Hay Festival – Cressida Cowell on Imagination and Dragons

One of my current favorite children’s authors is Cressida Cowell; I’d say she probably tops Boo’s list, too, as he  has powered through most of the books in her “How to Train Your Dragon” series.

We were pretty chuffed that she returned to Hay Festival this year.  With her typical uncontainable energy and thoughts flying off on tangents about as quickly as the words could tumble out of her mouth, she practically bounced around the stage as she talked about the importance of imagination, her sources of inspiration…and lying.

Similar to her talk in 2010, she started off describing her summer holidays as a child on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. With no electricity, television, or the normal amusements, she and her sister were left to their own imaginations to entertain themselves. Much of what formed the first seeds of the stories were found on that island, from the oddly  face-shaped cliff to the crumbling houses that were once inhabited by Vikings as they arrived in the area.

She said that being bored is important for creativity, and added that “we don’t let our kids get bored often enough”. In a world of Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, DVDs and Sky+, I concur. (My grandfather always said “There is no such thing as being bored…just boring people. Go and do something.”)

Inviting nominations for a “nervous” mum onstage to help her demonstrate a point, the mum read aloud from a card which carried a warning about something dangerous (it was a bit hard to hear her, unmiked as she was) and when the card was opened a rattly noise erupted from within (caused by a rubber band and a washer), startling the poor, already anxious unexpecting mum.

The point she meant to make was that the beauty of reading is that we have to use our imaginations – it’s the writer’s job to put an idea in someone’s head, to kickstart a thought, but then our imagination takes over.

“Writing is like telling a really big lie…based on a grain of truth”, she explained. You start with an idea, a lie, and build upon it, bringing it alive in the reader’s head.

We thing she does a rather good job of it, and are looking forward to her next book, “How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel”, due out in October.

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