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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 20:45 GMT
Is Belfast mum next JK Rowling?
A Belfast mother-of-three could become the next JK Rowling after securing her first book deal.

Sarah Wray fended off competition from 3,500 would-be writers to land a publishing contract for a children's book.

Sarah Wray
Sarah Wray is excited about her book deal

The Finaghy woman scooped top prize in the WOW Factor writing competition launched by Waterstone's and Faber and Faber.

Her manuscript, The Forbidden Room, will be published next September and promoted in stores throughout UK and Ireland.

The book centres on a teenage girl, Jenny, who is left orphaned and disabled after a car accident and lives in a care home until she is fostered.

But she soon realises her foster family is hiding a secret and when she discovers diaries written by a previous foster child, she is about to unlock the shocking truth.

Sarah began writing seriously six years ago and already has six books under her belt. However, this is the first one to be published.

It was her daughter who spotted a poster about the competition in Waterstone's, Belfast, and encouraged her mum to enter.

Sarah said: "I was shocked and stunned when I got the call to tell me I'd won. I'd been counting down the days to the deadline.

A celebration cake marking Sarah's achievement
A celebration cake marking Sarah's achievement

"I'm so excited about winning, being a published author is a dream come true for me, the fulfilment of a life-time's ambition, but I really hope that this is just the start of a long career as a writer.

"My family are extremely proud of my success, although my children are most excited about the trip to Alton Towers I'm planning with the prize money!"

The judging panel that selected Sarah Wray as the winner from the 13 regional finalists included ITV's This Morning presenters Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield, New York Times List best-selling author GP Taylor and author Anna Dale.

Phillip Schofield said: "Sarah is a great story teller and The Forbidden Room is a terrific read from beginning to end with its unlikely mix of orphans, disability, teenage love, pottery and illegal gene therapy."

Sarah moved to Belfast from Merseyside in 1988 to study genetics and since graduating has worked in a medical research laboratory, as a science teacher, childminder and on a supermarket checkout.

Now she runs a parent and toddler group but spends her spare time writing.

She said: "When I'm not writing, a lot of the time I'm thinking about my book and wishing I was writing.

"I want to write for children, because many of my favourite books are children's books, and I think that children and young people think about and feel things deeply, sometimes more so than adults who are a bit tired and jaded with life."

The Forbidden Room competed with many manuscripts to win the top prize, including those submitted by a 16-year-old Derbyshire schoolgirl, a 45-year-old IT consultant from Bournemouth, an unemployed graduate from Leeds and a 52-year-old teacher from Ealing.

Angela McGrath of Waterstone's in Belfast, where Sarah handed in her manuscript, said they were thrilled she had won.

"We loved her manuscript and are immensely proud that she not only won her regional heat but then went on to win the whole competition as well," she said.

"This is a fantastic achievement and we can't wait until next September to begin sharing her book with our customers."

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