EXCLUSIVE By Anatoly Kurmanaev
THE dreams of thousands of aspiring young authors have been crushed by a suspect publishing scheme.
Spanish police have launched an investigation into English media company Forward Press, which closed down after taking money to publish the youngsters’ poems and short stories.
The company’s two Andalucian offices – in La Cala and Malaga – have shut having taken an unknown amount of money from unsuspecting punters.
Over 50,000 school children participated in the ‘Escritores Jovenes’ short story competition organised by the publisher in 2009 and 2010.
The winners, aged between six and 17, were offered the chance to have their work published in a special compilation for a 13-euro fee.
Their parents were then given the option of ordering books and about 70 per cent agreed, with many purchasing several copies for family and friends.
But the books ordered last year never arrived.
“It just broke my heart when I realised it was all a scam,” said 15-year-old Celia Garcia Aboy, who bought five books with her own money.
Her teachers encouraged her to enter the competition, saying she was a very good writer.
In particular, she wanted her school in Murcia to get the 1,000-euro prize offered to the best participating college.
“What pains me most is not the lost money, but that they have destroyed the will of many youngsters to write,” she told the Olive Press.
Setenil town council worker Juan Sanchez Lebron, 42, is equally angry.
He was very happy when his 12-year-old son Juan came home saying his poem about animals was selected for the book.
“I wanted something to remember the achievements of my son,” he said. “I made the bank transfer, but nothing arrived. Then I discovered the phones were disconnected. I didnt know what to say to my son.”
The business was the brainchild of British poet Ian Walton, 59, who is now running a new publishing venture in England.
In November, he voluntarily liquidated the five million pounds-a-year UK parent company.
Over 100 staff members lost their jobs and many of the existing British authors claim to have lost their royalties.
In a clever move, last month, Walton bought out Forward Press’ assets and publishing rights using his other firm Bonacia and is now back in business.
Despite the fact that he is listed as a director or a secretary of both Bonacia and Forward Press (Europe), a Bonacia representative initially denied any connection.
After being confronted by the Olive Press, Walton said: “We just couldn’t afford to print any more books. By November the money just ran out.”
He said the recession has made the business unprofitable and he had to close it without notifying the contest’s participants.
“We had to pull the plug,” he explained, insisting that the bulk of the 50,000 children involved got their books.
At the time of closure Forward Press’ Spanish branch owed nearly 250,000 euros, said the company’s liquidator Ian Yerrill of accountants Gerald Edelman.
“I personally lost all my money but what bothers me most is that some of those kids thought their stories would be published. And unfortunately, they won’t be,” Walton continued.
Walton, who formed Forward Press in 1989, claims to be the largest publisher of new poetry in the world, the bulk of it paid for by first-time authors themselves.
The Olive Press has discovered that while Forward Press no longer exists, its online shop remains open…selling books that in some cases haven’t even been published.
A police spokesman in Madrid said: “An investigation is open and we are looking for more victims to come forward.”
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