Page last updated at 00:43 GMT, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 01:43 UK

Secret Scottish isle inspired dragon tales

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Image from Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon
Cressida Cowell said she loves DreamWorks' treatment of her book

A children's author is keeping secret the name of a tiny Hebridean island that was an inspiration for her story How to Train Your Dragon.

Adapted by DreamWorks Animation, the 3D film of Cressida Cowell's book opens in UK cinemas on Wednesday.

Cowell's tale of Vikings and dragons was influenced by childhood holidays on an isle in the Inner Hebrides.

She declines to name the island, saying: "I suppose it is more exciting in a way if you don't name something."

How to Train Your Dragon is one in a series of books by Cowell featuring a young Viking called Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.

There was no contact with the outside world
Cressida Cowell

She is delighted with the film version - which topped the North American box office at the weekend.

Among those voicing the characters are Paisley-raised actor Gerard Butler and comedian-turned-US talk show host Craig Ferguson, along with actress Ashley Jensen, from Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, who stars in Extras and Ugly Betty.

Jensen's Ugly Betty co-star America Ferrera is another of the voices.

Cowell, who was brought up in London, spent spring and summer holidays with her family on an isle dominated by bracken, tall grasses and rock pools.

In interviews and on her website she calls it the "secret island".

Dropped off by boat, they camped until Cowell's father later had a house built there.

By candlelight Cowell spent evenings writing stories, or listening to her father tell of the Vikings who once ruled Scotland's west coast and islands.

The author told the BBC Scotland news website keeping the isle a secret added to her storytelling.

She said: "Once you give it a name it then seems less exciting.

Cressida Cowell. Image: Courtesy of Cressida Cowell
Cressida Cowell on a family holiday on the island

"What I will say is that the story is based on the Inner Hebrides - one of the most beautiful places on earth."

Cowell said her holiday experiences could provide material for a children's book on their own, without adding axe-wielding Vikings and fire-breathing flying reptiles into the mix.

She said: "It was an incredible adventure. I think I was one of the luckiest kids in the world.

"I grew up in the centre of London in a home without a garden and to be dropped literally in the middle of this island - an island so small all you could see was sea all around you - was just an extraordinary adventure.

"There was no contact with the outside world."

'Roam free'

Pictures on her website show Cowell, her brother and sister exploring the isle.

One of the images shows the family up to their knees in grass as they go for a walk.

Another is of the children and their friends setting out in a rubber dinghy on a Swallows and Amazons-style adventure.

Cowell said: "One of the great attractions for children to the book and the movie is that they long to do adventures like these.

"We live in a quite a safe world nowadays. I am a parent myself and I do try to keep my children safe at all times.

"So the possibility of adventure to children is a very, very exciting idea and I was very lucky as a child to experience that and roam free on this island.

Gerard Butler, America Ferrera and Craig Ferguson
Butler, Ferrera and Ferguson are the voices of characters in the film

"What that experience also did was it made me realise how people lived in Viking times.

"There were these little ruined houses and I often wondered how the people who had occupied them had lived."

The author describes the Hebrides as a "precious" and "beautiful wilderness" that has changed little since her childhood holidays.

She added: "When I write the books I have the islands archipelago in my head so it is extraordinary in the film to see it right there in front of you and that is a lovely thing.

"When you are writing it is hard to convey the beauty of a place, but the film is very, very beautiful and it portrays that in a very beautiful way.

"It is just extraordinary feeling to see the book as a film.

"I had no idea when I was writing the books that this was going to happen."

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