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Q&A with Cressida 'How to Train your Dragon' Cowell - ANSWERS BACK

(71 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 29-Feb-12 11:15:48

In the second of our author Q&As in the lead up to World Book Day, we're inviting you to send in your questions to Cressida Cowell. Cressida has written and illustrated nine books in the popular Hiccup series which is now published in over 30 languages. Cressida lives in London with her husband Simon Cowell wink and their three children.

Send your question or your dc's question to Cressida before 5pm on Friday 2 March and the authors of the ten questions Cressida answers will each receive a signed copy of How to Steal a Dragon's Sword.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:49:17


We're big fans of most of the books. But we (parents) hate the name Big-Boobied Bertha. Do you ever wonder about encouraging kids to use names like that? I'm not alone in finding it offensive and unpleasant - I really don't like reading it out.

Cressida says:

But not all parents agree, see comments from Lindor and Stealthsquiggle below.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:50:02


Hi Cressida,

I wanted to ask you about encouraging children's writing - dd (8) is an avid writer - it's not so much encouraging her to write, as not being able to stop her writing (along with reading) - we constantly find little paper books she has made (she staples together paper and then writes books and illustrates them) - and her writing is wonderful to read. We have a real collection of 'books' now!!

Do you have any suggestions for further ways of developing her writing? She writes about anything - mostly imaginative stories, but often reports on something they're doing in class etc, poetry, plays....

Thanks! PS We met you at the Bath Childrens' Literature Festival - (I'm sure you won't remember, but dd told you about how she and ds1 'play' Hiccup in the playground, and she always takes the part of Toothless!) - they are still talking about what a fantastic talk it was, and often quote things you said, especially about the island and the funny looking fish!

Cressida says:

Wow, it sounds like your daughter is doing absolutely the right things instinctively! I guess at this age, I would just be supporting her in her love of books, and reading. Reading as much and as widely as possible, and watching films, and plays, gives you a ‘feel’ for the way in which stories can be told.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:51:03


Hi Cressida,

On behalf of DD1 (11) and DD2 (9) I am instructed to first give you a hug, but not an embarrassing one. Hope that worked, or I'm in for it.

They then require that I chastise you for naming a character Tuffnut - their father has now used the name Tuffnutz in what I hope is a cap-doffing rather than sarcastic manner as part of his email address, and they're, frankly, mortified.

Finally, and here I quote them verbatim because 'It needs to be asked nicely' -

"When we think of dragons we think they are more Chinese because there are a lot of dragons there and we get told about them a lot - were you already interested in Vikings and longships and the dragons on them, is that why you made your book more Vikingy. Were the Vikings really that into dragons?"

Sorry about the 'vikingy', I'm just the typist here.

Thanks for the books, they're loved!

Cressida says:

Hello, I love hugs, and have never yet been embarrassed by one. Thank DD1 and DD2 for me, and tell them I hug them back.

I’m sorry about the ‘Tuffnut’, but the thing is, DD1 and DD2, it is a Parent’s Duty to embarrass their children as much as possible, it’s just one of the things they teach you at Parent School, I’m afraid. If it wasn’t the ‘Tuffnut’, it would just be something else.

I love Chinese dragons, but I was already interested in Vikings – check out my website on, for the Viking inspiration…

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:55:29


Hi Cressida, both my kids (10 and 7) and I have really enjoyed your books. We are all on tenterhooks to read the last one but a bit apprehensive given the foreshadowing of an end to dragons shock. When can we expect the next and last installment (and will that really be the end?)

And as a bonus question, I vaguely remember Fishlegs was meant to have been brought up by a dragon but can't remember where I read it - which book is this in?

Cressida says (in answer to your bonus question):

Fishlegs WAS brought up by a dragon, and I can’t remember which book I put that in either – He was found on the Long Beach as a baby, washed up on the tide in his lobster pot. The Hooligan Tribe was obliged to take him in, because he had survived by the will of the gods, but ‘runts’ are bad luck so no-one would have him under their roof. So he was put in a little hut all on his own, poor Fishlegs, fed by the Tribe, of course. A Long-Eared Caretaker dragon was put in charge of him as a sort of ‘nanny’ to stop him rolling into the fire, etc, because after all, he was only a baby.

HAVE I written that in any of the books? I’m not sure. It may have been a bit long, so I took it out. There’s quite a lot of information that doesn’t go in because of length problems.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:56:14


dd(8) would like to ask:
How did Hiccup learn to speak dragonese?
She loves the books and would love to be friends with Hiccup, Camacazi and Fishlegs.

Cressida says:

I would say, Hiccup spent long, long hours dragon-watching to learn the language. But it is also, to quote the film Dr Zhivago, ?a gift.?

I feel that Hiccup, Camicazi and Fishlegs ARE my friends, they have taken on a life of their own.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:57:13


Hello Cressida, ds (age 8) would like to ask if you believe dragons are real. He wants to know, he says, because he believes in them, but lots of people don't.

Cressida says:

Well, ds(8), we don’t know everything about this wild and wonderful world of ours, so why should dragons not be true?

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:58:12


Hello Cressida

My DS has asked:

How do you generate your characters' names?

Cressida says:

Hello to your ds, and I call the characters names that sound like the character they are describing: DOGSBREATH THE DUHBRAIN, is a good example.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 17:59:19


DS(9) is a huge fan, and so is his cuddly dragon, who often cites Toothless as proof that she is marginally less stroppy angelic by comparison. Having run out of HTTYD books (we had the last one on pre-order for months) they have now both moved on to Temeraire, who is also pleasingly stroppy. Who are your favourite literary dragons?

