Cressida Cowell’s advice on finding your magic in writing and creativity

Author and illustrator of 'How to Train Your Dragon' Cressida Cowell runs through her top tips for winning The Big Issue's kids Christmas cover competition

I’ve entered two competitions in my life that had a big effect on me.

I won a prize when I was nine, and this was helpful because I really, really wanted to be an author but I had this terrible handwriting, and this not-very-good spelling, and somehow I had it fixed in my head that these were things you needed to be an author. So winning a prize was encouraging, and taught me the excellent truth that being a writer isn’t really about your handwriting, however neat, or your spelling, however magnificently you can spell really difficult words like ‘Fahrenheit’ (though that IS clever, and even now I had to look that up), it’s about your ideas.

The other time a competition came in handy was when I was a student at art college, and even though I didn’t win a prize that time, (I was the runner-up), I did meet an editor at the prizegiving who then went on to publish my first book.

(I have to say, I’ve also entered plenty of competitions that I HAVEN’T won, and that doesn’t mean anything at all, because it’s just the opinion of whoever happens to be the judge of the competition at the time. But it’s worth entering competitions just in case you are lucky enough to get a nice sensible judge who can see that you are absolutely brilliant.)

Let your imagination run wild when you enter the competition. Draw what you would like to read about… make yourself laugh… scare yourself… impress yourself… make yourself think.

When I was young I really wanted to be Magic,

That’s how I began with my characters ‘the Enchanted Spoon’ and Nighteye the Snowcat. When I was young I really wanted to be Magic, so I set The Wizards of Once in a world 3,000 years ago, when Magic really existed. And then I think, what would be a really silly and sweet object to come alive? Which was how I hit on the Spoon. The Spoon is trying to make you laugh, so these are Spoon Moods. What would the Spoon look like cross, happy, grumpy? What would it look like if a Key was falling in love with it? Don’t be afraid to be Very Silly Indeed.

With Nighteye the Snowcat I was trying to make you feel awe, and as if you were really living in the Magical world, so I looked at pictures of real lynxes and cats and copied them. Don’t worry if your copying isn’t as good as mine yet. I’ve been to art school… I have all day to practise. I used to copy Snoopy and get sad when my Snoopy wasn’t as good as the real Snoopy, because I thought that meant I wouldn’t be an illustrator one day. It didn’t mean that, it meant I was only nine

For 15 minutes every Friday, write your ideas in a special book where you write and draw just for the fun of it, where the handwriting and the spelling don’t matter. No rules, no marking, just fun.

There was an ‘ideas’ book that I kept when I was nine. The handwriting was a bit wobbly, and I couldn’t even spell my own name.

I’d even written ‘Crissida’ and my name is ‘Cressida’. But I was already drawing the sprites and the Magical creatures that turned into the characters in my book series, The Wizards of Once!

So keep an ideas book… and enter The Big Issue Competition… get writing… get drawing… get creative!