A BOOK by a Denbigh author that was rejected 21 times has gone on to win a major children's book award.

Oliver Sykes' children's story Alfie's First Fight, was repeatedly turned down by publishers because they didn't believe there was a market for a book about a child boxer.

But Mr Sykes, 34, has now proved them wrong, not only turning his first book into a major touring show, but also taking home a top prize at the Children's Literature Festival's Book Awards 2023.

The first-time storybook writer's engaging tale about a young boy fighting for his family's survival in the boxing ring has just been named illustrated young reader of the year.

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And for Oliver, the subject of this kids' tale is very close to his heart.

One of six siblings, he was brought up on free school meals by single dad Chris, after his mum walked out of the family home.

An amateur boxing coach, Chris quit his factory job to look after his family, and instilled a love of both boxing and reading in his children.

Despite a difficult start in life, Oliver went on to secure a First Class theatre studies degree from Lancaster University and has worked as a theatre and creative project producer for more than a decade, keeping up his boxing training on the side.

Alfie's First Fight, which is written for children aged 7-12, was published in 2022 by Manchester Children's Book Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University and Stories of Care, and illustrated by Ian Morris.

1,000 copies have been donated to looked-after children and children from low-income families, as part of Oliver's commitment to increasing opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Denbighshire Free Press: Stacey Copeland, Oliver Sykes and actor and writer Sophie Willan. Photo: Dawn KilnerStacey Copeland, Oliver Sykes and actor and writer Sophie Willan. Photo: Dawn Kilner

Oliver said: "On the surface, Alfie's First Fight is a simple adventure story about goodies and baddies and the drama of the boxing ring.

“But it is also about love, loss, family and learning how to fight for what you want. It shows a positive representation of a single dad, working class family, which is so rare in children's fiction.

"When I was a child, the only time I ever came across a child with a single dad was in Roald Dahl's Danny The Champion of the World. When I read that book I thought 'this is me!' That never happened again, though I read a lot as a child."

Oliver says that mainstream publishers were put off by his 'controversial' subject matter and told him to give up.

"Before it was published, Alfie's First Fight was rejected 21 times and on countless occasions, I was told that no publisher would ever be interested in a children's story that features a child boxer," he said.

"But this award proves there is a hunger for stories about boxing and for books that feature working class and non-traditional families.

"The fact that the Children's Literature Festivals Book Awards is voted for by children makes it even more special.

“I'm so grateful and honoured to see that young readers have found light in Alfie First Fight and perhaps they felt the same recognition as I did 25 years ago when I first encountered Roald Dahl's hero Danny!"