Alien haunting and schoolboy dialogue have won plaudits for a prep school teacher's first novel. Adi Bloom reports
Maths teacher Peter J Murray hasn't read any Harry Potter books. The 52-year-old is not a fan of young fiction, although he's heard of Michael Morpurgo, the children's laureate, and occasionally reads stories to his pupils in class. "I'm not an expert on children's books," he says. "I hadn't even heard of Harry Potter two years ago."
But now, Berkshire-based Mr Murray hopes to become the latest success story in the children's literature market. He published in July Mokee Joe is Coming, his debut novel.
The book tells the story of a 10-year-old boy haunted by an otherworldly creature, the eponymous Mokee Joe.
Initially, 300 copies of the book were printed by vanity publisher Pen Press and Mr Murray intended to sell them to pupils. But a preview copy generated interest from his local branch of Waterstones, which offered to pay for a significant publicity drive. Mr Murray has now received book requests from a number of stores, including WH Smith and Tesco. Waterstones is to promote the book in its Christmas window displays. And negotiations with a mainstream publisher have begun about two sequels.
Predictions that the book will outsell Harry Potter in the Christmas rush might be premature. Sales figures culled from Amazon UK rank Mokee Joe is Coming at number 1,201,313 on the bestseller list. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is currently 19th. Mr Murray is not fazed by thoughts of success: "I love signing books. The response from children has been wonderful. I'd like to be able to do this full-time."
A greater challenge has been finding time to write between maths lessons and his duties as assistant head of Cheam independent preparatory school.
"There's so much work to do at school," he says. "I get up and write at 3am. And, during prep time, I sit and scribble ideas in my notebook while the pupils do their homework."
But these demands are balanced by the professional advantages of spending time in the classroom: "You hear the children talking to each other, which is valuable for writing realistic dialogue. I find myself hanging around, listening to them."
Mr Murray is revelling in his new-found fame among his pupils. Stephen Pollard, 11, says: "I got into trouble with my parents, because I stayed up reading Mokee Joe. If I don't get Mr Murray to sign my copy next term, he'll be too famous, and I'll have to queue for it."