The wonder of maps

Published on: 20 December 2016 Author: Cressida Cowell

The incomparable author and illustrator Cressida Cowell, creator of the How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once universes, became our fourteenth Writer in Residence back in 2016. In this blog Cressida talked about the power of maps when creating fictional worlds and universes.

Cressida Cowell

I get a lot of children and schools emailing me to ask about ways to start stories. A blank piece of paper or screen can be quite daunting, I think sometimes you need a bit of help getting started. If you want to do something creative over the Christmas holidays then one of the tips that I would give is to use a map as a story starter.

If you draw a map of an imaginary place, then it helps you to begin building your world. Lots of authors have done this. (I would be willing to bet that J.K. Rowling has a map of Hogwarts!)

The wonder of maps

A great example is Treasure Island. The author, Robert Louis Stevenson, said that when he started drawing the map the pirates 'began crawling out of the map, Long John Silver with his cutlass between his teeth.'

Here's my map of Berk, which is at the beginning of the How to Train Your Dragon books. It has helped me make my world more believable - I know, for example, how my characters get from Hooligan Village to Wild Dragon Cliff, and I can convey an impression of the landscape with the names. Unlandable Cove sounds like a pretty rocky, unfriendly place, doesn't it?

Map of Berk

Here's an example of a map that a child has drawn and sent into me. I think they've done a wonderful job of starting a story because the map has brought up a lot of questions. She's got Rodent Town - does this mean that the rodents are the main residents of the village? She's drawn Dead Man's cell; this is very interesting because dead men don't usually need a cell, do they? She's given herself lots of fascinating questions to answer already.

Charlotte Bronte's Map

Here's a map drawn over 150 years ago, by a little girl who was about nine years old. It's a bit blurry because it's so old, but if you look closely you can see Sneaky's Land, and Monkey's Island.

Skeleton CreekShe used those maps in scrapbooks that were so tiny, they could fit into your hand. The little books are very scribbly, and they are absolutely something that an adult could help you make at the beginning. You could put a map at the front then write about your imaginary place. This nine-year-old child was Charlotte Bronte, and when she grew up she was one of the greatest writers in the English language. Once upon a time, however, she was just a child like any other.

Charlotte Bronte's Ideas Book

If you like writing stories and making things up then draw a map and go from there!

Meet our latest Writer in Residence

Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Our current Writer in Residence is Rashmi Sirdeshpande.

Find out more