Writ­ing for kids is just as chal­leng­ing as it is for adults...

As her sec­ond Wiz­ards Of Once book is pub­lished, Cres­sida Cow­ell tells SHERNA NOAH how writ­ing and read­ing for fun shaped her child­hood and ca­reer

Uxbridge Gazette - - Bookshelf -

HOW To Train Your Dragon au­thor Cres­sida Cow­ell knows things are go­ing well when she’s sob­bing in her writ­ing shed, tucked away in her back gar­den. “I de­lib­er­ately set out to make my­self cry,” says the best-sell­ing writer and il­lus­tra­tor. “I’m al­ways mak­ing my­self cry. Un­less you can make your­self cry, how are you go­ing to make other peo­ple cry?”

Pen­ning the fi­nal book in her fa­mous Dragon se­ries, pub­lished 12 years af­ter the first one hit the shelves, was par­tic­u­larly emo­tional.

“I was in floods of tears,” she re­calls. “It was very hard to say good­bye,” Cres­sida con­tin­ues, perched on a sofa and sip­ping tea in the plush liv­ing room of her Lon­don home.

“I loved writ­ing about that world. Peo­ple would say, ‘You’ve writ­ten 12 books. Aren’t you bored?’ But I was never bored.”

Be­fore com­plet­ing the Dragon se­ries, which has sold eight mil­lion copies around the globe, Cres­sida, 52, be­gan to think about what would come next.

So she cre­ated her first new se­ries in 18 years: The Wiz­ards Of Once. Fea­tur­ing the ad­ven­tures of boy wiz­ard Xar and girl war­rior Wish, the first book was pub­lished last Septem­ber to rave re­views.

Twice Magic, the fol­low-up, is now hit­ting the shelves – and she ad­mits the Dragon se­ries was a tough act to fol­low.

“I was very anx­ious about writ­ing Wiz­ards,” the mar­ried mother-ofthree con­fides. “I didn’t want to dis­ap­point. It’s quite hard when you’ve had a huge suc­cess.

I’ve been so lucky but there’s a cer­tain pres­sure.”

She need not have wor­ried – the first in the tril­ogy was a hit and DreamWorks has snapped up the film rights.

The an­i­ma­tion com­pany pre­vi­ously adapted her Dragon books into a TV se­ries and films, with the third movie, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hid­den World, due out in Fe­bru­ary.

Cres­sida will be jet­ting out to Hol­ly­wood to meet the film­mak­ers, al­though she doesn’t have cre­ative con­trol over the movies.

“Each film costs $150m to make and the same to mar­ket. That’s a lot of money and a lot of jobs. I think it would be al­most ir­re­spon­si­ble of the film com­pany to al­low an au­thor to have that,” she rea­sons.

“Hav­ing said that, I’ve had a great re­la­tion­ship with them and they’ve al­ways sent me scripts. They haven’t wanted to make a silly ac­tion movie about drag­ons. They’ve thought about what it’s all about.”

De­spite her huge suc­cess, Cres­sida – who says she was “con­stantly in trou­ble” at school for be­ing “hugely dis­or­gan­ised” – faces a cer­tain amount of snob­bery for be­ing a chil­dren’s au­thor.

“Peo­ple do some­times say to me, ‘Why aren’t you writ­ing for adults?’ As if that’s a grander, more laud­able thing to do.

“I just don’t un­der­stand it. Writ­ing for chil­dren is just as chal­leng­ing. They are in­ter­ested in the es­sen­tial things – death, life, hero­ism, phi­los­o­phy.”

She leafs through her ideas book crammed with her “odd, off-the­wall in­spi­ra­tions” for Wiz­ards Of Once, con­tain­ing po­ems, chap­ter out­lines, sketches and char­ac­ters, some of whom do not make it into the pub­lished novel.

She is pas­sion­ate about get­ting chil­dren read­ing for plea­sure, some­thing she says is in dan­ger of be­ing lost, thanks in part to what she calls an “ob­ses­sion with grades” and “lit­er­acy mod­ules”, and an ab­sence of “long-term think­ing” in to­day’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“I did English at Ox­ford and I didn’t have a sin­gle gram­mar les­son. There were no gram­mar lessons at school and I went to a very English pushy girls’ school.

“We read a lot and I was ex­posed to Shake­speare and Chaucer but it was about read­ing for en­joy­ment.

“My spell­ing wasn’t very good and nei­ther was my hand­writ­ing, but a teacher gave me a book where I could just write sto­ries.”

While Cres­sida’s books are read by al­most equal num­bers of girls and boys, it was im­por­tant that a fe­male char­ac­ter, Wish, drives the ac­tion in her new se­ries of nov­els.

“I love the Fa­mous Five, but Anne was al­ways go­ing off and mak­ing the flip­pin’ sand­wiches when the ad­ven­ture was get­ting in­ter­est­ing,” she says of the Enid Bly­ton books.

The fe­male pro­tag­o­nist in her new se­ries is not ‘beau­ti­ful’, she adds: “It’s heart­break­ing when you see how much pres­sure there is on girls and how much they mind about it. It’s so de­struc­tive.”

Wiz­ards Of Once is set in an an­cient, mag­i­cal time full of wiz­ards, war­riors, gi­ants and sprites – where the wild woods are un­der threat. Cres­sida, also the au­thor of the Emily Brown pic­ture books, was born in Lon­don but spent much of her child­hood on a small, un­in­hab­ited is­land off the west coast of Scot­land, with­out a TV or elec­tric­ity, where she drew and wrote sto­ries.

“I worry about chil­dren’s lack of con­tact with na­ture,” she says. “Chil­dren need to be wild.

“When I was grow­ing up, my par­ents opened the front door, booted you out, and said, ‘Come back at lunchtime’, and it didn’t mat­ter where you were.

“And my lit­tle brother, when he was a baby, was left in the front gar­den for a nap for fresh air. You would get in trou­ble; par­ents would get pros­e­cuted now.”

While you can’t turn back time, she be­lieves that “some­thing is lost”.

Hid­den be­hind the drama and page-turn­ing ex­cite­ment of her Wiz­ards Of Once se­ries is also a sub­tle and pos­i­tive mes­sage to chil­dren strug­gling with dys­lexia.

“I’m try­ing to tell the mes­sage to dyslexic chil­dren, you have th­ese huge strengths, don’t be put off by some­thing su­per­fi­cial,” she says.

While her pub­lish­ers may be ex­pect­ing one more novel in the tril­ogy, Cres­sida has other ideas.

“I was sup­posed to be writ­ing only three of them. But I’m not sure I can fit it all into the third one,” she shares. “I need to work that out.”

■ The Wiz­ards Of Once: Twice Magic Book 2 by Cres­sida Cow­ell is pub­lished by Hod­der Chil­dren’s Books, priced £12.99.

Cres­sida Cow­ell, left, and her new Wiz­ards of Once book, above

Cres­sida in her writ­ing shed

A scene from the movie adap­ta­tion of How to Train Your Dragon

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