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How To Train Your Dragon - Cressida Cowell interview

Cressida Cowell

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CRESSIDA Cowell talks about what inspired her to write the books that form the basis of DreamWorks Animation’s new family hit, How To Train Your Dragon, and why she feels the movie version represents a dream come true for her.

Q. What inspired you to create this world of dragons and Vikings?
Cressida Cowell: I know this sounds very unlikely because I’m neither a Viking or a dragon but there is an autobiographical element to this story. I spent a lot of time as a child on an uninhabited island off the West Coast of Scotland. It’s in the Hebrides but the name will remain a secret because my dad swore me to secrecy not to reveal the name… he still goes there and loves the wilderness. But we’d be dropped off on this island so small that when you stood on the top of it you could see sea all around you, so very like the Isle of Berk in How To Train Your Dragon. We’d be dropped off by a local fisherman and picked again two weeks later. There was nothing on it at all, just us, a bit of a tent… my parents were crazy, they had no mobile phone and no way of contacting anyone if something went wrong. But even then, as a small child, I had a sense of how mad it was of them, but it was also an incredible experience as a small child to have a whole island to explore to yourself.

There was a house built on the island, we went back when I was nine, so we stayed there for the whole summer. My dad got a boat, so the whole thing was inspired by that. It felt like the kind of place where dragons really could have existed and it was, of course, one of the first places the Vikings came to and one of the last places they left… that whole area has that Viking heritage.

Q. Does the film match the book visually?
Cressida Cowell: Yes and no. The island is actually very close to my vision in the book. The island it’s based on is Scottish, which doesn’t make sense, but it’s very similar in the wildness of that. Of course, in the book you can’t explain the wildness of it but that’s what’s so wonderful about having the movie, it can paint the picture that you can only really hint at in the book. And particularly Hiccup I just think is a deeply satisfying performance, both acting and animation wise.

There used to be a distancing with cartoons in a way, they used to be drawn characters, but he [Hiccup] feels to me like a real little boy, so you can really identify with him and that just gives the story so much emotional power with him and Stoick, and that beautiful father-son relationship that they have where they have those conversations where they can’t quite communicate with one another but they still love each other… So, those are the bits I love in the film. I think it’s an amazing film. I can’t thank the directors enough.

Q. You said this was autobiographical in terms of location. Can we presume therefore that you are Hiccup?
Cressida Cowell: Well, well… yes. I suppose so. My dad, who I love and adore and he’s a wonderful man, but he was always someone who I felt was a little bit hard to live up to because he was such a wonderful man and so good at everything and I was a creative person, like Hiccup in the books, but I was the only person like that in my family. So, yes there’s a lot of that in there.

Q. How many books are there in total?
Cressida Cowell: There’s eight books, I’m writing the ninth.

Q. So, will this be the start of a franchise?
Cressida Cowell: I’m already in a bit of a dream come true situation but it would be even more of a dream if they made the other books in the series into films.

Read our review of the film