Before You Begin

There is, as you probably know, a long and rich tradition of ‘scathing prefaces’: sometimes written by the author themselves; sometimes by a close friend; sometimes by a miscellaneous other (acquaintance/enemy/family member/delete as appropriate). The aim of such a preface, whosoever pens it, is simple. It is, first, to anticipate criticism (usually by dealing it out, thick and fast); second, to steal the show from the main event. A ‘scathing preface’ is a work of art in its own right – though it ‘belongs’, by right, to the words that follow, it can be read as a standalone piece. Indeed, the best prefaces (the majority of which are ‘scathing’) rise well above the novels/memoirs/stories to which they are, in theory, a mere forerunner.

Writing a ‘scathing preface’ is less easy than it sounds. There are, however, several masters of the form. I know one man whose best work as a writer can be found in his preface’s to other writers’ works. He’d probably rather this wasn’t the case, but it is, and I see no reason why he should be ashamed. The perfect ‘scathing preface’ – like the perfect blog post – is a difficult beast to tame, let alone conquer. The man should be proud of himself.

Speaking of prefaces, I can’t let these comments fade into nothingness without mentioning the work of Jaymer Veers, whose novel Poppies: Part One consists entirely of a overlong preface (or ‘Note on the Translation’) to a story that doesn’t yet exist. The sequel, Poppies: The Index consists (as you no doubt guessed) of the index to said story. We eagerly await the middle-section, ever-conscious that it may never come. And who cares if it doesn’t? To have the preface is, to my mind, more than enough.


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