Una McCormack is boldly going where she’s never gone before. The British author, best known to Star Trek fans for her Deep Space Nine novels, including The Never-Ending Sacrifice and Enigma Tales, returns with her latest offering and her Discovery debut: the Tilly origin story, The Way to the Stars. Out now from Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, it follows Tilly as she takes her first tentative steps toward independence, finding friends and mentors to help her on her path. StarTrek.com recently chatted with McCormack about The Way to the Stars, and here’s what she had to say…
Most of your previous Trek writing has centered on Deep Space Nine. How were you approached about writing a Discovery story?
It was all very straightforward. I got an email from the folks at Simon & Schuster, asking whether I would like to do a novel about Tilly, and I said, “Yes, please, of course!”
How did you prep for writing The Way to the Stars? Did you watch season one of Discovery? Read the previous Discovery novels? Confer with Kirsten Beyer? All of the above and more?
I did pretty much all of that -- although I don’t think all the Discovery novels were out when I was writing my outline. I was watching the show anyway, of course, and loving it. And Kirsten Beyer and I had a couple of long phone calls where we worked on the story together, which was an absolute treat, and a glimpse into how a writer’s room might work. That was an absolutely terrific experience.
What was it like to work on a project such as this, where the book aspect of a franchise is directly tied into a current show and character, and even has a liaison, in this case, as we've both mentioned, Kirsten Beyer?
It was wonderful, from start to finish. I know I sound like I’m talking in hyperbole, but it genuinely was a very positive and enjoyable experience. I felt very welcomed, and I was given everything I needed to do the best book possible. I had a huge amount of fun writing the book – not just because Tilly is so brilliant to write, and everyone adores the character, but because I was made to feel part of the creative environment of the show.
Before you put word to paper, what intrigued you about Sylvia Tilly as a character -- and what elements of her background were you most eager to explore?
Tilly really is the breakout character of the show, isn’t she? When she’s on screen, you want to be looking at her, hearing what she has to say. She’s funny, and smart, but she doesn’t always say the right thing, and she’s often gauche, and that makes her great value. Naturally I wanted to explore her childhood – what her background was like to create this super-smart young woman who has all these gifts and is learning to make the best of them; who her parents are, and what they are like; what her home environment was like. This is all covered in the book.
The Way to the Stars is about a teen Tilly. Would you call it a young adult novel, or no?
It’s a novel about a young adult, and I don’t mind if people call it a young adult novel; I love reading YA. I think of it as a bildungsroman, a story that follows someone’s formative years.
Tilly on the show is such a joyous, spontaneous, positive character, not to mention a chatterbox, and she's so early in her progression as a young woman aspiring to one day sit in a captain's chair. How much fun did you have as a writer putting words in her mouth?
I had officially too much fun. She is a hoot to write. And when you’re aiming for a day’s word count, a chatterbox is a gift for a writer. I felt very comfortable writing her.
Many fans of Discovery saw Tilly interact with a young runaway in the Tilly-centric Short Treks episode. Had you seen that, or perhaps read that script while working on your book? If so, did one have any influence on the other?
I had read the script, but quite late in the day. Mostly I was looking for information about Tilly’s relationship with her mother, which is an important part of the book.
You and Mary Wiseman were both in Birmingham in October for Destination Star Trek. Did you get a chance to meet her, talk about Tilly, the book, etc?
We met very briefly as she was dashing off to do a panel. She was incredibly nice about the book and interested in reading it.
What else are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing some outlines and chapters for a couple of science fiction novels of my very own.