Last year How to Train Your Dragon hit cinemas in 3D, taking Dreamworks nine years to make and fully deserving its Oscar nomination. Cowell said during her packed-to-the-rafters appearance at Bath Children's Festival that she was "thrilled" her brainchild had had so much success.
Cowell embarked on a lively discussion about her childhood, saying she wanted to write books that would make her brother start reading, as when they were children he was "obsessed with comics" whereas she devoured classics like Treasure Island and Peter Pan.
She fondly recalled tales of annual family holidays on a remote island off the west coast of Scotland, which inspired her Hiccup books about the Viking and his dragon. "A fisherman would drop us off in his boat and pick us up two weeks later," she told the audience of a few hundred at Bath's Forum. "There were no phones, no electricity, no houses. If one of us had broken our legs, there would be nothing we could do about it as no-one would know. I remember thinking that's how the Vikings would have lived." The island was surrounded by water and yawning caves, which Cowell used to imagine dragons inhabiting.
She showed the audience photographs of the island, including one of her father with a 6ft conga eel, which "took him about half an hour to kill. We ate it for dinner, and it was delicious" (prompting repulsed screams from the audience). The sea creatures that the Cowell family caught inspired many of the dragons in her series: a basking shark the great bee-eater; an electric prawn the armoured eight-legged battlegore.
Cowell gave children a lesson in Dragonese, the Latin-sounding language that the dragons use to communicate, which most of the children already seemed rather fluent in. She promised her fans she would make "at least one more" book, "possibly two." She also announced that an arena tour of How to Train Your Dragon is to start next year, and played a video of a spectacularly large and realistic dragon breathing over a quaking audience in Australia, where the show is currently touring. Question time, however, was cut short when all the children in the audience collectively decided it was time to stampede the stage to get their books signed. It seems Cowell has got it cracked when it comes to how to be a successful author.
How to Train Your Dragon is featured in the Autumn issue of We Love This Book and is out now, published by Hodder.
Photo by Julian Foxon.