Schoolgirl's dragon breathes new life into teen publishing boom

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The Independent Culture

A 13-year-old girl whose fantasy novel became an international bestseller has triggered a boom in teenage publishing.

Just months after setting Emma Maree Urquhart on the path to literary fame Aultbea, a small Highland publisher, has been swamped with manuscripts from other young writers.

After Urquhart's novel Dragon Tamers sold 50,000 copies in six weeks, Aultbea, in Inverness, received hundreds of manuscripts from established and aspiring authors - many of them youngsters.

The company says it has uncovered literary nuggets which it believes could be hits among the hundreds of thousands of pages.

The first is by Robert King, 14, from Tain, near Inverness. On Saturday he signed copies of his book The Apple of Doom in Inverness. His publisher, Charles Faulkner, is already talking about overseas print runs and translation deals.

Written in a style reminiscent of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the fantasy novel revolves around a character called Gybes, who lives in a mystical place called Greenworld, and his adventures after the discovery of a magical road with a strange inscription. The Highland schoolboy uses his own Greenworld language, vocabulary and calendar.

"The initial reaction to Robert's work is very good indeed. We are anticipating great things for him," said Mr Faulkner, who decided to take a chance with the young author after the phenomenal success of Dragon Tamers.

"Robert's book has its own language and calendar with 10 months in the year.

"I don't like to compare writers with established authors but others who have read it have said it is similar in style to Tolkien.

"The story certainly holds enough interest for people to read as it is both unusual and very imaginative."

King, a pupil at Tain Royal Academy, admits to being very surprised that his work was selected from such a huge number of submitted manuscripts, but says he is already working on a trilogy, although he is reluctant to reveal the name of his second book.

Mr Faulkner's company has scored worldwide success with Dragon Tamers, the story of a teenager's fight for survival after being dragged into a virtual reality game, having negotiated rights in numerous countries and languages. Talks on a Hollywood film of the book are in the pipeline.

"I predict that by the end of the year the number of copies sold will be well into six figures and there are new deals being done all the time to have it translated," said Mr Faulkner.

The initial print run of 50,000 copies of Dragon Tamers sold out in less than six weeks. First editions have been selling on eBay for £250, while a signed first edition with poster, T-shirt and bookmark can fetch as much as £500. Urquhart, whose favourite authors are Terry Pratchett, J K Rowling, Philip Pullman and Eoin Colfer, is well on the way to completing the second of what she hopes will be a series of five novels.

Mr Faulkner's third protégé is the Yorkshire teenager Sophie Codman. Her 230-page fantasy novelWizard - The Novice's Quest is due to be published next month under the pen name of Sophie Wainwright. Codman, aged 16, took up writing when she ran out of books to read during a family holiday. Her book, which follows the trail blazed by the Harry Potter stories, tells the tale of a timid wizard called Jed, whose chance encounter in the Drunken Hedgehog pub leads him on an adventure spiced with good and evil, hardship and demons.