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Dragons and 'a sense of awe and wonder'

1 December 2008

Christopher Paolini is a publishing sensation to rival J K Rowling. In these difficult times his is an inspiring story of raw talent with a large dose of hard work and a dash of luck.

Paolini was home-schooled by his mother, a trained Montessori teacher, and from an early age became fascinated by fantasy, particularly stories involving dragons. He has cited Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey as formative influences.

When he came to make his first attempt at writing a novel, as he himself explained in 'Dragon Tales', he tried to imbue his story with the same elements he found most compelling in books: 'an intelligent hero; lavish descriptions; exotic locations; dragons; elves; dwarves; magic; and above all else, a sense of awe and wonder'. At fifteen, he was writing the book he wanted to read himself: 'When I started Eragon. I was really trying to please myself as a fantasy reader and I thought maybe my parents would read the book and maybe my sister if I was lucky.'

The book that resulted, Eragon, was about a fifteen-year-old boy who finds a dragon's egg, and when the egg hatches and a magnificent blue dragon emerges, the boy names her Saphira and the two become inseparable. It is fairly remarkable for a fifteen-year-old boy to write a full-length children's novel, but what happened next was in some ways even more extraordinary.

Paolini's parents read and edited the manuscript and decided that the whole family should work to self-publish it. The author said: 'We wanted to retain financial and creative control over the book. Also, we were excited by the prospect of working on this project as a family.'

It's hard to make a self-published book work in such a way as to support a whole family. In due course, after a major promotion campaign and in spite of doing pretty well, they were close to admitting defeat when they had a stroke of luck. The stepson of the writer Carl Hiassen read and enjoyed Eragon and Hiassen recommended it to his own editor at Knopf. A six-figure deal for the three books in the series followed, and Paolini's future as a writer was assured.

His sales have built rapidly since then and by the time Brisingr, the third book in the Inheritance Cycle, was published in summer 2008, over 15 million copies of the first two books, Eragon and Eldest, had been sold worldwide. The US hardback sold 550,000 on its first day on sale and in the UK it has been the fastest-selling children's book of the year. The series has been translated into 50 languages and Eragon has been turned into a major Hollywood film.

Paolini says that he has allowed himself one extravagance, a replica Viking sword, which he carries with him around the house. At 25 he still lives at home and is working on the concluding book in the Inheritance Cycle.