Earlier this year, Star Trek boldly returned with an all-new adventure fans had never seen before with the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Picard. As the name suggests, the latest chapter of the Star Trek anthology focuses on the legendary Captain Picard portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart. Picard picks up years after the good captain’s departure from Star Fleet with an all-new outlook on life.
In order to understand the events that lead to the show’s opening episode one needs only to look towards the work of acclaimed Star Trek author Una McCormack’s latest novel, Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope. CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke to McCormack to discuss her latest book and the path that took her from writing fan fiction to legitimately adding to the Star Trek universe.
MW: First off, I just want to know, where did your love of Star Trek begin? It’s a big part of your life. Where did it all begin for you, your earliest memories?
UM: I think most people my age in the States were watching it in syndication. Of course, I’m in Britain so we didn’t get the original show until the late 70s. My first introduction was with the movies in the 80s. I was a teenager and they were brilliant. Then the Next Generation started and couldn’t get them in Britain so I got them at Blockbuster and rented them out two episodes at a time. I was about 16 or 17, really excited to get to see them and obviously reading the novels at the same time.
I really got into it as a teenager, but not with the original Trek, it was that cast and the movies, The Next Generation with Patrick Stewart playing Captain Picard, so same sort of age but different rooting.
MW: Do you just pinch yourself now that you get to add to the Star Trek universe the way that you do?
UM: Yeah, it’s absolutely incredible. I’ve written a lot of books with Star Trek being more than half of them, but the show has been off the air for most of the time I’ve been doing those novels which has its own fun. To work right alongside a show like this it’s coming on air, it’s really exciting, a lot of people are really interested in it. Picard is such a cultural icon, it’s an absolutely brilliant dream come true.
MW: Awesome. What was your initial reaction when you heard that Picard was returning with his own series?
UM: My initial reaction was ‘ooh I hope I get to write a book.’ [laughs]
I was really excited, wondering where are they going to take this. The team around it is just so brilliant. After what they’ve done with this, it’s going to be worth seeing. Even if I wasn’t involved in this in any way, I would’ve been really excited for the show, just to see what they were going to do with it and this team of writers in particular.
MW: Have you actually met Sir Patrick before?
UM: Oh, I’ve never met him. I’ve been at a convention hall and he was sort of on the other side of it. So that’s probably the closest I’ve ever got, no.
MW: Oh no, we have to work on that for you.
UM: Oh yeah, I would love to!
MW: The Last Best Hope actually ties directly into the All Access series, can you share how exactly the book fits in and what fans can expect?
UM: Absolutely, so if you watch the show now, it’s a prequel novel. It’s set about 14-15 years before the action of the show, so we see what leads up to Picard leaving Starfleet. I don’t want to spoil the plot. The Picard we meet at the start of that is much closer to the one that we remember from all those years ago. We see the events that sort of lead up to Picard being the man that he is at the start of the current show. We meet a few other characters that we know already, Geordi La Forge but also, we meet some people from the new show. So, they’ll read more about Jurati or about Raffi. There’s also a lot of new characters there that we make up for the book, telling their stories.
So, it’s a prequel novel, leans back into the old show, but also gives a kind of background, further exploration of people and settings of the new show. People will see the Elnor and the Qowat Milat. So, lots, lots to sort of see back in the old show and feed into the current viewing. Which I don’t think spoils the plot.
MW: I’m curious when you’re writing these books, they’re your ideas but they are part of a much bigger universe that has a lot of hands in it. How much freedom do you have when you’re writing these books to put in your own ideas versus how much of it is collaborative?
UM: The show is really high profile and people working on it are really vested in it. I work really closely with Kirsten Beyer in the writer’s room, so we were really working on what’s the story we really want to tell that’s really going to serve the show and serve the book as well. We were reading scripts as they were coming in and being rewritten, but that’s part of what you do with a job like this you write about parts, filling in parts. It’s really enjoyable. I really like it.
I’ve done this job for 15 years or so and I write fan fiction for pleasure, so I love filling in these little corners that we haven’t explored. I’ll watch something on screen and wonder what’s the story behind that or something leading up to that, exactly the kind of thing this book can explore, I just really love that. I love spending more time with characters I love off TV shows or novels that I’ve read. I think Michael Chabon talks about fan fiction and how he sees it deep in the show; his version of Trek fever and things like that. It’s all really good fun. I never see it as a lack of freedom, I see it as a process of me getting to enrich my own appreciation of something.
MW: I’m glad you brought up the fan fiction. That will be the last question for you here today and we will kind of end at the beginning in a way. You started writing fan fiction and that’s how you got discovered. What was that like going from writing fan fiction to where you are now? Also, what advice do you have for other aspiring people out there who are writing fan fiction who want to get to the levels that you are at?
UM: I was doing it for fun, and someone said would you like to be commissioned to do this. I think I was very lucky. I was commissioned for a Deep Space 9 novel and it was off the air, so it was a bit easier to break into it. This was back in the late 90s so, there wasn’t as much fan fiction online, it was a bit easier to get noticed.
I would say to people, there aren’t that many slots for these kinds of books these days. I would say that the best routine is to be writing your own new stuff and get that published and get that out. Then get an agent and express interest in books or series being done at the moment. It’s good for people to see you have a track record of these kind of things. It’s sound like saying you need the experience to get the job but if you can show you can do it that goes a long way because often you have to train to the story because a new script is coming or you need to be prepared to alter things quite close to a deadline. You have to show that you’re quite good at coping with deadlines and be able to change or finesse a story.
So, the way to get into these kinds of things is to write and to write as much as possible, send your stuff out and hopefully a gig like this will come and it will be huge fun for people too.
MW: Very valuable insight from someone as accomplished as yourself. Thank you for speaking with me Una and all the best moving forward!
UM: Very kind. Same to you Matt!
Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope is available now from CBS sister company Simon & Schuster wherever books are sold. Be sure to catch new episodes of Star Trek: Picard streaming on demand with CBS All Access.