Friday, 29 June 2012

When Charlie and Lola met Hiccup Horrendous Haddock

Only recently I discovered that Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child and Cressida Cowell, author of the brilliant How To Train Your Dragon series were at school together.

Charlie and Lola... who else?
What are the odds of two extremely talented and wildly successful writers and illustrators being in exactly the same place at the same time?

Did this serendipitous encounter early in their lives give them the extra push they needed to spur them on to greatness? Would either have achieved as much without their meeting? Who can tell.

It’s rare but not unique of course. Think of C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien who were both dons at Oxford at the same time and used to meet in the Eagle and Child pub in the dreaming spired city in the 1940s as part of the literary group the Inklings. The group took it in turns to read from works-in-progress.

It was here, in a smoke-fugged backroom, that early drafts of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings first saw the light of day.

By all accounts, Tolkien didn’t much care for Lewis’s Christian allegory with its talking animals.

Nevertheless, the sparks generated by two geniuses rubbing flinty shoulders led to better stories for both writers.

Lauren Child with creation Clarice Bean
 In an interview in the Independent newspaper, How We Met, Cressida Cowell and Lauren Child reveal they met at Marlborough School when they were 16 and they hit it off from the start.

Both were arty and they shared the same sense of humour. Each girl had begun to write a book. Interestingly, they introduced each other to classics of humorous children’s fiction.

Cowell turned Child on to Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Molesworth, while Child showed Cowell the delights of Clement Freud’s lovely Grimble.

Cressida Cowell's How To Train Your Dragon was given the Hollywood treatment
 It’s interesting to compare the two former schoolmates’ work and to discover that they have much in common. Is that as a result of the influence they exerted over each other?

Cressida Cowell's first book in the series
Both write funny stories in styles that are uniquely their own. Only Lauren Child could have written Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean. Cressida Cowell’s Dragon books are distinctly her own, influenced by her time living as a small child on a remote, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland. This led to an obsession with archipelagos.

Their friendship has continued across the years. Cressida Cowell’s daughter Maisie was the original voice of Lola in the TV series of Charlie and Lola.

Interestingly, Child broke through slightly before Cowell and I wonder whether she found her own voice before Cowell hers. The marvellous Emily Brown books by Cowell, to my mind, show definite hints of Lauren Child.

So if you’re a young writer with dreams of weaving a wonderful story, it might be worth looking at the person sitting next to you in class. He or she might just be harbouring similar ambitions.

Turn around, break the ice and start chatting. You never know, you might be on your way to becoming the next Lauren Child and Cressida Cowell.

How cool would that be?

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