A debut book chronicling a dystopian world inhabited by "bloodthirsty unicorns" has landed a lawyer from Canterbury a seven-figure book deal.
Annabel Steadman's fantasy series Skandar and the Unicorn Thief has won what is believed to be the largest ever deal for a debut children's writer after a bidding war by several publishers. The film rights to the series have also been snapped up by Sony Pictures. "It's extraordinary," Rachel Denwood, managing director of Simon & Schuster Children's UK told The Telegraph. "We believe it to be record-breaking for a children's book debut."
The 28-year-old said she conceived of the idea in 2013 while training to become a lawyer and since landing the deal is putting her law career on ice to focus on writing.
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"At the moment I'm not even sure I've really processed [the deal] at all," Ms Steadman said. "It's so nice to be able to think I can just concentrate on this and make the books as good as I can. It's a dream come true. She said she wrote the story "in about three months in 2018, and then I left it alone".
The debut author told The Guardian that the situation "completely went mad" once the work was seen by her literary agent, and then by excited publishers.
In a multi-publisher auction for rights it was Simon & Schuster that sealed the deal, with Ali Douglas, its publishing director, saying: "The instant, seething excitement about this series across S&S is unlike anything I've experienced before". The book, which begins by telling readers that "unicorns belong in nightmares", may be turned into a film series aimed at those nine and above in future.
The murderous mythical beasts out for blood in the series are said to be "not at all like the unicorns we know in shops, these fluffy unicorns with rainbows, they're different and exciting and magical but also dangerous".
Simon & Schuster, which will publish the first book in spring 2022, described its newly-secured fantasy creation as "the most jaw-dropping new world we've seen in years".
The plot centres on the most powerful unicorn in the financial universe going missing, and the ensuing complications faced by the protagonist Skandar.
Ms Steadman has followed in the footsteps of author JK Rowling in carving a lucrative niche in the world of magic, with the Harry Potter creator also landing a deal worth millions.
American author James Patterson signed a deal in 2009 worth more than £100 million, and Ken Follet secured a deal in 2008 worth close to £40 million. Often the big money from publishers goes to celebrities and politicians, with Michelle Obama's Becoming secured for around £50 million, while Bill Clinton's My Life went for £11 million in 2004.
Not all deals go smoothly however, and Instagram "influencer" Caroline Calloway backed out of a £385,000 book deal with Macmillan in 2017 and had to suffer repaying her publishers' advance.