Published: 06:00, 23 September 2020
A whirlwind two weeks has seen a first-time author from Canterbury bag a world record book deal and secure a movie contract with film-making giant Sony Pictures.
Children’s writer Annabel Steadman, 28, says she is living in a dream land after sparking a bidding frenzy among those desperate to acquire the publishing rights to her bloodthirsty unicorn series.
In the space of a fortnight the former King’s School pupil declined other hefty offers and signed a “major” seven-figure deal for a trilogy of books with Simon & Schuster, one of the world’s biggest publishing firms.
“I keep waking up in the night and looking at my emails to make sure it’s actually real,” Annabel said.
“It’s been such a whirlwind. Two weeks ago I was thinking it’d be nice if anyone wanted to publish it in this country but had no idea how it was going to go.
“And now it’s resulted in this - in my wildest dreams I never thought this was going to happen.”
While JK Rowling was famously rejected by almost everyone in her attempt to see Harry Potter hit the shelves, Annabel was hot property as soon as drafts were sent around the publishing houses.
'If I see it in Waterstones in Canterbury I think I’d probably cry...'
Simon & Schuster believe they have hit the jackpot and say the series - titled Skandar and the Unicorn Thief - will be a “huge global hit”; describing the fantastical creation as “the most jaw-dropping new world we’ve seen in years”.
The story follows lead character Skandar Smith in a world where unicorns are deadly, and can only be tamed by the rider who hatches them.
The life-changing book deal, which will see the first of the adventure novels be released in spring 2022, is thought to be a record-breaking sum for a debut children’s author.
And if having the world’s biggest publishers fighting for your signature isn’t enough, Annabel, who will write under the name AF Steadman, also faces the reality of seeing a motion picture based on her work hit the big screen.
Sony Pictures, the multi-billion pound firm behind innumerable Hollywood movies, preemptively acquired the feature film rights before other buyers could enter the fray.
Bosses saw the potential in the Skandar series and are already in the first stages of planning their first unicorn flick.
“I’ve dreamed of being an author for as long as I can remember, and scribbled my first book aged 12 in two notebooks I was given for Christmas,” Annabel said.
“Growing up, I’d be going to Canterbury library, Deal library and Sandwich library trying to find as many fantasy books as I could.
“It’s amazing to think someone else might do that and pick my book out. If I see it in Waterstones in Canterbury I think I’d probably cry.”
Annabel, who grew up in Chillenden, has so far written the first in the series and now needs to start working on the rest.
“We’ll see how the story goes and whether it can be told in three or if there can be more,” she said.
“I’ve got an idea as to where it’s going but I haven’t got an all-detailed plot for the second one. It’s difficult as when you’re writing the first one you’re thinking ‘is anyone going to like this?’.
“I can’t give too much away about the book but it’s very countryside-based - unicorns need a lot of space.
“There are elements of the Garden of England - part of my childhood.
“The Sony deal is so exciting. That is the really unbelievable bit - I can’t really process seeing my characters moving around on screen.
'Sony seem really excited about it and things are starting to happen - they seem to want to move quickly...'
“I think I write in quite a visual way and I think they can kind of see the themes as they read it.
“I see the images in my head and tend to kind of describe what’s going on - so maybe that came across, and I’m glad it did.
“Sony seem really excited about it and things are starting to happen - they seem to want to move quickly.”
The former Northbourne Park School pupil, whose family hit financial woes after her parents’ divorce, went on to attend King’s thanks to scholarships and a full bursary.
Creative writing tuition at the Canterbury school saw her skills develop, but after realising it would be tough to make a living from life as an author, Annabel opted for a career in law and went on to study at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
But she quit law in 2017, took a master’s in creative writing and returned to the Skandar story she had first started scribbling down in 2013.
“That was a big risk but I wanted to get back to writing,” she said.
“At King’s I remember I had a short story published in the school’s Cantuarian magazine and at that time it felt like such a massive achievement to get something in print.
“That was a real great moment, when I thought people wanted to read what I’d written.
“As well as ambition, 12-year-old me had a lot of worries, so I wish I could go back in time to tell her that she’d be published one day.”