Cressida Cowell, children’s author

Interview by Bridget Osborne

September 2016

Cressida Cowell, author and illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon books, lives locally and is a regular contributor to the Chiswick Book Festival. She wrote the first book in 1998 and completed the series in 2016 after twelve books. The stories were inspired by childhood holidays with her father on a remote island in the Shetlands which were once inhabited by Vikings – “the kind of place where dragons really could have existed” she says. The series tells the tale of Hiccup, who starts out as a small boy and grows up throughout the series, and his dragon Toothless – “a small, disobedient Common-or-Garden dragon, who speaks to Hiccup in Dragonese (with a stammer).”

The books have been made into hugely successful films by Dreamworks. In the film version Toothless is “a large, frightening Night Fury, who cannot talk” but she says: “Both Toothlesses have a sweeter, gentler side to them than is at first apparent” and both Toothlesses were inspired by cats, in both look and in character”.

Her aim throughout the series is to answer the question “What if dragons really existed, and if they existed, what happened to them?” She spoke to  me when she appeared at the Chiswick Book Festival in 2016 and had just finished the last book in the series: How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury, which is about the ‘great war’ between humans and dragons.

What if dragons really existed, and if they existed, what happened to them?

Cressida Cowell works in her garden shed-cum-studio, where she draws her characters. She showed me how she draws them, in a very quick, fluid style, because she says, she wants children to feel as if the illustration is something they might be able to do themselves.

How to Train Your Dragon books

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • How to Be a Pirate
  • How to Speak Dragonese
  • How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
  • How to Twist a Dragon’s Tail
  • A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons
  • How to Ride Dragon’s Storm
  • How to Break a Dragon’s Heart
  • How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword
  • How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel
  • How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero
  • How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury