Interview with Josh Winning (THE SHADOW GLASS)
Josh Winning is a nostalgia nut, book/film lover and author of The Shadow Glass. He is senior film writer at Radio Times, contributing editor at Total Film magazine, writer at SFX and Den of Geek, and the co-host of movie podcast Torn Stubs. He has been on set with Kermit the Frog (and Miss Piggy), devoured breakfast with zombies on The Walking Dead, and sat on the Iron Throne on the Dublin set of Game of Thrones. Josh lives in London with his cat Penny and dreams of one day convincing Sigourney Weaver to yell “Goddammit!” at him.
Welcome to the Hive, Josh.
Thank you, it’s great to be here! Bit drafty…
Yeah sorry about that, the Hive Castle gets a bit chilly, we really need a better hearth…
This blanket I just found should keep me warm. Wait, this blanket has teeth!
Congratulations on your upcoming release of The Shadow Glass. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about it? What can readers expect?
Of course! The Shadow Glass is a fantasy adventure inspired by 80s films like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and The Never Ending Story, so readers should expect a ton of puppets, a splash of gore, and a big dollop of The Feels. I really wish film-makers were still making puppet fantasies like they did in the 80s, so The Shadow Glass is basically me trying to keep the spirit of those films alive, while adding my own two cents to the lore.
Firstly, I’m still not over The Feels, Josh. In fact I’m not sure if I forgive you for making me Feel Things!
Haha, sorry not sorry!
Secondly, hell yes, we need more 80’s puppet style films being made! Jim Henson’s legacy needs to keep going. So The Shadow Glass really was fantastic for bringing those films back to life.
I’m so glad you feel that way. I think we’re in quite an exciting period at the moment, when the people making movies and TV shows and writing books are the same people who (like us) grew up with Jim Henson’s worlds. They’re now creating their own stuff that’s inspired by Henson and all those films we loved in the 80s, and so the legacy continues. It’s brilliant.
How much of Iri, the world in The Shadow Glass film which features in your novel, was inspired by actual 80’s fantasy films? What did those films mean to you?
Iri is pretty much a mash-up of Eternia, Thra and Fantasia, but hopefully it has its own thing going on, too! I wanted the landscape to feel rugged and dangerous but beautiful, just like those mystical movie worlds – it’s a place where a quest is only ever a daring hero away. Films like The Dark Crystal mean so much to me; they’re ingrained in my DNA. They were integral to my development as a human being. I just know I’ll be singing “The NeverEnding Story” and “Underground” well into my eighties.
Can I join you?
Everybody’s welcome at an 80s party! Wear your thickest leg-warmers and your best colour-clash ensemble and you’re in.
So, tell us a bit more about your characters? Jack, Toby, Zavanna and Brol were my absolute favourites and they were all so different. Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
Jack is the thirty-something son of a “failed” film-maker, whose 1986 film The Shadow Glass flopped on release. Jack basically holds the film responsible for his estrangement from his father, and wants nothing to do with it – but the universe has other ideas, and sets him on a quest with fanboy Toby and the puppet characters from the film (fox-like heroes Zavanna and Brol). I had A LOT of fun playing around with Zavanna and Brol, who subvert and play on fantasy archetypes. This book definitely helped me discover that I love writing fanboys, which was a surprise, because usually I most love writing loveable curmudgeons like Jack.
Honestly, the fanboys were the characters I could relate to a lot! I’m guessing you could relate to them the most too?
Absolutely. I had so much fun hanging out with them, getting to know what they liked so much about The Shadow Glass and, of course, reliving all those great 80s fantasy films through their conversations.
What about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I wish I had a method! It’s all slightly chaotic, as I think it’s human nature to look for shortcuts. In the end, though, it really is about putting in the hours, which means planning, writing, rewriting, and then rewriting some more. I tend to start out by writing character profiles and a brief chapter outline – with The Shadow Glass, I spent six months world-building in a notebook before I wrote a single word. This book was a big challenge because I needed to know the story of the movie in the book, on top of plotting the book itself. It’s a two-fer!
Music is really helpful for writing, I find. I usually create a Spotify playlist for each book, and listen to it on repeat while working – you can find my Shadow Glass playlist HERE
*Immediately adds to the Spotify library, relives childhood*
Enjoy! I dare you not to bop.
Speaking of childhood, The Shadow Glass centres on themes of nostalgia, fandoms and even confronting your past. How important were these themes to you, and had you planned to write about them or did they emerge naturally as you began writing?
