AND in the beginning there was the word. And the word was Vampirates. The word came to PR consultant and former St Albans schoolboy Justin Somper five years ago and was, he says, the "eureka moment" that began work on his first major novel, released on June 6 to considerable critical acclaim.

The story follows the adventures of twins Conor and Grace who have been recently orphaned after their father's death. They decide to escape to sea in their father's last single possession, his sailing boat. However, a violent storm capsizes their craft. The twins are seperated by the sea's currents. Conor is picked up by Captain Molucco Wraith's pirate ship while Grace is pulled from the seas by the enigmatic Lorcan and his even more mysterious craft.

Early word has been very good. There were praise from the author of The Alex Rider series of children's books, Anthony Horovitz. Sales of the book were extended to 12 international territories. Waterstone's made Vampirates: Demons Of The Ocean its recommended book for June. And Ottakers, at whose St Albans branch Justin will be signing copies next week, is heavily promoting the work.

The signing does not mark a rare return to the city for the 35-year-old Justin, who is now based in North London. He regularly journeyed to St Albans to visit his mother, especially now his father passed away in the week leading up to the release of his son's novel. The recent period has obviously been very trying for Justin, but he does have more distant warm memories of the city.

He says: "My family moved to St Albans when I was ten. I went to Abbey School where I spent my entire secondary education. I have good memories of the school.

"I had always been keen on writing from primary school. But I received excellent support from my English teacher at Abbey, John Mole."

The desire to give more time to his writing spurred the decision to set up his own PR consultancy, representing writers such as Julie Burchill. The freelance role gave him more time to dedicate to his ideas for Vampirates.

He says: "The book was a long time in the making - at least five years."

The lengthy genesis was owing to Justin's other commitments and his desire not to shortchange that most demanding of audiences - children.

He says: "I knew children were into pirates and vampires but I felt a lot of responsibility. I wanted to do it justice and felt I needed to do plenty of research.

"As far as the pirates went there was a lot of great material about. Many of the characters are based on historical figures. Researching vampires proved more elusive."

Justin's research extended to doing some swordfighting himself to inform the battling passages of his book.

He says: "I can't claim to be a great swordfighter but Cutlass Kate a character in the book was based on someone who gave me swordfighting lessons.

"We went through all the different types of sword, laid them out and discussed the pros and cons of each one."

Justin's skull and crossbones themes are sympathetic to wave of pirate motifs in popular culture. He says: "Pirates have come back in. Gwen Stefani was sporting pirate fashion in her latest video."

He's less willing to see any osmosis of ideas between his work and Disney's blockbuster film release Pirates Of The Caribbean, even though Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow seems to have plenty in common with the character description of Wraith as "a benign rock star-like sea dog" .

He says: "The bulk of my book was written by the time I'd seen Pirates Of The Caribbean. They are not very similar."

When the first draft of Vampirates was completed, Justin's editor immediately saw the potential for a sequence of books. Justin confirms that his publishers, Simon & Schuster, have just bought books five and six and the author is already well on the way to completing book two which is scheduled for release in early 2006.

He says: "I always knew it had the potential to be an ongoing project although I don't yet have a fixed sum of books in mind."

Justin says the possibility for future instalments owes much to the depth of his imagined settings.

He says: "I am confident because I have a world set up and it's a very original one. It has the same anachronistic appeal of Star Wars which everyone thinks is set in the future but actually is set a long time ago'. My book is set 500 years in the future but reads like it's in the past.

"It has a slightly apocalyptic vision. The ocean's have risen and vampire ships sail through the night. I feel I'm pushing the envelope."

Now the word on Justin Somper is he is one of the country's most promising writers and one to watch for the future.