The hands that rocked the book world seek the fruits of success

It has helped a group of teenage actors become some of the hottest young stars in Hollywood, made a multi-millionaire of its author, and turned a small town near Seattle into one of America's hottest tourist destinations. Now the Twilight franchise is striking a blow for the fortunes of a cash-strapped New York hand model.

Kimbra Hickey was, if you will pardon the pun, living a hand-to-mouth existence before she realised that she was the owner of the slender set of white fingers which are photographed clutching a red apple on the ubiquitous cover of the first book in Stephenie Meyer's extraordinarily-successful series of vampire novels.

She has duly turned her minor claim to fame into a lucrative career, touring the US to appear at fan conventions where she sells a range of apple scented hand lotion to punters and charges "Twi-hards" – as somewhat obsessive fans of the franchise are known – no less than $30 to be photographed with her, in front of a Twilight poster.

Carrying a Gala apple in her handbag, Ms Hickey also touts for business at New York bookshops and on the local public transport network. "I see people reading it on the subway, and I say, 'Those are my hands! I'm a hand model!'" she revealed at the weekend. "I'm sure they think I'm crazy: a crazy lady on the subway."

In an effort to strike a blow for anonymous catalogue models everywhere, Hickey told the New York Post that she is now hoping to audition for a walk-on role in the forthcoming fourth instalment in the Twilight film series. "If I could get a little background part, it would be fantastic... even if they only wanted my hands in it."

Her success at exploiting such a tenuous connection with Meyer's first novel goes at least some way towards illustrating the huge commercial power of the Twilight franchise. The first three films in the series were made on budgets of $37, $50 and $68 million respectively, but generated a combined $800m at the box office for the previously-small Los Angeles firm behind them, Summit Entertainment.

The vampire-themed romance novels have meanwhile overcome their sniffy critical reception to be translated into 37 languages, selling over 100 million copies, and turning Meyer, a 36-year-old Mormon who lives in a remote corner of Arizona, into a global publishing phenomenon with an annual income which has been estimated by Forbes magazine at over $50m.

Hickey gained a seat on the gravy train when she was hired, in 2004, to pose for the cover of the original novel. The job paid the industry minimum of $300 for two hours work, and required her to file her nails shorter than usual, so that her hands in the picture – which uses plays on Garden of Eden imagery to symbolise pre-adolescent innocence – looked like they belonged to a child.

Her agent, Danielle Korwin, said she also got the job because her fingers are relatively veinless, so would not be considered attractive to a vampire. In the novels, Bella, the human protagonist, is constantly threatened with the prospect of being turned into a meal by various blood-sucking companions.

Previously a full-time massage therapist, who worked a couple of days a week as a "parts model," and was particularly in demand for her size six feet, which once graced a billboard in Times Square, Hickey soon realised that it might be worth exploiting her appearance on the book cover. "It was too big of a deal just to let it be," she said.

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