Cult Q & A: Una McCormack

It’s the return of our occasional series Cult Q&A. This week: New York Times bestselling author Una McCormack.

Genre novelist and University lecturer Una McCormack is best known as the author of numerous Star Trek and Doctor Who novels, including New York Times bestseller The Fall: The Crimson Shadow.

We Are Cult recently announced that Una McCormack’s The Molten Heart, to be published in October, will be one of first Doctor Who novels to feature Jodie Whitaker’s Thirteenth Doctor. She’s also just teamed up with Adventures With The Wife in Space’s Neil Perryman for the podcast Perryman and McCormack.

Who were your heroes growing up?

The crew of Liberator.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Marking is pretty grim. Not enough time. Very pressured.

What are your best and worst qualities?

I’m very bad-tempered and judgemental. On the plus side, I’m asleep a lot of the time.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

Oh boy, where do I start? ‘Sarcophagus’. I can’t believe that exists, and went out on prime time BBC1. But really it’s Tenko.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Sufficiently large fandom to have a schism.

Monty Python: Is it funny?

I think you have to get to Python at a certain age, when it is easily the funniest thing you have ever seen. But Douglas Adams is funnier, and stays funny.

What was the last film that you watched?

I watched Victim, which is a 1961 B&W British film starring Dirk Bogarde about a lawyer who is being blackmailed. It’s excellent, and particularly interesting having recently seen A Very English Scandal.

What film could you watch every day?

I once watched Peter’s Friends every night for a week, but I don’t think I would willingly do that now. And I saw The Fellowship of the Ring twelve times in the cinema. I don’t think I could watch the same film every day, but I can certainly watch the opening credits to The Good Fight on a loop, or else the last 10 minutes of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

Probably the ones for The Lord of the Rings movies. Or Run Lola Run.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Gosh. Argh. I’m terrible at this kind of question. This is the sort of question that I get asked and I immediately forget the name of every single actor I have ever seen! Come back to me in a fortnight and I might have come up with something.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

Ferdinand, which my 4 year old daughter walked out of, on account of the lack of female characters. Pity her father, who had to see The Nut Job 2: Nuttier by Nature. At least I dodged that one.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

I’ve picked Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention for Neil. That or any Aimee Mann or Kate Bush.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

I don’t have physical records or CDs anymore, so I wouldn’t lose my phone, which has Spotify on it.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

The yellow one-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings with the Pauline Baynes cover that I inherited from my dad. Only one book? I think I’d go down with my library.

What are you reading at present?

I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, Neil’s choice for the Perryman & McCormack podcast. Also part 6 of Dorothy Richardson’s twelve volume experimental modernist novel Pilgrimage, because somebody has to. Next up is my choice for the podcast, Fair Play by Tove Jansson.

How did your life in writing begin, and what inspired you to make a career of it?

It began by accident! I wasn’t enjoying my PhD, so I started writing tons of ST: DS9 fanfiction. The editor of the range, Marco Palmieri, got in touch to say I’d been recommended to him, and would I like to write for the Star Trek book range. That’s when I found out I liked writing fiction more than doing anything really. I’m not sure I have a career, but I get by.

In addition to your other writing credits, you’ve written three Doctor Who novels so far, and it’s recently been announced that in October BBC Books will be publishing The Molten Heart, one of the first novels to feature the Thirteenth Doctor. What’s it been like playing in that particular toybox?

It’s been absolutely brilliant, and huge fun, and that is exactly as much as I can tell you right now!

You’ve recently teamed up with Neil Perryman for a new podcast, Perryman & McCormack. Can you tell us a little about how that came about?

Neil was tweeting about watching the first DS9 episode, and I said we should do a podcast watching all the episodes of DS9 together on the lines of Wife in Space and Wife and Blake. We bounced that idea around for a bit, and then decided that: 1. A podcast would be huge fun, and, 2. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to DS9. So now we recommend books, films, TV, and music to each other – things that we like that the other has never encountered. It’s brilliant!

Do you have any other upcoming projects?

I have a lovely new Doctor Who novel coming out soon! Also two plays from Big Finish: My first ‘Main Range’ Doctor Who, called Red Planets. And a Bernice Summerfield, The Angel of History, which I think is probably one of the best things I’ve ever written. I would love people to check out my novella from NewCon Press, called The Greatest Story Ever Told. And keep an eye out for my forthcoming novella from Tor.Com, The Undefeated, which is a sort of feminist High Plains Drifter… in space.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

Don’t get it right, get it written.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

No, I think it’s really interesting to meet your heroes, provided you remember that they’re human like the rest of us, and prepare for that.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

She planned to live forever – and died trying.

How can our readers discover more about you and your work?

They should follow me on Twitter, where I live: @unamccormack


 ‘The Molten Heart’ will be published on 25 October in b-format hardback, priced £6.99 (BBC Books)

 Listen and download to episodes of Perryman & McCormack for free: http://pampod.co.uk/

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