From Hunter to Hollywood

Hunter local AJ Cootes is new to the literary scene, yet he already has Hollywood royalty knocking on his door.

It’s not every day you meet a local who is being hailed as the creator of a universe soon to rival the success of Star Wars and Harry Potter, but here I am at the elegant Spicers Guest House in Pokolbin attending the launch of AJ Cootes’ first novel, Almythea – Rise of Wingtar.

The first of six books in the Chronicles of Almythea, Rise of Wingtar soared to number one in its category on Amazon; an auspicious omen for the series and its potential as a big screen blockbuster. Almythea is built on the timeless formula embraced by stories such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Avatar. In a world that’s mystical but with modern day relevance, a hero is destined to save his community from evil forces ruled by a tyrannical overlord.

“I grew up loving Star Wars,” says AJ. “It was a massive influence on me and when I was young the neighbourhood kids would get together to watch it. We’d dress up and dive around on the lounges and pretend we were fighting storm troopers. I loved the fact that it really opened my mind. I might be stuck doing my homework or life could be a bit difficult… but I would throw on Star Wars and next minute I’d be off on an adventure with Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

While Almythea is AJ’s first novel, in 2005 he wrote a book about depression with his lifelong friend Greg Wilson, who last year sadly succumbed to an aneurysm.

“Greg was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his late teens and went through all the highs and lows and periods of remission in between. We wanted to help educate others battling with this debilitating illness and wrote about simple yet important things: exercise, diet, talking to friends and that seeing a doctor and just speaking with someone can make a huge difference.

“Greg certainly taught me that love and laughter and friendship are the best parts of any story. “He was my hero, and I was his little sidekick. We’d get in heaps of trouble together. He was such an inspiration and a lot of these memories made it into Almythea.”

We all need friends

The most obvious parallel is the relationship between Almythea’s Little Hawk, a young warrior faced with the daunting prospect of having to free his people, and his mentor, the mysterious shaman warrior Grey Paw, who brings him back from the brink of death. It’s also a relationship reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker.

AJ says that achieving success with the help of your friends is a consistent theme and is also reflected in his other close relationships. “I also have my wife Joyce and my best friend Josie (Greg’s wife) who I’ve worked in partnership with for twenty years. I couldn’t have written the book without their help and support.”

AJ submitted his manuscript to a number of publishing companies and was met with a resounding silence. However, in his search for a mentor to help him realise the full potential of Almythea, he contacted author and literary agent Lynn Santer, who was immediately intrigued.

“I am a major sci-fi fan, but I see a lot of manuscripts and have to be very selective,” Lynn explains. “Almythea was an immediate standout as it was fresh and had so many original characters and I could see it was the next Star Wars. I told AJ I was interested but if we worked together he’d need to understand that there was a long road ahead and I was going to be ruthless. This is a tough, unforgiving business.” Lynn’s input into the story ran deep and she admits, “There were difficult decisions and tears shed along the way.”

Hollywood glamour

Lynn brought in some of the best people in the business and while they initially looked at it out of respect for her they were quickly captured by the story and understood what she saw in it. “Over the last three years, a sparkling, multifaceted perfect gem has emerged,” she smiles.

“We’re all thrilled and proud to be a part of it. And AJ, apart from coming up with this amazing story is about the nicest person you’ll ever meet.” The project gathered pace as Lynn talked to more of her contacts. Rio Vista Universal producer James Ganiere and Bruce Logan (best known as the special effects guru who blew up the original Star Wars Death Star) came on board.

Priscilla Presley expressed interest in playing the character Queen Petelia and Cliff Simon who played Lord Ba’al in the Stargate television series is keen to lend his special magic to Grey Paw. In fact Cliff has travelled from Hollywood to be at the book launch. He recalls, “When I heard about the team of people involved I was very impressed, but reading the story sealed it for me.

“I’ve done a lot of sci-fi work, but not a big fantasy movie. In the story Grey Paw conjures up these huge wolves and rides on their back – it’s amazing! But it’s also close to my outlook on life: teaching a younger boy, helping him become his own person and a better warrior – all this really appeals to me.”

AJ is at the centre of an impressive, high profile group of supporters who passionately believe in the universe he has created, but there is still a long road ahead to clinch that all-important movie deal and then make it happen. “There’s an indefinable little bit of luck involved in this,” says Lynn thoughtfully. “It’s 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration, no matter how good something is.”

Emmy winner Bruce Logan has recently been announced as the director of the Almythea film franchise. So it’s fingers crossed for this passionate team of creators and their success in Hollywood. May the force…  

For updates see

Story Cornelia Schulze, photography Frank Schulze and courtesy of AJ Cootes 

Read more great stories in the Autumn issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.