The man who bought the Harry Potter books for Bloomsbury also spotted Kevin Brooks's novel Martyn Pig in his in-tray. And this week Mr Brooks and Mr Cunningham collected the Branford Boase Award for the year's most exciting author-and-editor partnership in children's publishing.
Kevin Brooks's film noir-style novel about a neglected teenage boy who sets off a chain of blackmail and betrayal when he accidentally kills his drunken father was published last year by The Chicken House, the independent company set up by Mr Cunningham in 2000 after he launched Harry Potter as founder publisher of Bloomsbury Children's Books.
"I'd almost given up after contacting a lot of publishers and quite a few agents," says Mr Brooks, who wrote Martyn Pig while working in customer services for a railway company. "But I'd spent my 20s and 30s trying to get into the music business so I was used to rejection. I knew I just had to keep going.
"Then I saw a small piece in a trade magazine about a new publisher so I sent off a synopsis and first chapter, then Barry rang me the next day and said he wanted to see the rest of it. That opened a doorway into a wonderful life and we've kept up a great working relationship. Barry's a top man."
Mr Brooks has just finished his third book for the Chicken House, Kissing the Rain. Lucas was published early this year and Martyn Pig is also on the shortlist for the Carnegie Medal.
The Branford Boase award was set up in memory of author Henrietta Branford and editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books.