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Secret isle never share; mystery 'ROCK' THAT INSPIRED AUTHOR CRESSIDA COWELL Best-selling kids' writer drew on a childhood haunt in the Hebrides to create her dragon books. But her father has told her she must never reveal its location.

Byline: ANNA BURNSIDE anna.burnside@trinitymirror

WHEN Cressida Cowell was a kid, she spent her summers on an otherwise uninhabited hunk of rock.

As soon as school was out, the boatman transported her family and their Calor Gas canisters to a speck on the map of the Hebrides. Then left them there to get on with it.

Forty years later and the island's identity is a closely guarded secret. Cressida used it as the inspiration for her first book, How To Train Your Dragon, and the 11 others that followed.

Then Dreamworks made the book into a smash hit Oscar-nominated film full of star Scottish voices including Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson.

That's great for Cressida. But it's not so sweet for her father, who owns the island and wants to keep it as private as it was when he took his kids there in the 70s.

Cressida has promised her father she will not tell a living soul exactly where it is. This has pacified him a little.

She said: "It was last inhabited in the late 19th century. Before that, it was Vikings. They are there in the place names, in all the stories from the islands round about. Dad would read them aloud to us because of course there was no telly.

"One was about a dragon on a nearby island that had turned into a hillside. This little stone house we stayed in had a hillside behind it that looked exactly like the back of a sleeping dragon.

"It was amazing and also a little bit frightening, which is also exciting for a child. On a stormy night, we wondered if it was going to wake up. It was a very extreme experience. That's where these stories were beginning to germinate."

Cressida, now 51, began writing her books 18 years ago, after having her first child.

She recalled: "I was thinking, 'Oh my god, they have let me out of hospital with a baby.' I could have called the book How To Train Your Baby."

The first book was successful, as were the ones which followed Hiccup - the misfit Viking hero who prefers inventing things to fighting battles - which speaks to kids who struggle to make friends.

Cressida said: "I get letters that really do make me cry - from kids who are ill and the books helped them through a difficult time. A lot are from kids who are getting bullied.

It's and have cool. are epic adventure fantasies cressida "Hiccup is a bit of an outsider and school is the hardest time for children who don't fit in. Lots of kids who relate to him are autistic or have Asperger's.

"Hiccup's very clever, he's an inventor. He gives them the idea that once you leave school, there are other things people value you for."

When Hollywood came knocking, Hiccup found a whole new set of admirers. Cressida rejected earlier offers to make a small-scale version of her stories and waited for the big one.

She explained: "Unless you have a Game of Thrones budget, it's not a TV property. It's dragons, and dragons have got to be cool. These are epic Tolkienesque adventure fantasies."

To her huge delight, the films have brought the books to many children who might not have found them any other way.

She said: "Through the films, I get kids who are not necessarily from book-reading families but who love the characters. Then they get into the books and that's very satisfying."

Twelve Hiccup stories in, Cressida has ignored the howls of protest from her legions of fans and started a new series.

The Wizards of Once is another epic adventure, inspired by a different setting from her childhood.

She said: "The things that happen to you as a kid are so vivid. And if you grew up in the 70s, your parents shoved you out the front door and said, 'Bye kids, come back when you're hungry.'" Young Cressida's grandmother's home in Sussex was in front of an Iron Age hill fort.

dragons they to be These She recalled: "We used to toboggan down that hill. Nobody was paying any attention to these thousands of years of history. The British Isles are just stuffed with these things.

cowell "There were loads of stories about giants. I could see why people would think giants lived in them. How could these structures have been built by anyone other than giants?" She also roamed around Fairy Hill, also known as Leave It Alone Hill. "It had hummocks all over it. We thought they were the burial mounds for the fairies."

This is the landscape of The Wizards of Once, where established mythical creatures - wizards, giants - are joined by others dreamed up by Cressida.

So the hero, Xar, zips around on a splendid snowcat, a kind of giant lynx. His long-suffering adviser is a talking raven, while his followers are sprites - easily bored insects with human faces.

All Cressida's books are written with one eye on adults and she adds in lots of details to keep the grown-ups going through another weary bedtime.

This time, Shakespeare's Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream are both part of the mix, as well as the legends of King Arthur.

She said: "The kids are not going get it but I write the books to be read aloud by parents. The references are for adults.

"It gives a richness and a depth to the whole thing. I like playing with those old stories that people recognise."

Watching the Dragon series being turned into films, and working closely with the creatives at Dreamworks, has influenced Cressida's approach.

She said: "I think it's quite good to be humble and I certainly learned something from the Hollywood process.

"My stories become more epic and more filmic without me even realising it. Wizards of Once starts off at an epic level that Dragon only reached at the end. We are in big fantasy world from the start."

Then there's the licence that comes with combining familiar landscapes with lashings of imagination.

"I love old stories about the British Isles. I do buckets of research - then I ignore it if it doesn't fit. These are fantasy books, not history books. I always think it's hilarious when people remind me that Vikings didn't actually have horns on their helmets.

"What about the dragons?" ? The Wizards of Once is published by Hodder, PS12.99

It's dragons and they have to be cool. These are epic adventure fantasies cressida cowell


voice Craig Ferguson

THRILLING Hero Hiccup in a fiery dragon pursuit in the second film in the series

THOUGHT-PROVOKING Cressida has found

NEW GROUND Cressida has turned her hand to giants. Picture: Callum Moffat
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 6, 2017
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