Saturday, 25 February 2012

Cressida Cowell - behind the story

Cressida Cowell is the author and illustrator of the very succesful "How to Train Your Dragon" series which recently spawned the very succesful animated movie of the same title.
I was lucky enough to see her speak at the Imagine festival at the South Bank Centre during half term. She bounded on to the stage with huge amounts of enthusiasm and spent the next hour entrancing her audience.
She started off by discussing the beginnings of her writing career at the young age of twelve. Dragged off to an uninhabited isle off the coast of Scotland for a two week camping holiday every year by her nature enthusiast father Cressida spent hours imagining the first inhabitants of the island - vikings - who had left some very small dwellings behind. She'd write many stories about vikings and dragons but never combined the two until much later.
She used slides to demonstrate how her imagination had been fired up by the creatures they would fish up from the sea - including a moray eel that attacked them in their boat, had to be dragged along behind them and then took her father half an hour to kill!
Cressida encouraged all the children to write their own stories and even brought along one of her first handcrafted creations to demonstrate that they don't have to be perfect. She suggested making plans or perhaps a map to start off with and told us each book she writes takes her about a year. She's been writing pretty much non stop since she started as her fans are always desperate for the next story.
Her next book - "How to Steal a Dragon's Jewel " is out in October (where we get to meet Valhalarama's dragon the silver phantom) and if you can't wait that long she has a story out for world book day in March called "Day of the Dreader" of which she read us a sneaky extract!

She answered many questions and discussed the dragonese language she created, Cressida is quite keen to write a whole dictionary!

Cressida was signing books after the talk and my son was thrilled to have a brief chat with her while she autographed a copy of his book. He asked her "if Alvin was ever going to die?" and she told him probably not! She also told us it had taken seven years for the film to get made but she was very pleased with the outcome.

I was also very happy to receive a special bag with the dragonese phrase "YUM YUM ON THE BUM!" written on the side from her very kind assistant!!

Cressida was a fabulous speaker and I'm sure her enthusiasm sparked off many budding authors!

I am off to see the author of "Mr Gum", Andy Stanton on Sunday so stay tuned for another author post soon!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Francesca Simon - behind the book

The South Bank centre has been holding the Imagine festival over half term and has a vast array of events on offer including some talks from children's authors. I took my eleven year old son along to see Francesca Simon on Tuesday 14th February and she gave a very interesting account of her writing career and her new book "The Sleeping Army".

Francesca, a native American, has written over fifty books but is perhaps most famous for her series about Horrid Henry of which she has written twenty one! Horrid Henry has become a massive franchise which includes a cartoon series and a film. Francesca says her main character is based on herself more then anyone, as the oldest of four children she recalls very strongly the feelings of being young and having to cope with younger siblings nad has used them to marvellous effect in her stories.
She began writing after her son was born (He's now in his twenties)and despite her first book receiving the worst rejection letter ever (apparently there were several paragraphs detailing how awful her work was!) she carried on writing regardless and eventually became published. An excellent demonstration of how perserverance can pay off!

Ms Simon's new book is a departure from old as it is written for an older audience and has a girl as the main protagonist. She was inspired she said by the Lewis Chessmen, a set of very old chess figures dug up on a beach in Scotland and shrouded in mystery. They're on show at the British Museum and the author wondered why they looked so miserable and began thinking of possible reasons. She picked a few of the pieces, the king and queen who became a squabbling brother and sister, an eight legged horse and a berserker. These characters are woken when our heroine Freya blows a horn in the museum and what follows is a huge adventure as she is dragged to Asgard and off on an adventure.

It was clear how much research, time and effort the author had put into this story and how excited she was about her departure from Horrid Henry. Never fear Horrid Henry fans though because Ms Simon has not forsaken Henry and a new book - "Horrid Henry and the monster movie " will be out soon.

I found Francesca Simon to be an excellent speaker, very articulate and engaging. I was impressed at her composure while on stage in front of nearly a hundred children and their parents.

Her advice for would be authors was "to read widely, keep an ideas notebook with them as ideas are everywhere and most importantly to finish what they start."

I was also lucky enough to see the author of the "How to train your dragon" series, Cressida Cowell and I'll be blogging about that soon.