Move over, Harry Potter

Millions of children are waiting anxiously to get their hands on the latest Harry Potter novel but a book written by a North Yorkshire vicar could knock the teenage wizard off the top of the best seller list. Christen Pears reports
Northern Echo (England), Mar. 11, 2003

Expectations for Graham Taylor’s first book, Shadowmancer, are high, vertiginously high in fact. The tale of witchcraft and adventure, set in 18th century Scarborough, is being published on June 21, the same day as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – and it isn’t a coincidence. Publishers Faber and Faber, who recently bought the book for an undisclosed five figure sum, are deliberately pitting the two against each other.

“People are saying I’m the next JK Rowling or the next Philip Pullman,” says Graham, who is vicar of Cloughton near Scarborough. “It’s very flattering but I can’t really get excited about it. I’m a Yorkshireman and I won’t believe it until I see it.”

But the publicity machine is already being cranked up and Graham is attracting attention from across the UK. He’s appeared on the Richard and Judy show, has been invited to speak at the Edinburgh Festival and has already had a film producer asking for the rights to the book.

He was sitting at his desk a few days ago when an e-mail popped into his basket from a Holly Johnson. “The only Holly Johnson I know of is the one from Frankie Goes to Hollywood so I thought it was a wind-up. I e-mailed him back and told him to phone me. He did and sure enough it was the Holly Johnson and he said he absolutely loved the book and wanted to review it. My life’s like an episode of the X Files at the minute. You have no idea what’s going to happen next.”

It’s a long way from Shadowmancer’s almost accidental origins. Graham started writing the book after giving a lecture in which he talked about children’s literature. Someone in the audience approached him afterwards and suggested he try it himself.

“It seemed like a good idea and I went home, sat down in front of the computer and began to write. It was actually like relaxation for me. I’ve got quite a stressful job as a vicar so I used to come home and write for 15 minutes and do an hour in the evening. There was no plan to it. I just started writing and it came to me. I couldn’t get it on the page fast enough.”

By the end of last year, Shadowmancer was finished and although he never expected it to be a bestseller, Graham wanted to publish it, and did so through an artists’ co-operative.

“I thought we’d sell about 200 copies through local bookshops but more than 3,000 were sold during the first eight weeks. It went into the Waterstone’s bestseller list and it stayed there over Christmas, which was pretty good considering the only publicity was through word of mouth.”

But the real turning point was when it was read by a parishioner, whose uncle happened to be a former director of the publishing house Bloomsbury. He told Graham to find an agent, which he did, and the book was then taken up by Faber and Faber.

“My agent asked me who I wanted to publish it and I jokingly said Faber and Faber because it was the only name that sprang to mind at the time and it was so literary and high brow, I didn’t think they would take it. I was wrong.”

Shadowmancer is a spine-chilling tale of two children, Kate and Thomas, who are drawn into the world of the occult after befriending an Ethiopian boy who has come to Britain in pursuit of a fragment of the Ark of the Covenant stolen from his tribe. The villain of the book is Obadiah Demurral, an evil sorceror, murderer – and vicar of Ravenscar, a village that lies in Graham’s parish.

Graham, a former policeman, is fascinated by the occult. During his time in the force, he was regularly called up to Whorlton Castle near Stokesley to deal with incidents involving witchcraft, and as a vicar is often asked to perform exorcisms.

He’s already had letters castigating him for promoting witchcraft in the book but he dismisses the criticism as “nonsense”. Shadowmancer is informed by his Christianity and ultimately, good triumphs over evil.

“I think some people find it difficult to understand that a vicar has written such a frightening book but it’s basically a thrilling adventure story with elements of witchcraft and sorcery thrown in. It’s also got an historical setting, which I think appeals to readers – adults as well as children. I still can’t get used to the idea but most people seem to love it.”

Shadowmancer (Faber and Faber, 5.99) will be published on June 21

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