I’m always surprised when someone tells me editors, agents and readers don’t like prologues. Many of my books have a prologue. No editor has asked me to remove one and I’ve even been specifically asked to include one. As a reader, I love them. I find them intriguing.
What do I think a prologue is? Typically, three to five pages of introductory material. Its importance often doesn’t become clear until it shows itself as a catalyst or significant background to the main story. It’s often characterised by being distanced from the opening of Chapter One in time or location so wouldn’t flow easily into Chapter One.
Are prologues necessary? I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if a book still makes sense. If it does then I guess it was written to “set the mood”. But if it later proves crucial to the backstory and/or will impact the main plot, it’s earning its place. In The Little Village Christmas the prologue is made up of a conversation between Ben and his mother. It’s about what he’s just lived through and why he’s in such a rocky emotional state. There were reasons for me deciding to write the scene as the prologue rather than include the information elsewhere in the book:
I wanted the reader to know this about Ben but I didn’t want the heroine, Alexia, to. Her not knowing creates conflict between them that lasts for most of the first part of the book.
Knowing his backstory would allow the reader to forgive his inconsistent behaviour towards Alexia in the first couple of chapters.
I didn’t want to tell the reader everything about Ben’s past. I wanted them to know there was still lots to uncover.
I write from at least two points of view and I like the first and last chapters to be through the eyes of the heroine, not the hero. Giving Ben the Prologue was like an aside.
I like my prologues to be:
short, so readers aren’t wrong-footed when Chapter One begins
self-contained, to some degree so they’re not dissatisfied by the transition to Chapter One
comprehensible but intriguing.
The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting and some people think it makes the readers start the book twice. Is this a bad thing? In The Little Village Christmas it meant readers had to first immerse themselves in Ben’s past, his old world in his old house near Swindon and then immerse themselves in Alexia’s present world in Middledip, but this could just as easily have happened in Chapters One and Two. I tried to make sure it was worth the readers’ mental energy by treating both the prologue and Chapter One like the opening of a novel in terms of energy and impact. Each were emotional and gave the readers plenty to think about.
Having a prologue gives me the chance to hook the readers in twice in other words.
My favourite prologue was in Starting Over. It was only one page and took the form of an email from Tess’s fiancé, telling her their relationship was over. A lot of readers said, ‘I just had to read on to find out what happened next!’ I counted that a success.
On Sunday morning I joined John Griff, BBC Radio Northampton presenter, for his newspaper roundup. It’s an interesting slot. The guest is given a sofa, the Sunday newspapers and a cup of tea (all good so far) for about three-quarters of an hour before the 10.45am timeslot. All they have to do is find a few stories they’d like to talk about. Then join John in the studio and talk about them.
It was all fairly Christmassy stuff and I was particularly struck by a feature written by Lucy Siegle in The Observer magazine, The Eco Guide to …Not Buying Stuff.
The thrust of the piece is that your Christmas shopping list doesn’t have to consist of material objects. ‘Experiences’ such as balloon flights or a day at a falconry centre are actually good for us. Apparently, researchers at Cornell University have concluded that receiving an experience gift can create more happiness than receiving possessions. The neuroscientists of the University of Pennsylvania link satisfaction to new experiences, especially if they take place outdoors.
I have to say I’m not convinced by “The most rubbish gift of 2017” – a full day of waste collection and recycling in a UK city of their choice. Me, I’d much rather have a few laps of Silverstone in a Ferrari or a glider flight.
A couple of great things about gifting an experience:
You can buy right up until the last moment
You don’t have to wrap it!
And you never know where it will lead. It was an experience day at Icarus Falconry at Holdenby House, near Northampton, that led me to put a rescue owl, Barney, in The Little Village Christmas. Then the lovely folk at Icarus invited me back to fly Lillie, the young barn owl I’d based Barney on (except Barney has been injured and Lillie is all in one glorious piece).
Or you could just give books as presents, of course. There your loved one will find all kinds of experiences without ever needing to leave their favourite armchair!
The Little Village Christmas in paperback and ebook.
I thought I was excited enough when the lovely folk at Avon told me to expect The Little Village Christmas to reach #7 in the Sunday Times Fiction Paperbacks chart today. Then I bought the paper this morning – and found it at #6!
I officially became a Sunday Times bestselling author last week when The Little Village Christmas popped up at #17 but to reach the top ten makes me feel more relaxed about claiming the title ‘Sunday Times bestselling author’. It’s something I’ve coveted for so long without ever really expecting it to apply to me.
After all, it’s been a while coming. Over more than 21 years 150+ of my short stories have been published, along with 250+ columns or articles, three courses, six serials, a writing guide, and a novella. I’ve judged 120+ writing competitions, appraised dozens of manuscripts and led a host of writing courses and workshops. And The Little Village Christmas is my twelfth novel.
So, when I treated myself to these frivolous but beautiful boots yesterday I was celebrating every one of those steps along the road to seeing my name and the title of my book in the Sunday Times today.
My thanks go to every editor who has chosen my work over the years, the whole wonderful Avon team, my amazing agent Juliet Pickering, the writer of every good review and each member of my fantastic street team.
Most of all, thanks to my lovely readers, who made this joyous celebration possible by buying my books. Thank you.
Hooray! The Little Village Christmas comes out in ebook today!
I’ve been waiting impatiently to bring you The Little Village Christmas and introducing you to Alexia Kennedy, who’s lived in the village all her life and is on the cusp of leaving as the book begins. Alexia’s an interior decorator and has agreed to project manage the conversion of an old, neglected pub, The Angel, into The Angel Community Café. Most of the work’s being carried out by the boyfriend and mate of Alexia’s best friend, Jodie Jones. Jodie’s in partnership with Gabe Piercy (who regular readers will have met in Is This Love?) and the village have fund-raised towards the refurbishment. Everything’s wonderful …
… until someone runs away with all the money. Alexia has to stay at least until she’s found a way to rescue The Angel.
Gabe’s nephew, Ben Hardaker, has come to live on the edges of the village to lick his wounds after his marriage combusted in a mysterious way. All he wants is to be left alone. But Middledip isn’t like that. The village takes him to its heart – and he gets tangled up with Alexia in all kinds of ways! He does have a weakness for women who look like Betty Boop though.
And for those who would like the paperback – it hits the shelves on 2 November (so there’s not long to wait).
15th FEBRUARY 2023, 5.30pm-6.30pm – Oakham Library, Catmost Street, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6HW. Sue will be the guest of Oakham Library to talk about her writing life. Signed books will be on sale and Sue will be happy to join you in a photo. Further information from the library.
23rd MARCH 2023, 2pm-3pm – Bingham Library, Eaton Place, Bingham, Nottinghamshire NG13 8BE. Sue will be joining readers at the newly refurbished Bingham Library in Nottinghamshire to chat about her books and writing. Q&A, signed books on sale. Sue’s happy to join you in a photo. Contact the library for more information.