A MAGICAL murder mystery for children created by a former bookstore owner is about to hit the shelves.

Mum-of-two Nicki Thornton ran Abingdon’s Mostly Books with husband Mark for a decade before the couple sold the business last year.

When she was working behind the till she would often hear children talking about their favourite stories and was inspired to write her own.

The murder mystery with the working title The Firefly Cage won Ms Thornton a £10,000 publishing contract with Chicken House.

Now the spooky tale, The Last Chance Hotel, about a kitchen boy called Seth who works at a hotel hosting a magicians’ convention, is to be published on Thursday, June 7.

Ms Thornton, who beat four other shortlisted writers to win The Times Chicken House children’s fiction competition, said: “I’m delighted the story is now going into bookshops and I actually saw some of the copies being printed, which was quite special.

“Customers at Mostly Books know what a big thing it is to get published and they were very pleased for me – I was overwhelmed by the reaction – everyone was very supportive.”

Ms Thornton said earlier she had always had a ‘passion for writing’.

She added: “I got the idea for the story from speaking to customers in the bookshop – everyone finds the magical world fascinating.”

The novel has already won praise from insiders in the books trade.

Fiona Noble of The Bookseller described The Last Chance Hotel as ‘murder mystery meets magical fantasy’ and said it was a ‘highly entertaining debut, rich in inventive world-building and eccentric characters’.

In her acknowledgements Ms Thornton thanked people she knew through Mostly Books who made her feel ‘such a rock star’ when she got the news she had won the competition.

She added: “None of it would have happened without my wonderful and supportive husband Mark.”

During the decade the Thorntons were in charge of the Stert Street store they staged a countless events, including author signings. The shop is now run by Sarah Dennis and was shortlisted for Independent Bookshop of the Year. The Last Chance Hotel will go on sale at £6.99.