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Dragon Talk with Cressida Cowell

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Dragons, Vikings and far-off places ... they're the stuff fairy tales are made of, and the fodder for Cressida Cowell's hit book-turned-movie, "How to Train Your Dragon."

Cressida Cowell
We sat down with Cressida to discuss her childhood inspirations, and how being a mom and kid at heart helps her be one of the best children's authors around.

momlogic: What was your inspiration for writing this story?

Cressida Cowell:
I spent a great deal of time as a child on a tiny, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland. The island had no roads, 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 seabirds 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.

If somebody broke their leg or their neck or got horrible food poisoning or acute appendicitis, my parents had absolutely no way whatsoever of getting help from the outside world. I was a bit more of a worrier than my parents, and so even as a four-year-old I thought they were completely crazy.

I thought they were even crazier when they got a boat, because my father was a very confident sailor but he didn't really know what he was doing. He was clueless but bossy. There was something glorious about the dignified way my father barked out orders while heading us straight into a force eight gale, or hitting a rock, or accidentally tying the boat to a lobster pot instead of a buoy. This was what gave me the idea for the characters of Hiccup and his father, Stoick.

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 whole 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 candlelight, 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 had invaded this island archipelago twelve hundred years before; 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. That was when I first started writing stories about dragons and Vikings, way back when I was nine or ten years old.

ml: How was it seeing your story brought to life on the big screen?

It was amazing to watch the process of the movie being made. It took seven years to make, and the artistry and creativity of the animators, directors, writers, storyboard artists -- not to mention the actors -- was truly astonishing. I love the movie, and so the whole experience has been very enjoyable for me. It is a little mind-blowing to think that a story that began in my head is now giving pleasure to so many people across the world.

ml: Does being a mother make you a better children's book author, in your opinion?

If I am absolutely honest, I have to answer, no, not really. There are lots of wonderful children's book authors out there who aren't mothers. I think being a good children's book author is more about having a very clear memory of what it felt like to be a child than it is about being a mother.

next: 'Tis the Season To Be ... Fluffy?
2 comments so far | Post a comment now
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Lynda Jobin April 5, 2011, 12:14 AM

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