Her debut novel has entranced the critics. But Georgia Byng, an author hailed as "the next JK Rowling", is embroiled in an extraordinary row over fears she could unwittingly encourage children to hypnotise their classmates.
On the eve of its publication, Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism has faced an unprecedented assault from practitioners of the mesmeric arts.
The fantasy aimed at eight to 13-year-olds – which has earn- ed its author a £1m advance and already been translated into 24 languages – tells of an orphan whose life is transformed after she finds an ancient hypnotism manual that teaches her the skills she needs to escape the clutches of her guardian.
Yet while its charms have won over the makers of the Harry Potter movies – like Molly, a maltreated orphan who finds salvation in a mystical art – it has also encountered stiff criticism.
The British Society of Hypnotherapists has expressed alarm at the detailed descriptions of hypnotic tech- niques it claims could be successfully imitated. And the National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists (NRHP) has warned parents to think very carefully before allowing their children to read the book.
For her part, Lady Georgia – her father is the Earl of Strafford – has dismissed the fears as "ridiculous".
Her publisher Macmillan, has always stood firmly by the book, though it took the concerns seriously enough to consult a child psychiatrist to give it a clean bill of health. But the NRHP has written expressing its worries, highlighting a scene in which Molly uses recognised hypnotic techniques such as "fixed gaze induction" to send a cook into a trance while stirring a bowl of soup.
And John Butler, of the Society of Hypnotherapists, said: "Children are particularly susceptible to hypnosis, and it is possible that the methods described in the book, if practised on or by a susceptible child, could result in a state of trance."
But the 36-year-old author said: "The whole idea is absurd.
"I don't see how anyone can seriously think that children could learn how to hypnotise people by reading my book."
Lady Georgia, who has a daughter, Tiger, 11, and an 11-month-old son, Lucas, from her relationship with artist Marc Quinn – he of the blood-filled heads – added: "It's as ridiculous as saying that children shouldn't be allowed in playgrounds because they could be hypnotised by the motion of the swings."
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