A story about three animals in a hot air balloon has won The Big Idea Competition, which launched earlier this year to find multi-platform story ideas.
The competition was announced in June by Chicken House publisher and m.d. Barry Cunningham and agent Neil Blair. The pair wanted to find children’s stories that could be adapted not only into books, but also films, TV shows, plays or computer games.
Cunningham said The First Aeronauts by Neal Jackson was chosen as the winner because it had “the most ‘Big Idea’ elements—history, intriguing facts, hot air balloons and animals”.
Chicken House will now find an author to develop the story into a novel, and work with partners The Blair Partnership and Ingenious on film and other deals. Jackson will receive £1,000 in prize money, and will be paid a commensurate royalty share in any successful venture.
Jackson, an IT specialist and aspiring scriptwriter from London, had the idea for the story after stumbling across a true tale of French aviators in the 1780s. “The Mongolfier brothers invented the hot air balloon and went to demonstrate it to King Louis XVI. Amazingly, they decided to send the balloon up with three animals in the basket—a sheep, a rooster and a duck.”
Jackson had started to adapt the story into a novel, developing the animals as distinct characters, when he heard of the competition, which he described as a “wonderful opportunity”.
Cunningham will seek an author who is “really good at animal personalities” to develop the story into a novel for nine to 11-year-olds—the “heartland of children’s middle grade”.
“We want to add in a few children characters who control the adventure, and need to work out the consequences and possibly work on further adventures,” he said, hinting that the story could be developed into a series.
The team will also develop a film or animation project simultaneously, and digital plans are “to come”. Cunningham added. “We would like to find an author this year and get the book out hopefully in late 2015 or early 2016. Film or animation development will start next year.”
Jackson said: “If the story is good enough, I see no reason why it wouldn’t make a good film and stage play. It could even be a board game; there are so many opportunities.”
The judging panel—which included TV presenter Tess Daly, author Philip Ardagh, theatre producer Sonia Friedman and film producer Debra Hayward—chose five runners-up: The Fandom by Angela McCann; Tropical by K D Faerydale; 21st Century Panda by Victoria Anderson; The Brown Dog Affair by Louise Greig; and Miss Mog by Kathleen Warminger.
Each runner-up receives £1,000, and their ideas may be considered for development by Chicken House or “other partners and publishers”, said Cunningham.
The Big Idea Competition was launched to reflect the shift in children’s absorption of stories across multiple platforms, not only books. Cunningham said this change has affected the type of stories children consume. “The hallmarks of a good children’s story are still the same—facing adventure, risk, having a laugh along the way—but the digital age is so immersive that children are now much more active participants,” he said.
“In the old days, things happened to them and they didn’t have huge amounts of motivation. Now they are very active and have stronger motivation. Children are equal in our entertainment industry now.”