Some time back I got a very pleasant surprise in the form of an email from Stewart Cowley himself. In fact it was something of a shock for me - it simply wasn't something I expected to get despite having had contact from the other Stewart Cowley who is also writing books. Not only that but he supplied a lot of information on the hows and whys of the books. Accordingly, with his permission, I've taken the emails he sent me and edited them into an interview of sorts. I hope fellow TTA fans find it as interesting to read as I did.
Without further ado, here is Stewart himself...
(Stewart Cowley) Someone mentioned your site to me so I checked it out. It brought back a host of memories. Spacecraft 2000-2100AD was the first book I ever wrote and represented a major point of change in my life. I was working as a graphic designer when I had the idea. I was doing work with an illustration agency called Young Artists based in London UK. They happened to represent a new generation of brilliant artists working in the SF arena, and I was really excited about their work. The only outlet for their illustrations at the time were paperback covers, but I felt convinced more could be done with the amazing images they were producing.
I persuaded them to loan me file transparencies of art samples and had them stuck on my lightbox for a couple of weeks. I'd look at them every day, trying to think how they could be utilised. Then one day I remembered a book I'd had seen as a child. It was Jane's Fighting Ships - a survey of the world's navies - and it hit me. Spacecraft 2000-2100 AD was born. Being a designer rather than a writer, I tried to find someone to author the project but couldn't find anyone with the same vision as I had. I wanted someone who could not only create specifications for the spacecraft shown, but set them in a believeable historic context.
I had already discussed the project with Hamlyn Publishing who wanted to do it and issued a contract. As I was running out of time, I started writing it myself and sent sample text to them to keep them quiet to buy time until I could find a suitable author. They liked it, so I thought, what the hell, and finished it. The rest is history as they say.
(Philip Banks) That actually answers a question I was going to ask , which was whether Janes Fighting Ships was an inspiration for the first book particularly.
(SC) The book went on to sell 800,000 copies in eight languages so they asked me to do a sequel. Space Battles was produced in 3 weeks and as you rightly point out in your review, suffered in quality as a result. That also did well, nevertheless, and they commissioned a further title. The strong sales of both books gave me more clout and I was able to insist on having more time to complete the following two titles; Spacewreck and Starliners.
I'm afraid I must also own up to the Galactic Encounters series by Steven Caldwell. I'm not proud of those six books. I was approached by another publisher to write for them, and they offered me enough money for me to quit my job as a designer and become a full-time writer. I confess that I just did it for the dough and all I had to work with were the images that I had rejected for my earlier books. It wasn't only for contractual reasons that I used the pseudonym of Steven Caldwell. So that's the story behind the TTA in a nutshell.
Incidentally, there isn't a combo of the second two TTA titles as far as I'm aware.
(PB) What was the idea behind the combo books? Simply a way for the publisher to re-use material and get more sales or was it a way to do a reprint of the first two books when the later two came out?
(SC) The combo was the publisher's response to requests from their customers who apparently felt there was a demand for it.
(PB) You mentioned pretty much authoring the series entirely yourself - how did Charles Herridge, co-author on Great Space Battles, fit into the picture?
(SC) Charles was the publisher who commissioned the books from me. Because of the almost impossible deadline he contributed some of the storylines and worked closely with me on others so I felt he should share the writing credit.
(PB) Whose idea was the 'Space Warriors' book? It seems to have been the idea of the TTA Books stripped down and targeted at nine to twelve year old readers, so was it a publisher request?
(SC) The request for a title for younger readers came from a publisher (Deans, I think). I was still living in the world of TTA and decided to keep the context for the stories in this title.
(PB) Is this the only direct spin off book from the TTA series?
(SC) Yes, as far as I'm aware. However, there may have been references to the TTA in the Galactic Encounter series, but I haven't looked these for about 25 years so might be wrong.
(PB) It has to be asked, what was the story behind the 'pasta master' modelmaking running joke?
(SC) I'd forgotten about this but it was a nickname I earned at that time because as my friends constantly reminded me it was the only thing I could cook. In order to try and interest some interest in my limited catering, I used to build exotic constructions out of pasta shells, giant clams, alien heads etc.,and stuck together with melted cheese to hide the unchanging sauces beneath.
(PB) Did any of the artists featured in the books thank you for promoting their work via these books? Do any keep in contact with you?
(SC) Yes. After the success of the first book, some of them got more involved and I worked with them on the selections. One or two had not done a lot of work before and the exposure in the books got them more work. I did stay in contact with one or two, like Chris Foss who went on to great things, but the currents of life eventually took us different ways.
(PB) Where you aware that the TTA books were a big influence on the two Homeworld games made by Relic?
(SC) Not at all. I didn't even know about them. If that's true, it's nice to know that the books meant something to some people. Most writers don't really get much in the way of feedback on their work and positive responses mean a lot.
(PB) Which is your favourite book of the series and why?
(SC) The first one was a milestone because it helped to change my life and created lots of opportunities for me. As a book, though, Spacewreck is my personal favourite. Space itself is a mysterious place and I loved the idea of astro-archaeology - starting with a mysterious artefact and working back to try and unravel it's story. Even if it is fiction, the process embodies the same sense of curiosity and a sense of the truly alien.
(PB) Was it a surprise to find a website out there dedicated to your books? Indeed are you surprised at how popular these books have turned out to be?
(SC) A complete surprise! Especially after so many years. When I wrote these, I don't remember there even being a world wide web available to people!
I want to thank Stewart for taking the time to answer these questions in such a candid fashion. Not only were the answers informative but it has solved a long standing mystery as readers of the TTA pages had been emailing me for some time about the Galatic Encounters series being very similar to the TTA books.