Is Poppy Pym the new Harry Potter? Children's bookseller wins Independent's new author search

Laura Wood named winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

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The Independent Culture

Will Poppy Pym prove to be the next Harry Potter? A former children’s bookseller has won a nationwide search to find the next JK Rowling with her story about a plucky schoolgirl sleuth born into a circus family.

Laura Wood was named the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing and will have her debut novel, Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse, published next year by the company behind The Hunger Games books.

The prize, created by Scholastic, the leading children's publisher, and the Italian luxury stationery supplier Montegrappa, invited unpublished authors to submit the first 5,000 words of a story designed to appeal to children aged between seven and 12.

The competition, run in association with The Independent, literary agency Luigi Bonomi Associates and the London Book Fair, attracted more than 1,000 entries.

Wood, a PhD candidate at the University of Warwick, who is writing a thesis on Victorian literature, impressed the judges, who praised her story’s “endearing heroine, rollicking plot and zany humour”.

Abandoned as a baby at a travelling circus, Poppy Pym has grown up with acrobats, trapeze artists and jugglers as her family. She must leave them for the prestigious St Smithen’s boarding school, but when a priceless Egyptian artefact is stolen from the school, Poppy summons her circus family to solve the crime – before the Pharaoh’s curse falls upon them all.

Ms Wood, in the final year of her thesis, said: “It has been the most wonderful surprise and I am completely over the moon. I worked as a children’s bookseller all through university, and found that the fizzing feeling of joy that comes from reading a brilliant children’s book never really goes away.”

Ms Wood said the idea for Poppy Pym had been “buzzing around in my brain for a couple of years, but I had always been too afraid to sit down and write it. I thought the competition would be a good way to break out of my fear, and that having a deadline to write the first 5,000 words would be an excellent way of getting the ball rolling – and it was.”

The writer wins a publishing deal with Scholastic and agent representation by LBA Books. Poppy Pym will be launched by Scholastic at The London Book Fair 2015, as part of the Fair’s London Book and Screen Week programme of events. She also wins a trip to Italy to visit the Montegrappa factory, and was presented with a limited edition Montegrappa pen at a Mayfair event today.

The head judge, children’s author, Cbeebies presenter and Booktrust patron Cerrie Burnell, said: “The story of Poppy Pym dances off the page with a quiet grace and heartwarming sense of wonder. Each chapter is sprinkled with just the right mixture of charm and suspense, to keep you hooked and make you smile, whilst an enthralling cast of characters bring the story to life in vivid and quirky detail.”

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