Fringe Box



Training Dragons With Cressida Cowell

Published on: 29 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 29 Sep, 2012

Cressida Cowell

By Flora Windebank

Do you know how to train a dragon? Waterstones book shop was the place to be to find out when Cressida Cowell, acclaimed author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, gave a talk there this week.

She read extracts from her books and answered questions about her series and its quirky duo, Viking youngster Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon Toothless.

The series contains ten books in all, the first of which was released in 2003. The books follow Hiccup and Toothless through various adventures with many different dragon species in a fictional Viking world. The newest instalment, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel was released on the day of Cressida’s talk. The series has enjoyed great success, and a film was released in 2010. Cressida told excited fans that two more films are currently in development.

The books are aimed at younger children. There weren’t many children over eight in the audience. They seemed a bit young to be dragon trainers but Cressida was clearly very comfortable entertaining that age group and began by reading a previously unheard extract which hadn’t made the cut to the final book. She seemed to enjoy impersonating the different characters and reading expressively to the enchanted kids.

After the reading Cressida took questions from children. At first not many hands appeared but after hearing their fellows speak up, more and more hands crept into the air.

The newest installment: How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel

In answer to a question, Cressida told the fans how her books, set in an exciting but barren Viking world, were based on a real place. This was a remote island off the west coast of Scotland, where Vikings first landed centuries ago.

“I went there as a child” Cressida explained: “and while we were there, we got stuck in the worst storm they’d had in 30 years. The boat we were on broke down  and was blown away. The place was filled with old ruins and I remember being acutely aware that people in Viking times could have starved had they been in our situation!”

A feeling of wonderment at being so close to such a different world has stayed with Cressida throughout her career. She has always tried to make the world of the books as detailed and complex as possible. She said: “Lots of readers have commented to me on how ‘real’ the world of the books feel and it makes me so happy, as that was really what I was going for.

“Instead of just making one type of dragon, I spent ages inventing all sorts of different breeds, as if they really were a species. I wanted people to feel as if they really were a type of animal, as believable as a dog or cat. In fact you never know that they weren’t, for all we know this species might have existed all those years ago!’

Just a few of the many dragon species Cressida has created

Cressida also revealed the full extent of her talents as she explained that the books’ copious illustrations were also done by her.  Her dream was to have a book bursting with creativity: “Although,” she laughed “Having so many drawings makes it really hard to juggle with all the print.”

Her real love of the books was apparent throughout, and she explained that she tried to put a little bit of herself in each character, including its young male hero. When she began writing, she had just had a baby and the desire to relate the books to that experience was strong. She told the audience: “Toothless is really Hiccup’s baby. Hiccup is responsible for him and has to learn how to take care of him, which is a really important lesson.”

Although she had to rush off for a parents evening, cutting the talk a little short, Cressida made sure to stay behind to sign books and pose for photos for a few lucky children.

Cressida signs a book for a fan

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