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    Edward Carey gives us a preview of the illustrations in his next novel, Edith Holler.

    Edward Carey

    May 25, 2023, 11:00am

    My ninth book, Edith Holler, is set in a theatre in the city of Norwich in the east of England, just after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Edith is a child of twelve who has been ill much of her childhood and has sworn by her over-protective but untrustworthy actor-manager father, that she must never leave the theatre. She is allowed to walk among the audience when they come in, but not to talk to them, and so people of Norwich come to the theatre just to see the strange child. Remaining in the building, she sees the world from the stage, she watches long dead kings come to life on stage, she visits impossible landscapes because they are the setting for certain plays and she witnesses ghosts because it is perfectly acceptable to have ghosts on stage in plays. She has a strong imagination and she reads a great deal, during her illnesses unable to get out of bed, she reads about the history of Norwich from books and from ancient manuscripts and slowly she begins to discover that the city has a terrible secret. No one in the theatre will believe her when she speaks of it, and she must be dumb when the audience is in the building, and so she writes a play. The father agrees to put on the play and rehearsals begin, the play seems to come to life, not only on the stage but all about the theatre. It even attracts a certain woman, who is the direct descendent of the evil doer that Edith has written about.

    The novel is full of ghosts and beetles and people of the theatre, it was written during the pandemic when I was living in Austin, Texas, and like everyone else could not travel. I missed Norwich, the city of my childhood, and the idea of theatre during those bleak days seemed utterly impossible—especially in England under the Conservative government, which seems to take pride is destroying the arts in the UK. And so I wrote this book, which is sort of a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I always illustrate my books and each time I want to do something slightly different to the last. This novel is illustrated mostly with characters, backdrops, side tabs etc. from Victorian toy theatres. I designed my own miniature theatre to match this novel and it would probably be physically possible to construct a whole card theatre from the illustrations throughout novel (but I’ll have it up on my website soon to download). By using this toy or card theatre device, I wanted to highlight the act of children playing, of the pretense of theatre and to show on the stage how you can have wonderful, extraordinary things that are not acceptable in real life.

    This is the proscenium arch of the Holler Theatre, Norwich, Norfolk. Just as it is described in the novel.


    Here is Edith Holler herself as a character from a toy theatre, a rather drab child. She dresses only in grey and has rather grey skin and looks a little like a ghost. To encourage this, she often smears ash on her face.


    Here is the stage floor (to be attached to the proscenium arch), where all the actions takes place. Directly beneath the main trap (in the actual theatre) is the traproom, where the plummeting actors land.


    Here is one of the backdrops to Edith’s play, it is of medieval Norwich. Please note the castle and the cathedral.


    Here is Margaret Utting, direct descendant of a personage from Norwich folklore. She is pictured here not as a real life woman but as a paper doll.


    Another backdrop from Edith’s play. Norwich has many undercrofts beneath street level, ancient cellars.


    This is Mr. Jet. When I worked in the theatre in London we were instructed that if there was ever a fire we were not to shout ‘fire’ but to calmly say ‘Mr. Jet is in the house’. In this novel Mr. Jet is a real character.


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