From Seren comes the fantastical debut novel Star-Shot by Mary-Ann Constantine. With Cardiff’s National Museum as the starting point (both as Constantine’s inspiration and in the novel), Star-Shot is a subtly supernatural story taking place in the urban setting of an alternate Cardiff which contrasts with the paranormal forces that are taking hold of the city.
Constantine has previously been published by Seren with a collection of short stories, All the Souls. Wales has often appeared as a backdrop in Constantine’s stories so it’s not surprising that Star-Shot takes place in Cardiff, though it is a Cardiff unlike the one we know. The novel is made up of short concise scenes - there is a symmetrical structure to each section where links between characters and events become more obvious as the reader continues. Each section normally takes on one perspective of a different character, whose voices are presented with subtle distinctions from Myra, who is captivated by the National Museum building, to Teddy, a young boy whose father teaches him about the stars.
The novel features illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who was inspired by organic and celestial shapes, evident on the cover.
Tell me about the origins of Star-Shot. What/who inspired and influenced the novel?
It began with the image of a girl on a bench with a building behind her. I knew how it would it end – someone walking towards her from behind – and thought it was a short story. It surprised me by growing. Once the building clarified itself as being the National Museum in Cardiff, the story developed from there; so the short answer is that the building inspired the novel.
You have previously been published by Seren with collections of short stories. What are the differences in your process for writing short stories and your process for writing a novel?
The process was different somehow. It seemed to use a different part of my brain. Stories take a lot of patience to fish up, and happen more slowly. This seemed to unroll in relatively short scenes, many of them quite conversational; once I knew who was talking, I found the individual scenes relatively easy to write, though I almost never wrote more than one at a time. Perhaps it’s more cinematic than the stories.
What is the importance of place in your writing, in your short stories but particularly in Star-Shot?
Place is crucial to Star-Shot, since a great deal of the action happens in a very circumscribed area around the museum; I spent a lot of time walking round and round there, and got to know it very well…The other place in the novel is a kind of rural counterpoint, an unspecified location up in the hills – west and beyond. The descriptions of the pond draw very much on my own garden in West Wales. Speaking more generally I’d say place was one of the fundamental elements of my writing – but that is true of so many writers. Places often wake up a feeling in me which will later become a story.