Potter publisher unearths boy archaeologist

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LONDON - The publisher who first signed up J.K. Rowling believes he may have found another Harry Potter -- but this time it is a boy archaeologist.

In an industry that revels in hype and is always on the lookout for the next blockbuster, two unknown authors have amassed advances of over 500,000 pounds and pre-publication rights in 15 languages.

Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams were signed by Chicken House publisher Barry Cunningham after he tracked down an early version of their book "Tunnels" that was self-published.

"I knew from page one that Harry Potter was magic. Reading 'Tunnels' gave me the same thrill," said Cunningham, who has also achieved worldwide publishing success with the children's books of German writer Cornelia Funke.

"Tunnels has it all: a boy archaeologist, merciless villains, a lost world and an extraordinary journey to the center of the earth," Cunningham said after first stirring up interest at the international children's rights fair in Bologna.

The authors originally met at university but then went on to follow very different careers -- one as an investment banker, the other as an artist.

They got together when Gordon was made redundant from his job in corporate finance. He then sold his house to self-publish a limited run edition of "Tunnels".

Cunningham, hearing of their success, signed the pair up for a series of fantasy tales seen through the eyes of 14-year-old Will Burrows and set in a hidden world deep below London.

When working with British publisher Bloomsbury, Cunningham transformed the publishing industry in the mid 1990s when he signed J.K. Rowling, whose Potter sagas have now sold more than 325 million copies worldwide and made her the world's first billion dollar author.

Pottermania is set to scale new heights in July with the last novel in her Potter saga hitting the bookstands and the latest film being launched in a deluge of global publicity.

When signing up Rowling, Cunningham famously did warn the struggling young writer who was a single mother at the time that she was unlikely to make any money from her tale of a teenage wizard.

Rowling has admitted "If it wasn't for Barry Cunningham, Harry Potter might still be languishing in his cupboard under the stairs."
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