I may be back with another question when DS gets home - I suspect the dragon's questions would all be about boy-training, and directed to her hero Toothless.

Cressida says:

Well, I am glad DS?s dragon is slightly less stroppy than Toothless. My favourite literary dragons were those wonderful grand talking scary ones from ?The Farthest Shore? by Ursula le Guin.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:02:14


Hi Cressida,
we love your stories. your characters' names paint a picture and are refreshingly different to most other stories. I have to put in a vote for Big-Boobied-Bertha. It is a magnificent name, and always brings a smile to the face.

Cressida says:

Thank you for making us laugh


I am so glad the stories have made you laugh, and xxxxx to you too!

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:03:23


I have no real questions. I just wanted to say how much my children love your books.

Cressida says:

I am so glad your children love my books, and thank you for telling me, it makes all the hard work worthwhile!

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:04:01


DS(9) is a huge fan, and so is his cuddly dragon, who often cites Toothless as proof that she is marginally less stroppy angelic by comparison. Having run out of HTTYD books (we had the last one on pre-order for months) they have now both moved on to Temeraire, who is also pleasingly stroppy. Who are your favourite literary dragons?

I may be back with another question when DS gets home - I suspect the dragon's questions would all be about boy-training, and directed to her hero Toothless.

Cressida says:

small-cuddly-red-hand-puppet-dragons-rule-ok, I’m not going to argue with that. Particularly if he’s armed with a small-cuddly-red-hand-puppet-dragon, those things are DANGEROUS.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:04:46


Hello Cressida. We know you can train dragons but do you have any tips for training a Tory Councillor?! As an author I'm sure you love and appreciate our local libraries and are worried about how many of them are faced with closure? I am campaigning to save the Upper Norwood Joint Library in Crystal Palace, London SE19. What would be your message to councils who are threatening to withdraw their funding? How important do you think libraries are for children? Any comments very gratefully received and appreciated.
Best wishes Michelle

Cressida says:

How are children whose parents cannot afford large numbers of books going to be able to develop reading for pleasure, if they do not have access to a proper, well-stocked, library?

Children need libraries, well-stocked libraries. Children need the specialised knowledge of librarians.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:06:13


Thank you so very much for your fab stories, we're reading How to be a Pirate atm and Emily Brown is one of our favourite books, you've brought a lot of giggling and pleading for "just one more chapter!" to our home.

My children adore Toothless and he has them in stitches, when I read Toothless he is distinctly and shamefully stereotypically Mexican. :blush: So my question is what accent did Toothless have when you imagined him?

My son (5) asks: "Are there any real life dragons? Have you ever found bones that might be a dragons?"

DD (7) spends lots of time writing stories and illustrating them and wants to be an author when she grows up. She'd wondered if you had any tips for her.

Thank you again!

Cressida says:

I don’t like to say what I imagined about Toothless’s accent because I think that might be too bossy…I’d love to hear how you do him with a Mexican accent!
I have found bones that might be dragons….I would advise your DD to read LOTS if she wants to be an author, so she gets a feel for the way stories can be told.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:07:53


Hello Cressida,

Another big thank you here from a mother of a DD (11) with the career aspiration of dragonologist. You have managed to tap into exactly the level of information and wit which has kept my daughter enchanted from the very first book and the subsequent monthly re-reads of the whole series(and you are the only author I have ever pre-ordered from Amazon).
I asked her what she would like to ask you and she rattled off a list, however, the two that she was most adamant about are: How old is toothless? this is to settle a debate with equally dragon mad best friend and also, how do you feel about the film portrayal of Toothless (physically) being so different from your descriptions and illustrations? (she phrased it a bit differently). p.s. my favourite is Horrorcow!

Cressida says:

Toothless is very young (for a dragon) at the moment – it’s difficult to say precisely how young, because dragons grow very, very slowly, and they live much much longer than humans (ie thousands of years). So in dragon years he is sort of pre-school age, but he could be a lot older in human years.
I liked the film portrayal of Toothless – films and books are different things.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:08:40


Hello Cressida. My friends son has read all your books and loves them. He wants to know what kind of Nanodragon was Zigstar (the nanodragon in "How to speak Dragonese")

Cressida says:

Ziggerastica is a Golden Imperiorbeetle.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:09:32


I just wanted to thank you for your great books, and also for the time you spent chatting to my son and signing his books at the Hay Festival a few years (maybe 3?) ago. He's not the keenest of readers, but your influence has encouraged him to read more and more often. Last time we were sailing off Mull we waved at your island!

Cressida says:

I’m so glad your son loves the books! I love Mull…

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 13-Mar-12 18:10:24

That's all folks. Once again you can read the full Q&A here;

Cressida Cowell Q&A

nenevomito Wed 14-Mar-12 13:31:24

I just want to pass on my thanks to Cressida for answering my question, its made my day as I know DS will be absolutely thrilled as the answer really speaks to him on his level.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

stealthsquiggle Wed 14-Mar-12 16:34:58

I am SO impressed that Cressida answered pretty much every post. DS's dragon is now crowing to anyone who will listen that Cressida, who is an expert dontcha know, says that she (small red cuddly hand puppet dragon) "rocks" and that she is "dangerous" grin.

northernmonkey Wed 14-Mar-12 17:50:29

Please pass on my thanks to Cressida, the children at school will be AMAZED when I give them the reply.
Many many thanks smile

archfiend Wed 14-Mar-12 18:53:43

More thanks here-dd so thrilled to know her question was read and answered! smile

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