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Anne Corlett lifts the curtain on The Theatre of Glass and Shadows

Anne Corlett’s The Theatre of Glass and Shadows is a bewitching drama full of dazzling spectacle and dark secrets.
In an alternate London, the city’s walled-off Theatre District hosts The Show – a centuries-long immersive production where nothing is quite as it seems. But who controls the narrative and how far will they go to keep certain stories off the stage?
Sam Humphreys, Publishing Director at Black & White and editor on the project spoke to Anne about the making of her new novel. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at the writing and editorial process and the journey from first draft to opening curtain.

SAM: I’ve been there when you’ve talked about your inspiration for the book – immersive theatre generally, and Punchdrunk in particular – but how do you turn that original inspiration into a full length novel?

ANNE: This book went through several incarnations before arriving at its current form. The earliest incomplete drafts were entirely different, to the point that, when I read through some old material recently, it didn’t feel like anything I’d ever written. The alternate history aspect was originally far more prominent and detailed – in a way that now feels very clunky and contrived – and the original main character bore almost no resemblance to Juliet. What I can now see is that writing each version was part of a distilling process – when everything that didn’t work had been thrown out, there was usually something left that was part of the core of the book.

Thinking about your vision for the book when you first started writing it, and the book that’s just been published, what stage of the journey was it at, would you say, when your agent first saw it? And when she sent it to me? 

With the benefit of hindsight, it was a bit of a mess when Laura (Williams – Anne’s agent) first laid eyes on it. There were scenes that were hangovers from earlier versions with no remaining purpose, gaping plot holes, and a lot of unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing. It was essentially the final version, but with an extra 50,000 words! By the time you saw it, we’d shed most of the unnecessary material, but, as you know, there was still more to go! 

What was the editorial process like from your point of view? What were the high – and low – points? Was there ever a moment where you felt like giving up?

I can’t honestly remember any low points. I’d spent so long reworking this book that I’d lost all perspective on it. It felt like a complete luxury to be working on it with someone else.

How do you write/organise your writing day? Are you a planner?

I am definitely a planner these days. I tend to do a long summary before starting a draft – or a re-draft – with full detail about characters’ emotions, realisations, impressions of dialogue etc. This acts as a road map for the actual draft, and reduces the chance of me staring at a blank screen, wondering what on earth happens next.

Has there been anything you’ve learnt about yourself during the writing/editing/publishing of The Theatre of Glass and Shadows? And is there any advice you’d give any aspiring authors out there?

I’ve definitely learned that less is more when it comes to wordcount! In terms of advice for aspiring authors, there are a couple of things that I think are really important, and they’re both about perspective. On the technical side of things, a solid grasp of narrative perspective is absolutely key. It goes right to the heart of almost every aspect of writing, and once you understand how it works, a lot of other things fall into place. In terms of your development as a writer, perspective is also crucial. It is almost impossible to have clear perspective on your own work, so getting other eyes on your writing is incredibly helpful. It’s not always easy to access good quality feedback, but it’s definitely worth devoting some time and energy to getting an outside perspective, whether that comes from fellow writers, creative writing courses, one-to-one sessions at festivals or events, or competitions offering feedback.

Anne Corlett’s The Theatre of Glass and Shadows is out now with Black & White Publishing. Find out more information and buy your copy here.