflowers and sun warmed earth lulling me into a false sense of peace. It doesn’t last. Too soon it fades, to be replaced by the sinister iron-stench smell of blood blending with mud, and the sweeping sounds of sharpened metal striking at the sky. On hands and knees, I crawl forward. My palms slip on the grease of the rain-soaked earth and my dress is heavy with rain so that I’m dragged even lower – sliding serpent like towards him.
He looks at me, his cheek half buried in the earth, his eyes staring blankly out. I can’t tell if he’s dead or still dying. I think I hear him whisper my name so I stretch out a hand, but I can’t quite reach. Death breathes on my bones and flowers of red ice bloom over my heart. I wake, gasping for air as if I’ve been drowning.
The pain was exquisite, the pain was love.


  1. I was going to use a preface in one of my novels, but decided not to for some reason.

    In some ways, they can be a good choice because it gets the reader hooked more so if you just start the book off with Chapter 1. And usually prefaces are description or action filled and that's what gets people hooked.

    I guess it really depends on the story, in the end.

    - Megan

  2. I agree, I think it is also very genre driven - although I'd accept contrary arguments to that :)
    it's just interesting. shakespeare often did a form of preface to frame his works and as a device it seems to work on the reader at quite a subconscious level.