Cressida Cowell: 'Miss Mellows just let me write'

The new children's laureate was inspired by teachers throughout her school years who all did one thing: enabled her to write

Cresida Cowell

I had rather a lot of inspiring teachers. There were a couple in primary school who really stood out. Quite a few of them would just read us a story or a whole book, a little bit in every lesson. I don't know if teachers still would get time to do that.

I remember Miss Mellows, who not only read books she loved to us, but also let me just write stories. I must have been seven or eight. My memory is that even in subjects like maths, she let me write. She wouldn't really correct my spelling or tell me it was very messy handwriting, although I'm sure it was, she would encourage what she saw, which was that I wanted to write stories, and she gave me loads of exercise books.

I remember her as a really gentle, encouraging, lively person. She was not strict, but she was not one of those teachers who don't have control, because children can always feel that.

Recognising passion

She drew a picture of a character she had made up and asked us to make up a story about that. To me, she was really inspiring. Sometimes, that is what you want as a child, someone to recognise your passion. It is really important that you have teachers who tell you there is something you might be quite good at. I think I was very lucky to have teachers who did that.

Miss Danischewsky was also really influential. I remember once she read us a book about prisoners of war. It's not a book I would have picked up as a child, but it told me something about a world I knew nothing about, which has always been the pleasure of books to me.

In secondary school, I found Miss MacDonald really inspiring. She was a charismatic, dynamic woman from Canada. She taught history from a really unusual angle: she allowed me to write about history as fiction.

Funny, interesting facts

Imagine you are a Viking, living in Viking times, imagine you are a child living on Crete in the Palace of Knossos – for an imaginative child like me, that was a real way into history. Dates and kings never did it for me; it's the funny, interesting facts about what it was like to live in those times that makes history interesting.

She was very animated and excited about history. She was very energetic, she could be fierce, but in a humorous kind of way – she didn't really mean it. You like that in a teacher because you wanted to pay attention to what she was saying. I was 12 when she taught me, and she felt very old then. But I met her in the park last year and she didn't seem that old.

My books are fantasy books, but I do a lot of research about Vikings and other things to make it feel real.

Encouraging creativity

With all these teachers, it was really that they encouraged creativeness and had an approach that was all about inspiring you. I wasn't very good at maths and science, but I wasn't made to feel like I had to be good at those things as well. I wonder whether today, children have to be all-rounders more.

In some ways, school did come easily. I did love writing, art and history, all those kinds of subjects. But I was not really a schooly type of person. I was very disorganised as a child, and I found it hard to work to a deadline, to write neatly – all those kinds of things I struggled with.

When I met Miss MacDonald recently, I told her what an influence she was on me and she was very touched. Teachers often don't see the end of the story and the impact they have. So I was pleased to be able to tell her.



Born: London, 1966

Education: Bute House Primary, London; St Paul's Girls' School, London; Oxford University

Career: children's author and illustrator, famous for the How to Train Your Dragon series

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