A budding author who returned to a story she first thought of as a child has just become a millionaire after signing a seven figure book and film deal for her debut novel.
Annabel Steadman, just 28, quit law to try out a creative writing course and returned to a childhood idea for her first book.
She is thought to have been offered the biggest deal for a debut children’s author in history.
She had several publishing houses competing for her book being hotly tipped as the next beloved family franchise.
Simon & Schuster 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.
Sony Pictures, behind Hollywood hits like Spiderman and The Angry Birds Movie, also preemptively acquired the feature film rights before other buyers could enter the fray.
Annabel said: “I keep waking up in the night and looking at my emails to make sure it’s actually real.
“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.”
Annabel, who wrote her first book aged 12 in a notebook given to her as Christmas present, wanted to be a writer but thought she was best cut out for a career in law and studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
She attended King’s thanks to scholarships and a full bursary after her family hit financial hardship.
She quit law in 2017, and took a Master’s in creative writing, and returned to the Skandar story she first thought of as a kid.
Annabel said: “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.
“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.
“[Quitting law] was a big risk but I wanted to get back to writing.
“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.”
Similar to Harry Potter writer JK Rowling and Animorphs’ KA Applegate, Annabel will be using the penname AF Steadman – a tactic some critics have suggested as a way of encouraging boys to read books with a male lead authored by women.
But she said she did not look to those mammoths of literature for inspiration, saying: “It’s all happened so quickly, I’m not sure I thought too much about it.
“I suppose I thought AF Steadman sounded a bit more epic for a fantasy series about bloodthirsty unicorns than just Annabel.”
Annabel has written her first book, set to be released in spring 2022, and is now writing her second and third.
She said: “We’ll see how the story goes and whether it can be told in three or if there can be more.
“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.
“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.”
Giving advice to other hopeful writers, she said: “I think if I had one piece of advice it would be to welcome criticism of your work in progress.
“It’s sometimes really hard to delete sections, characters, maybe even whole plotlines when you get notes from a reader.
“What I found helped me was telling myself that the old version still existed and I was just trying out the new approach.
“When it comes down to it, you’re not losing anything, you’re just trying something new. And nine times out of ten you’ll love the new version even more.”