Author CRESSIDA COWELL describes the childhood summers spent on her family’s remote Hebridean island, and how the location inspired her How To Train Your Dragon books. Interview: Alex Reece
I first went to this particular little island as a baby. It’s quite close to Mull in the Inner Hebrides and is staggeringly beautiful. When I was very little, we’d be dropped off by a local boatman and picked up a week later. And we were camping, so it was a very exciting – and sometimes a bit scary – adventure for a child.
My dad is a businessman and keen birdwatcher – he was chairman of the RSPB for many years. He cares about preserving wilderness. He had a house built there when I was about nine, and he got a boat at that stage, so at least we could get off the island if something went wrong! You also need a boat to catch fish if you’re staying for a month, which we then did every summer.
The place had been inhabited until the late 19th century. And, of course, people had lived there before that for thousands and thousands of years. There were a lot of Viking place names roundabout and stories of dragons living in the caves, which my dad would read to us.
As it’s so unspoiled, you feel very close to the past. You can really imagine seeing, say, a Viking on the horizon. Also, living in a house with no electricity, you have no telly. So we’d invent stories, or I’d read a lot. It was all a direct inspiration for what I do now. How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury was the last book in the series – I’d been writing it for 12 years.
My family and I still go back to the island. It is a magical place for children. It would also be a brilliant place to write a book, with no distractions at all. There have been some very famous books written on that west coast. And Fingal’s Cave, nearby, inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. There’s something so renewing about going to the sea.
I don’t even have to go in – if I’m watching my kids surfing, I can just stand there, and it’s very restful.
'There’s something so renewing about going to the sea. I don’t even have to go in – if I’m watching my kids surfing, I can just stand there, and it’s very restful'