Cressida Cowell – “The Wizards of Once”

Once there was Magic….

… and so begins the first chapter of the eagerly awaited new book by one of the UK’s favourite author-illustrators, Cressida Cowell.

Already many years in the planning, the book began life with a map Cressida drew, inspired by memories of the ancient landscapes which she used to explore as a child.

Where How to Train Your Dragon is suffused with the sea-wilderness of the Scottish Hebrides, where Cressida spent many years with her family on trips with her bird-watching father, The Wizards of Once is steeped in the magic of the chalk & woods of the Sussex South Downs, set loosely at the dawn of the Iron Age in ancient Britain.

There were many types of humans living in the wildwoods. The Wizards who were magic. And the Warriors, who were not. … This is the story of a young boy Wizard and young girl Warrior who have been taught since birth to hate each other like poison. … Could it be that the Wizards and the Warriors have been so busy fighting each other that they have not noticed the return of an ancient evil?…

Filled with Cressida’s trademark wit and energy, this new story is packed with her celebrated, scratchy and emotive illustrations of Giants, Snowcats, sprites and Ogrebreaths, fairies good and bad and trees of every kind oozing onto the page from her wonderful imagination.

With a publication date of Tuesday 19th September, Cressida is about to embark on a 3 week tour of the United Kingdom, followed by 2 weeks in America promoting the new book. Just Imagine… with the help of Cressida’s publishers Hachette Children’s, were thrilled to be able to organise a multi-school event in Braintree, Essex, just prior to her main tour.

We visited Alec Hunter Academy in Braintree, who kindly agreed to host the event for us and Cressida first spent time with two groups of Year 7 students, showing them her beautifully filled sketch book & answering their questions. She told them how she was an avid reader as a child & started writing her own stories from the age of 9, but was also keen to offer encouragement for any less academic students who loved drawing, citing the huge part that the Arts industry now plays in the UK economy.

Moving into the main hall, Cressida was excitedly greeted by Years 5 & 6 from Beckers Green Primary School, Lyons Hall Primary School & Great Bradfords Junior School. They were thrilled to see the film trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 3 which will be released in 2019.

Cressida does a huge amount of research before she puts her pen to paper and she showed the children pictures of herself as a child playing on the Downs, in the shadows of the ancient hill-forts, with mounds she believed were fairy castles. More teasers from the new book followed including some of the darker pictures of the returning witches and beautifully detailed beasts of the wildwoods.

After some well-thought out questions from the children, (& even a quick burst of Dragonese from Cressida!), the presentation ended with a trailer of Cressida’s new book, for which the adaptation rights have already been sold to DreamWorks, the makers of the How to Train Your Dragon films, although we will have to wait until 2021 to see the finished version!

In the meantime, we are happy to lose ourselves in the wonderful new world of The Wizards of Once and it’s new cast of characters, who we’re sure will soon become as much-loved as Hiccup, Toothless & their friends. Roll on the second book in the series!

A big thank you to Cressida & her team for spending time with us & we wish you a successful tour.

The Wizards of Once: 19th September 2017. Published by Hodder Children’s Books.

By Anne Horemans, Just Imagine… Newsletter Editor & Website Co-ordinator