Underground adventurer the next Harry Potter?

The teenage archaeologist star of fantasy adventure book Tunnels has been touted as the next Harry Potter and its authors, one of whom, lives in Norfolk, have been tipped to become multi-millionaires.

It has been touted as the next Harry Potter and its authors, one of whom, lives in Norfolk, have been tipped to become multi-millionaires.

But even if children are yet to hear of Will Burrows and his journey to the centre of the Earth, parents had better set some coins aside to acquire forthcoming volumes of Tunnels before they fly off the shelves.

As Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams are engrossed in following their 14-year-old hero-archaeologist

on his fantasy adventures, some

of the world's busiest publishing houses and film studios are working to parlay the book and its sequels into an international brand.

Discovered by Barry Cunningham, the same publisher who signed up JK Rowling, the series is set to hit the US and other international markets at the beginning of next year before they are turned into a film, aiming to equal the Harry Potter success.

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But this is where the similarities with the blockbuster end. For Tunnels grips the imagination through its credible characters and rip-roaring adventure story.

“Harry Potter and Tunnels had completely different sources of inspiration,” said Mr Gordon, at home in Fakenham.

“Tunnels is a fantasy tale in the same way that Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth is. He takes a very plausible, well-established subject such as ecology, geology or paleontology and then weaves in the imaginary bit to create a challenging story,” he added.

Will Burrows was born on a rainy September night in 2003. Laid off from the City two years before and struggling to cope with a hefty mortgage, Mr Gordon was left with few options ahead.

But rather than give up, the father-of-two began writing a film script with his London artist friend, Brian Williams.

A few random notes were to become the outline of their new children's book which they called, at the time, Highfield Mole.

“I found the inspiration for this book while living in a 16th century house in Northamptonshire where one of the neighbours told me the story of a tunnel running underneath the property. The idea of a young boy digging a hole to discover a new world beneath his feet collided with Brian's knowledge of a Joseph Williamson, who used to dig tunnels in Liverpool between 1800 and 1840 for no obvious reason than the pure pleasure of digging,” the 47-year-old author said.

They then self-published the book and, desperate to get some attention, the authors began to leave paperback copies on trains, buses and tubes in London.

“We even engaged in what we called 'reverse shoplifting' - leaving copies of the book in Waterstone's shops or sticking copies up in trees. I reckon the squirrels were a little bemused when they chanced upon those copies.”

And the efforts paid off, for in March 2005 the volume was spotted by a specialist magazine, triggering the interest of collectors and famous stores, including Harrods and Ottakar's who eventually acquired the 2,000 paperback and 500 hardback copies the authors had self-published.

Real success came this year however, after Barry Cunningham from publishing house Chicken House, discovered it and launched it under the name “Tunnels.”

“So far, we have sold around 70,000 copies of the first volume. We have already completed the second volume and Brian and I are writing the third sequel. It is a difficult thing to get used to this new whirlwind publicity. But we enjoy every bit of our work.”

Mr Gordon is planning a trip to Fakenham High School and College, hoping to lure children into the world of Will Burrows, and urge them to read more. English teacher Melissa Wilkes, who helped the author with useful information for his book, wants the children to read it and pen a few questions which the author can answer during his visit to the school.

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