Shadowmancer - Press
Last Update: 31 March 2004
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The good book
Graham Taylor (salary £16,000 pa) had to sell his motorbike to get his
first novel printed. This week an American publisher paid him more
than £300,000 for it - and said he was 'hotter than Potter'. Martin
Wainwright meets the Yorkshire clergyman turned literary sensation
Thursday July 24, 2003
When the Rev Graham Taylor finally put his talent to use he socked the
biblical parable way beyond all previously known boundaries. Virtue
didn't come back 10-fold. Or 100-fold. As he put his signature to a deal
on Monday with American publishers Penguin Putnam, the Yorkshire
vicar (salary £16,000 plus free tenancy of hideous 1960s parsonage)
banked more than £300,000.
The deal, less than 24 hours after his vicarage garage sale raised a
couple of hundred quid for church funds, puts the debut novelist, an
ex-policeman with a grand total of four GCEs (the vanished, sub-O-level
exam for thickies) straight into modern story-telling's major league.
Hotter than Potter, say the adverts for Shadowmancer, Taylor's
Rowlingesque 300 pages of occult, wizardry and teenage daring. More
than 80,000 copies have tumbled from bookshop shelves in the
past month. The Putnam deal is five times bigger than the Americans
paid for the first instalment from Hogwart's.
"It takes a bit of getting used to, but no one's famous in Yorkshire," says
Taylor, a big, fair-haired, open-faced 43-year-old, surrounded by children
at his parish in Cloughton, north of Scarborough. "If you need your feet
keeping on the ground, this is the place. We just carry on as we are."
"Daddy, we got the swimming pool!" interrupts Lydia, the youngest of his
three pre-teen daughters, dancing into his study. Is this Mammon
creeping into the virtuous life of the suddenly very rich church mouse?
"No it is not," says Taylor, with the authority learned during his time as a
beat officer with North Yorkshire police. "She's just talking about a very
cheap paddling pool for the garden."
Even so, Taylor shows a self-confident acceptance of his amazing change
in fortune. His book is good, he says frankly, quoting a fan letter from a
couple of lads: "Did you read that BFG, Mr Taylor? Because you write as
excitingly as what Roald Dahl does." The book also reached publishers in
London, after being privately circulated among parishioners, because one
churchgoer is a retired Faber reader, for TS Eliot among others, and she
The inspiration for the story was inevitably "The Boss", although God acted
through a Yorkshire coast deputy, the Anglo-Saxon poet Caedmon. "I
believe it was Caedmon's story which made my book happen," says
Taylor, who was brought up in an unusual home: his cobbler father was
stone deaf and sign language was used as much as English in the
family's Scarborough home. Caedmon, famously, was a shepherd boy at
St Hilda's great abbey in Whitby, ignored until he suddenly gave song to
some of the most beautiful verse in the childhood of the English language.
"One of my previous churches was right on the site of Hilda's village," says
Taylor, who had a useful lesson in the ways of the media in that late
1990s time. Goths and witches and disciples of Dracula, who came ashore
beneath the cliffs at Whitby Abbey in Bram Stoker's novel, held an annual
gathering in Taylor's graveyard. First he welcomed them, then he
denounced them, inevitably making headlines each time.
Dracula is one influence on Shadowmancer's story of the indescribably
evil Rev Obadiah Demurrel whose plan to take over the universe, starting
with Scarborough, is challenged by four tough 14-year-olds (eagerly
endorsed by Lydia and her sisters Abigail and Hannah). Another is the
extraordinarily numinous atmosphere of the North York Moors. This is a
well-trodden literary landscape and one with a dark side which Taylor,
like Roald Dahl, CS Lewis and the great fairytale writers of Germany and
Denmark, unerringly aims at children "who want to be frightened, who
need to learn how to deal with fear".
"I use the landscape all the time in Shadowmancer - I saw some awful
things in a lovely place when I was a policeman. You don't forget that
combination of beauty and cruelty," says Taylor, who writes rapidly,
"10% from my own experience and 90% from my imagination." The
latter is the key to his sudden, fortysomething eloquence. "It's
amazing what lies in our imaginations - it's like Malcom Muggeridge
said: if people knew what was going on in my mind, they'd think
I was a monster of depravity."
Out it all pours, influenced too by Taylor's late teens as a runaway in
London. This period, after he left home, further education college and
his job as glasswasher at Scarborough's Penthouse nightclub, informs his
second book (the Potter pattern is well under way with more lucrative
advances and great glee at his publishers). It's called Wormwood and tells
the story of a girl called Agatta coping with the real horrors of London's
18th-century streets. "It's halfway finished," says Taylor, who is currently
pounding Soho and the East End in his Yorkshire hiking boots on days off to
get the landscape right. "I wanted an opportunity to get a lot more of the
world's evils and violence into a story."
He knows these evils from his time as a teenager in London and from the
vicious attack which ended his police career. Set on in Pickering by 35 drunks
after closing time, he was left deaf in one ear and with a growth in his throat
where he was kicked senseless. His attackers, five of whom were later jailed
for long terms, knew that he was training to be a vicar at the time. "Where's
your God now Graham?" one sneered as a leavetaking.
Taylor bears no resentments and not just because of his wonderful turn of
fortune. His priesthood is thoroughly New Testament and therefore
embraces such issues as gay priests and ecumenical fellowship.
"We've doubled the congregation at Ravenscar by joining up with the
Methodists. As for gay priests, I was led to ordination by one. We should
be interested in what goes on in a man or woman's heart, not their bed.
Anyway who did Jesus mix with? He says nothing about gay people or
women priests. He was concerned with much more important matters."
Not surprisingly, Taylor's success is very good news for the church and
charity who have always received a tithe, or 10th, of his income. As from
Monday, that ceases to mean £1,600 and swoops - with sales and all the
other deals that are pending - into six figures.
"Things can still go amiss, though," he says, pottering among the
gravestones in his cassock and white trainers. "I asked our church treasurer
to sell some of the last copies of the original edition (self-published with
the proceeds of the vicar's petrol money and sale of his motorbike) at
our bring-and-buy. He cleared 12 - at the original price of £5.99. I had
assumed he knew that they are now worth £1,000 each."
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