Cressida Cowell is currently the Waterstones Children’s Laureate (2019 – 2022). 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.
About Cressida Cowell
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 11 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 Blue Peter Book Award.
Cressida answers your questions
Who was your favourite author/illustrator as a child?
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.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
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.
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
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.
How long does it take to write a book?
About a year including illustrations!
Who are your favourite authors?
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.
What advice would you give kids who would like to become writers?
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. Have a notebook for all of your ideas, and don’t worry about your spelling, or your handwriting.
How does it feel seeing your creations come to life on the big screen?
How to Train Your Dragon 3 is an absolutely magnificent ending to the film trilogy, and I am so very proud of all three movies. Everything in the films is true to the spirit of the books, all the messages about how we need to look after the environment, and the wild creatures and places in this beautiful world we live in. And the kind of leaders that we need, kind, clever, imaginative leaders like Hiccup, who have creative ideas.
What would your school reports have said about you?
They said that I day-dreamed a lot and that I was very disorganised. I was called ‘Messy Cressy’…
What inspired How to Train Your Dragon?
The ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ books were inspired by the summers I spent as a child on a tiny, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland. The island had no roads, houses or electricity, and I used to imagine that there were dragons living in the caves in the cliffs. There was no telephone or television, so I spent a lot of time drawing and writing stories. In ancient times, Vikings lived on that little island, and Vikings believed in dragons.
What was the inspiration for The Wizards of Once?
As a kid, I wanted to be magic. Children are surrounded by adults who are VERY BOSSY. They might not always mean to be bossy, and they have the best of intentions, but still, they are definitely bossy. I think one of the reasons kids want to be magic is to get back some of the control…
My Wizards of Once books are also inspired by holidays spent playing in the chalk and the woods of the Sussex South Downs, where my grandparents lived. These are old, old landscapes that have been inhabited by human beings and their stories for so long, that you feel you would not be terribly surprised to meet a Roman legionary striding across the hillside… There are lots of magic stories about those hills that sparked my imagination.
I also wanted to write a story about children from different tribes, who have to see things from another point of view in order to defeat a common evil. Empathy is what we need in these present times and it’s something that children are quite good at!
Where do you write?
I am lucky enough to have a studio at the end of my garden. It only takes 10 seconds to walk there, but I find it very important to make a break between work and home. I’ve put up lots of pictures up on the wall – some my own drafts of illustrations, some of the amazing artwork that children have sent to me (mostly of dragons).
Find more answers to Cressida’s Frequently Asked Questions here!