Cressida Cowell: An Interview on Completing the How to Train Your Dragon Series

Cressida Cowell: An Interview on Completing the How to Train Your Dragon Series

Hi Cressida! So the final book in the series – How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury – is complete, congratulations! Will you be taking a well deserved rest, or do you already have plans for a new project?

There’s no rest! I’m already writing something new… My publisher would kill me if I told you about it though.

Ooh, very exciting! We bet you’ll miss the characters from this series though. Who was your favourite character from the How to Train Your Dragon series?

It has to be Hiccup. He isn’t a ‘typical’ Viking, let alone a ‘typical’ Viking chief. He’s quite ordinary looking. But over the series, he has to learn how to be the biggest hero the Viking world has ever seen. He’s brave even when he’s scared; he’s loyal; he always tries to do the right thing.

Do you have a favourite moment in the How to Train Your Dragon series?

Picking favourites is SO hard. I’m going to cheat a bit and say that I like the moments when Hiccup stands up for what he believes in. The last book is my favourite, just because I’ve spent so long planning the ending that it’s so exciting to have it out in the world. The first book in the series asks a question: did dragons really exist? But the eagle-eyed reader may have realised that as the series goes on, the question changes slightly to: ‘if dragons really existed, where are they now?’ I’ve known the answer for 17 years, now it’s time for everyone else to find out…

Is it true that there are autobiographical elements to the series?

Oh YES, definitely autobiographical. The 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. 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, 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.

A lot of the characters are inspired by real people in my life. For instance, my own daughters gave me the idea for Camicazi. They’re not as good at sword-fighting as Camicazi, but they’re every bit as chatty. Toothless is like my children when they were toddlers, and I have to say that my dad has an element of Stoic about him…

Are your illustrations always inspired by your writing? Or do the illustrations inspire the writing?

I usually start with the writing, but if I get stuck, I do an illustration which often helps. And I think even when I’m writing first, I’m still inspired by illustration because I see them in my head.

Do you have any favourite pens, pencils or other artist materials?

As well as my 2B pencil, I love my ink pen which can leave blots as part of the illustration. When I do colour it’s in watercolour.

More and more technology has become available for illustrators & colourists to use in recent years, is this something you use, or do you stick with more traditional materials?

I’m a traditionalist, I’m afraid. I graduated before illustration courses taught on computer. Most of the time I work in pencil – the whole point of the pictures in the How to Train Your Dragon is that children have to feel that THEY could do them. They’re scratchy and scribbly: I always say at my events that scribbling is definitely a legitimate part of being an illustrator.

Do you have a favourite illustrator or artist that inspired you?

When I was young, I loved Ronald Searle, who did the St Trinian’s illustrations and the Molesworth series. And I really enjoyed Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons. My best friend from school is Lauren Child, author-illustrator of the Charlie and Lola series – her artwork is wonderful.

Do you have any tips for budding illustrators?

My biggest tip is just to draw and DON’T worry too much about making it perfect. And copy people whose style you like. When I was young, I used to draw Snoopy from the Peanuts comic over and over again. I got very frustrated because he wasn’t quite right, but the point was that I was getting better! Also, you can get a special drawing or writing book which you can use, and you can keep it just for you; no one else needs to look at it if you don’t want them to.

We’re pleased to see that David Tennant has recorded another audiobook for the final book. What do you think of his readings of the series?

I LOVE the audiobooks – David does an amazing job. Did you know that he does a whole book in almost one take? And that he does a different accent for each tribe? He’s going to be cross with me because he told me last time that he was running out of accents so I needed to stop writing more tribes, but there IS a new one in the last book…

And will there be another How to Train Your Dragon film?

Yes – there’s another film coming in 2018. I think the films are wonderful, I’m very lucky.