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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
New wizard of children's fiction

by Emma Saunders
BBC News Online Entertainment staff

Jonathan Stroud
The trilogy is set in modern day London
Children's writer Jonathan Stroud talks to BBC News Online about his new novel.

The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for children's author, Jonathan Stroud.

The 33-year-old's fourth novel, The Amulet of Samarkand, became the subject of a bidding war between four top publishing houses last year.

It resulted in a seven-figure deal with Random House and a 1.3m contract with film company Miramax.

Stroud had only written 92 pages when the book was snapped up.

The Amulet of Samarkand is one of a trilogy about a demon - or djinni - called Bartimaeus, who has been summoned by a twelve-year-old apprentice wizard, Nathaniel.

Stroud knew the idea was special when it came to him in 2001 but was taken aback by the frenzied interest.

"It was unreal, the weirdest thing," he says of the auction.

Flattered

The pressure was then on for him to finish the book and he managed to write the first four chapters in just two days.

"The idea came to me when I was out walking on a really dismal day last October and I pretty much had it mapped out from there," he says.

The book will inevitably draw comparisons with JK Rowling, whose hugely successful Harry Potter books centre around a boy wizard.

Stroud was touted around as the new Rowling when the book deal was first announced.

Jonathan Stroud
The book has changed Stroud's life

How does he feel about the comparison?

"I am honoured but also amused by the Rowling tag because it gets passed so rapidly from one person to the next," he says.

"I enjoyed the Harry Potter books and children's fantasy is doing brilliantly at the moment.

"I wanted to put a different spin on the fantasy thing and try something new - with the genie, rather than they boy wizard, being the central character."

Bartimaeus is a witty and likeable character, who does not slot easily into the good or evil category.

"I didn't want a po-faced dichotomy of good versus evil," says Stroud.

The genie's cynicism and dry sense of humour should ensure the novel appeals to adults as much as children.

Juggling

"The book is really for anyone, probably twelve plus. Adults will be able to get the book on different levels, like the humour and the references to history and myth," says Stroud.

The author, who gave up his editing job at a publishing company to write full-time in 2001, has a busy time ahead - his wife is expecting their first baby in December and a deadline for the second book looms early next year.

The first film will go into production in spring 2004.

Despite his success so far, Stroud has a bigger long-term ambition.

"As long as the books are still in print in 10 or 20 years time, that's what I'd like. There is a fantasy surge at the moment, so we'll see.

"But the best books survive fashion."

The Amulet of Samarkand is published by Doubleday, part of Random House, on 2 October.






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