Puppets can be scary. But so can failure. And so were the ’80s. But together…well, for that, you’ll want to check out Josh Winning’s new satirical horror fantasy novel The Shadow Glass (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Winning explains what inspired and influenced this nostalgic trip.
Photo Credit: Robert Gershinson
To start, what is The Shadow Glass about, and when and where does it take place?
The Shadow Glass is set in contemporary London, and is the story of Jack Corman, the cynical, world-weary son of movie director Bob Corman. The two have been estranged for years, and when Bob passes away, Jack returns to the family home to clear out the attic — and ends up going on a quest with the puppets from his father’s 1986 movie flop, The Shadow Glass.
Where did you get the idea for The Shadow Glass?
Would you believe me if I said down the back of the sofa?
Really, my initial idea was just to write a story about movie puppets, inspired by my love of films like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The NeverEnding Story. I wish movies like those were still being made, so I wanted to write something that tapped into their spirit, and offered fans something new to enjoy.
The real spark of inspiration came when I read about how Labyrinth was considered a commercial flop on release, which led me to the idea of a “failed” movie, and how that failure impacted its creator and everybody around him.
It sounds like The Shadow Glass is an urban fantasy novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’d say it’s more satirical fantasy horror. While it does take place in an urban setting, there are no sexy fairies or monster slayers on motorbikes in this book.
In terms of the “satirical” aspects, is the humor situational or jokey, and why was that the right approach for this story?
Oh yes, I’m hilarious!
In all seriousness, humor was vital to this story because we’re already dealing with a preposterous situation: movie puppets coming to life in the real world and going on a quest. It only seemed right to poke fun at it from the outset, before the darkness and blood-letting sets in.
So, who do you see as being the biggest influences on the humor in The Shadow Glass?
Funnily enough, even though the book’s inspired by ’80s fantasy, I actually thought about things like “Smile Time,” the episode of Angel in which Angel gets turned into a puppet. In fact, the Whedonverse in general is a big influence in terms of tone. Shows like Buffy and Angel have a fantastic grasp on the ridiculous. Many episodes straddled humor and horror in really effective ways, without ever short-changing the emotion.
Aside from Joss Whedon, what other writers do you think had a particularly big influence on The Shadow Glass? And I mean just on this novel, not on your style as a whole.
I’m a big fan of Grady Hendrix, and his concise, cinematic prose definitely inspired the writing of this book. As a movie lover and a jobbing film journo, I was also hugely inspired by Hollywood screenwriters like Kevin Williamson and James Cameron. They write such punchy dialogue and memorable set-pieces, I can only dream that this book plays out like one of their movies in people’s minds.
And then aside from the movies you mentioned, was The Shadow Glass influenced by any other films? Or any TV shows or games for that matter? Because it sounds a lot like that Nicolas Cage movie Willy’s Wonderland and The Banana Splits Movie and those Five Nights At Freddy’s games.
It’s such funny timing that Willy’s Wonderland came out last year, right around the time I got my book deal for The Shadow Glass. Maybe there was something in the water that year that made everybody remember how awesome puppets are. (I still haven’t watched that film, I can’t bear the thought that it could be better than my book.)
On top of the influences I’ve already mentioned, I was also inspired by fandom in general: who fans are, what their lives look like, how they express themselves, if they’re able to love something unconditionally or if that love can sometimes curdle into something negative. It provided fertile ground to explore.
Given that there was only one Shadow Glass movie, it seems like The Shadow Glass would also be a one-off…
I like your logic. You’re right, I wrote The Shadow Glass fully intending it to be a stand-alone novel, and hopefully that’s how it reads. It’s a complete story. I’m not opposed to a sequel, I just don’t have a good idea yet. But I’ll never say never, except when I’m saying I’ll never say never.
Earlier I asked if The Shadow Glass had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask if you think The Shadow Glass could work as a movie, show, or game?
Obviously, I’d hate it if the book got made into a movie…
No, really, I think The Shadow Glass could translate to the screen quite easily. I very much wrote it as a movie-as-book, and there’s plenty you could expand on if you were to turn it into a TV show. For example, Jack’s father has a whole backstory that is only hinted at in the book, and there are a couple of fan characters who it would be very easy to flesh out. Hear that, Hollywood?! The movie / TV show writes itself! Itself, I tell you.
And if Hollywood does hear you, and decided to adapt The Shadow Glass into a movie or TV show, who do you want them to cast as Jack and the other main characters?
I thought about this a bit, actually, but only when I’d finished the book. I could totally see somebody like Daniel Radcliffe [Miracle Workers], Taron Egerton [Rocketman], or Will Poulter [We’re The Millers] playing Jack (I mean, dream big, right?!). There’s also 100% a role in there for Sigourney Weaver [Ghostbusters], which is very important for a Weaver nut like me. And if Frank Oz [The Muppet Show] wants to voice any of the puppets, I’d be very ready for my grave.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Shadow Glass before deciding whether to buy it or not?
On top of your usual book-type chapters, the book is filled with articles, script pages, interview transcripts and more, all of which have been beautifully designed by Titan. I really tried to make The Shadow Glass both a treasure trove of ’80s fantasy memorabilia and a satisfying story with a ton of peril and emotion — you’re basically getting two books for the price of one. What’s not to love about that?!
Finally, if someone enjoys The Shadow Glass, what horror fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
If you’re looking for horror fantasy, you can do far worse than the brilliant Other Words For Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin, which is set in a creaky house full of secrets, and has big-time Labyrinth vibes. I’d also recomment What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo, which is a brilliant werewolf fable that is surprising and deliciously dark at every turn, and T.J. Klune’s The House In The Cerulean Sea, one of the warmest, most heartfelt and weird books I’ve ever read.