“It happened Once. Surely it couldn’t happen Twice?”
Cressida Cowell went around visiting Waterstones bookshops recently to promote her new book Twice Magic, the second instalment in her ‘Wizards of Once’ series, and we were lucky enough to catch her at one of these signings.
Roughly 130 people turned up to the event, many of them children and more than a few carrying goodies from Cowell’s first series ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, such as Toothless plushies. It was fitting perhaps then that the evening kicked off with a trailer for the upcoming movie ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’, the third movie in the series. Featuring a hidden dragon world, an evil dragon hunter, the fight for freedom, and an enigmatic “Light Fury”, the film looks set to be another hit with young and old audiences alike.
From here, Cowell talked about the inspirations that helped shape her ideas; she started writing, reading and drawing from a young age, and encouraged the children in the audience to do the same. She even let us in on a little secret – the mysterious narrator of ‘The Wizards of Once’ books is in fact dyslexic! Although Cowell isn’t herself, she experienced a lot of trouble with handwriting and co-ordination growing up, and wanted to show the children that it’s not about your “ability”, it’s about your ideas.
Her childhood holidays in Scotland became part of her creative process, drawing on stories of Vikings coming to the West shore; with a slideshow of images to accompany her talk, you can see from the geography and wildlife how tales of dragons, magic, and mystical lands were passed down. “Writing is like telling a REALLY BIG lie,” she told us, “the more detail you give, the more believable it seems!”
Cowell paused her talk at this point to encourage the audience to take part in a little exercise – teaching the children a little Dragonese (the language of the dragons in ‘How to Train Your Dragon’). However, it is a language only for children and dragons, and thus would only be possible to teach if none of the adults listened. This led to a charming display of the children in the room enthusiastically encouraging all the adults to cover their ears, which the adults took in good humour (though upon encouraging a librarian in the room to cover their ears, Cowell did announce “Librarians are the worst! So disobedient!” which I’m not sure we can agree with!).
When talking about beginning her most recent series ‘The Wizards of Once’, Cowell admitted that she had some trepidation. In order to fully write a world, she explained, you have to really fall in love with the world, and this can be a little nerve-wracking when coming off the back of a well-loved long-running series. However, she found that she fell in love with this new world so deeply that there will in fact now be four books in the series instead of three! It seems she wasn’t the only one, as Dreamworks have already acquired the rights as a potential new movie franchise.
‘The Wizards of Once’ is set in the British Isles roughly 3,000 years ago, when there were Wizards and Warriors, and magic rooted deep in the dark forests. In the first book (which we were treated to an excerpt of), we are introduced to Xar, a member of the Wizard Tribe who has no magic, and Wish, a member of the Warrior Tribe concealing a banned magical item. Book two continues from the end of book one; Xar imprisoned and with the dangerous “Witchstain” on his hand, and Wish is held captive by her mother, Queen Sychorax.
Just as with ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, Cowell performs thorough research to ensure that her descriptions feel real; for example, trees from West Sussex inspiring the visuals of the Wizard Fort, and the sprites being inspired by weird insects and the fairies from folklore, as well as fashion and ballet. This is obvious in the illustrations throughout the books, drawn by Cowell herself.
Cowell finished off the evening with the idea on how to encourage reading and writing among children – Free Writing Friday. The aim is for schools to implement 15 minutes of writing time every Friday, where children can just sit and write whatever they like without worrying about teachers or what they write being marked. She’d love for this to become a national campaign!
Finally, before we all broke up to collect our books and join the signing queue, she left us with this simple statement: “Books are a medium under threat, and I like an impossible quest!”