Those themes sort of emerged through the writing, and weren’t necessarily things I had intended on initially. It’s impossible to write about the 80s without conjuring a certain sense of nostalgia, but I would never want to write nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. I find that problematic. I think the emotional hook is most important, so what I was really thinking about was the idea of failure, or perceived failure, and how it can impact the people we love.
That really does come through in Jack’s narrative.
Phew! Jack has spent his life trying to avoid the failure that characterised his father’s past, but that just means he’s become totally non-commital and directionless. At the time I wrote this book, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t getting where I wanted to with my writing career – I didn’t have an agent or a publishing deal, I felt like I was throwing words into a black hole, so I totally related to that feeling of failure snapping at your heels.
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
I love editing. I’m a better editor than I am a writer! That’s probably because I’ve come into books via journalism (I’ve day-jobbed as a film journalist for the past 15 years). Editing can be stressful when you’re attempting to implement changes you’ve discussed with your agent or editor – it can feel like you’re tearing apart this thing you’ve poured everything into, which of course you are. That’s the point. But it’s hugely satisfying when the edit is done, and the book suddenly sings in a way it hadn’t before.
I love the 80’s battered old VHS vibe of your cover!
It’s great, isn’t it? Julia Lloyd at Titan did an amazing job.
Yes! How involved in the process were you? Was this a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray? Before I even read what your book was about, the cover spoke to my 80’s loving heart and I knew I had to read it!
I’d say I was very minimally involved in it. Because I’m a total nerd, I sent Titan a 10-page PDF presentation that outlined different aesthetics that might work for the cover (see, nerd), which included the idea of a VHS tape. Titan was thinking along the same lines, so I’m thrilled that’s what we ended up with.
Being a nerd works!
Nerds never say die!
If you could play one character from an 80’s film who would you play and why?
Marty McFly, because then I’d have Doc as a friend and get to wear a life preserver and call it “fashion”.
Great Scott! Not that life preserver!
It looks so cozy and warm. I really hate the cold!
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
A rancor, obviously! Nobody would stand a chance. What would you ride?
Ok, but a rancor is more likely to eat you than let you ride it, no? I would ride one of the eagles from Middle-Earth. I’m not a warrior at all, I’d last 3 seconds in battle, I need to be able to fly away.
This sounds incredibly sensible. I may need to rethink the rancor plan…
Tell us about a book you love. Any hidden gems?
I grew up reading Robin Jarvis, and I highly recommend all of his books, but particularly the Whitby Series, which begins with The Whitby Witches. It’s atmospheric, funny, full of characters you love, and has a brilliant ending.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Have you any upcoming projects which you can share? (A Shadow Glass sequel by any chance????)
I’ve just finished my next book, which is a horror that I’m describing as a dark reflection of The Shadow Glass (all will become clear!).
Sign me up for that!
Awesome! After that, we’ll see what else I can come up with. Do you want a Shadow Glass sequel?! I hadn’t intended on writing one!
Maybe not a sequel as such, but a spin-off with Toby, Huw and of course a few puppets from Iri. More nerdy fanboy shenanigans please!
Interrrrrresting. I have no real plan for a sequel or spin-off, but I’m so pleased that you connected with Toby and Huw. We’ll see!
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
We’re having a book launch, which I’m hoping will involve people dressing up as their favourite 80s movie characters. I’m also running the 80s Fantasy Film Club on Twitter every Friday evening, where a group of us watch a movie and tweet along to it – anybody can get involved, just be sure to use the hashtags #80sFantasyFilmClub and #TheShadowGlassGuild. Then the following Sunday, I host an Instagram Live about the movie, with special guests, to keep the conversation going. Basically, I’m living in the 1980s for the forseeable future.
Sounds good to me! I’ve been really enjoying seeing all your Tweets for the #80’sFantasyFilmClub and I’ll definitely make sure to watch your Instagram live.
Great! It’s been so cool to chat with people who love these movies as much as I do.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
You mean aside from nightmares? [haha]
Oh god, those skalion villains! *shudders*
I always thought they were kind of cute! Seriously, though, I hope readers get that wonderful feeling you get when you’ve just finished watching a really good movie, the end credits are still ringing in your ears, and you want to start watching it all over again.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thanks Nils, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you! Now where did I park my DeLorean?
The Shadow Glass is out on 22nd March and is available to pre-order HERE