Cressida Cowell is currently the Waterstones Children’s Laureate (2019 – 2021). She is the author and illustrator of the bestselling The Wizards of Once and How to Train Your Dragon books series, and the author of the Emily Brown picture books, illustrated by Neal Layton. The Wizards of Once series has been translated into 37 languages and has been signed by DreamWorks Animation. How to Train Your Dragon has sold over 8 million books worldwide in 38 languages and is a major DreamWorks Animation film franchise, as well as being made into a TV series on Netflix and CBBC.
Cressida is an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust and the Reading Agency, a Trustee of World Book Day and a founder patron of the Children’s Media Foundation. She has won numerous prizes, including the Gold Award in the Nestle Children’s Book Prize.
I grew up in London and on a small, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland. The island had no houses or electricity. The name of the island is a secret, but it was such a small island it wasn’t really big enough to have a name at all. There were no roads or shops, just a storm-blown, windy wilderness of sea-birds and heather.
When I was four, my family would be dropped off like castaways on the island by a local boatman and picked up again two weeks later. In those days there were no mobile phones, so we had absolutely no way of contacting the outside world during that time. If something went wrong, we just had to sit tight and hope that the boat really did come to pick us up in two weeks’ time.
By the time I was eight, my family had built a small stone house on the island, and my father got a boat so we could fish for enough food to feed the family for the summer.
From then on, every year, we spent four weeks of the summer and two weeks of the spring on the island. The house was lit by candle-light and there was no telephone or television - so I spent a lot of time drawing and writing stories. In the evening my father told us tales of the Vikings who invaded this island Archipelago twelve hundred years before, and of the quarrelsome Tribes who fought and tricked each other and of the legends of dragons who were supposed to live in the caves in the cliffs.
It seemed perfectly possible that dragons might live in this wild, stormy, place. So I was only eight or nine years old when I first began to write stories about Vikings and dragons. When I left school, I went to university to study English, and then to art college where I got degrees in graphic design and illustration.
For my final project at art school I created a children’s book called Little Bo Peep’s Library Book, and I was lucky enough to have that book published in 1998. Since then I have written ten more picture books, including the Emily Brown stories, which won the Nestle children’s book prize in 2006.
In 2002 I began to write a book for older children. I remembered the stories I had written on the island as a child, and turned these ideas into the book How to Train Your Dragon. There are now twelve books in the Hiccup series and I have just published the first book in my new series The Wizards Of Once.
Cressida answers your questions
I particularly enjoyed the books of Diana Wynne Jones as a child. The Ogre Downstairs, in which five children find two magical chemistry sets, was my favourite.
My earliest childhood memory is of a game I played with my father in which he launched me to the ‘moon’ – my fingerprints were on the ceiling for years afterwards.
London is absolutely my most favourite city in the world, which is lucky because I live there, but Edinburgh, Paris, New York and Rome are all very exciting to visit.
I would love to have met Shakespeare. I am a bit addicted to reading books about him and I would love to find out if any of them are at all accurate, but unfortunately whatever else may or may not be true about him he is most definitely DEAD.
About a year including illustrations!
Ooo dear, I’m terrible at favourites; there are just too many wonderful writers to choose from. I love David Almond, Lauren Child, Louis Sachar, Eva Ibbotsen, Michelle Paver, and so many, many more.
My top writing tip would be to read lots, to give you a feel for the way different stories can be told. Also practice writing as much as you can – write, and re-write – don’t worry if you don’t finish a story, as long as you are practising, that’s what matters.