Graham Taylor





Author and reverend

Born c. 1958 in Scarborough, England; married Kathy (a nurse), c. 1983; children: Lydia, Hannah, Abigail.

Addresses: Office —Penguin Publicity, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.

Career

Roadie for musical acts such as the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello, c. 1974-79; worked as a glass washer at a nightclub in Yorkshire, c. 1979; worked as a social worker in Yorkshire, c. early 1980s; beat officer, North Yorkshire police, 1986-96; vicar, Church of England, 1995-2004; author, 2002—.

Sidelights

The Reverend Graham Taylor was a vicar in the Church of England when he decided to write and publish a children's novel about witchcraft, a response to the popular "Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling. After self-publishing Shadowmancer and distributing it in his community, the book was picked up first by a big publisher in England and then by one in the United States. Taylor's book, which was published under the name G.P. Taylor, became an international publishing phenomenon, and the author signed a large deal for future novels.

Taylor was born around 1958 in Scarborough, England, to deaf parents. His father was employed as a cobbler and shoe repairer while his mother worked as an assistant at a canteen. The family often communicated using sign language. Taylor was not a great student as a teenager. At school, he earned four GCEs, sub-O-levels. When he was 16 years old, Taylor felt called to become a clergyman. Instead of following that impulse, he ran away from home. He went to London where he got involved with the punk scene and worked in the music business. He worked as a roadie for the musical acts such as the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello.

When Taylor was 21 years old, he left London and eventually returned to Yorkshire. While working as a glass washer in a night club, he received some training and became a social worker. Through work, Taylor came into contact with other Christians and found his Christian faith again. Taylor soon moved into a new profession. He became a police officer for the North Yorkshire police. From 1986 to 1996, he worked as a beat officer.

Taylor's career in law enforcement ended after he was attacked by 35 drunken people. The attack left him deaf in one ear. He also had been kicked in his throat, among other parts of his body, and left with a growth there because of the attack. By this time, Taylor was already training to become an Anglican minister. In 1995, he entered the clergy and soon became the vicar in Whitby. Taylor later transferred to Cloughton, near his birthplace of Scarborough, where he was the vicar of St. Mary's. The church soon developed a well-known ministry of healing that focused on prayer. He became known for his exorcism-like activities in homes, something he called "house prayers."

Around 2002, a woman heard Taylor speak at his church and suggested that he write a book. Inspired by her words and his interest in the occult, he wrote what became Shadowmancer in about nine months. Set in the 1750s in the Yorkshire coast in England, the novel's story focused on two children, Kate and Thomas, who become friends with an Ethiopian teen who is in England looking for a fragment of the Ark of the Covenant taken from his tribe. Major characters also included a reverend, Obadiah Demurrel, who made a deal with the Devil and wanted to take over the world beginning in Scarborough.

Taylor filled Shadowmancer with ghosts, demons, and other such characters. He told Jane Dickson of the Times of London, "I believe in a personal power of evil and his name is Satan or the Devil or whatever you want to call him. You see that power manifested in people's lives. Shadowmancer is a book about that power and the struggle between good and evil. But it's not a big, waggy-finger moralistic book. It's not even a specifically Christian story. I just wanted to write a scary story for kids with characters who do odd things."

After completing his draft of Shadowmancer, one of Taylor's parishioners, who had been a secretary to author T.S. Eliot and a reader for a publishing house, helped him edit it. He hired a local artist to create a cover, then printed it though a writer's cooperative in the area. Because Taylor self-published the novel, he had to sell his beloved motorcycle to cover the cost of printing 2,500 copies. Taylor distributed Shadowmancer at his church, targeting the children in his parish. He expected to sell about 200 copies at his church and through a local bookstore. Sales were much better than expected: He sold 3,500 copies in about six weeks. This led to word-of-mouth sales around Great Britain, and various branches of one national bookseller put it on their shelves.

One of Taylor's parishioners especially enjoyed Shadowmancer and gave it to a relative, David Reynolds. Reynolds had founded the publishing company that published the Harry Potter books. Reynolds sent Shadowmancer on to an agent. The book caught the attention of Faber & Faber, a large British publishing house, and Taylor signed a five-figure deal to publish the book in Great Britain. Published by Faber in June of 2003, Shadowmancer was an immediate hit and sold more than 300,000 copies in the United Kingdom alone. In July of 2003, Taylor signed a deal with Penguin Putnam to publish the book in North America and elsewhere. Shadowmancer was eventually translated into 20 languages.

While Taylor was becoming an internationally acclaimed author, his health was suffering. He suffered from a blood clot in his heart and an irregular heartbeat, as well as a deep-vein thrombosis, pneumonia, and pleurisy. Doctors advised him to give up his primary job as a vicar. Taylor was a perfectionist who often worked 70 to 90 hours per week and never took time off. He decided to leave his position in November of 2003, though he remained the church's vicar until October of 2004. Taylor then moved to the village of Scalby, where he was going to buy a house and continue writing.

Taylor insisted the success of his book had nothing to do with his decision to leave his position in the church. Instead, he looked for new opportunities to reach out to people. He planned to use his new position to minister to the celebrities and other people he met as he did publicity for his books and related film projects.

Early in 2004, Taylor signed a $6 million film deal with Fortitude Films. He sold the rights to the relatively unknown company because they agreed to make the film in Yorkshire using locals and other clauses that Taylor asked for. Shadowmancer was published in the United States in April of 2004. The novel also sold well there, with 600,000 copies moved in the first six months. That same month, Taylor signed a new, multi-book deal with Penguin Young Readers Group and Faber. He was to publish a book a year simultaneously for both companies beginning in 2005.

Taylor's second novel, Wormwood, was published in 2004. Also set in the 1700s, the novel's action took place in London, where a scientist and kabbalah master help save the city. Taylor soon sold the film rights to this book as well.

Though Taylor's third novel was scheduled for publication in 2005, an accident put him a little behind. While moving out of his vicarage in the fall of 2004, he accidentally threw the hand-edited manuscript of his next novel, Tersias, in the fire. Set in the 1700s, the story focused on a boy whose parents take away his sight so he can beg, but he overcomes his circumstances by becoming a sought-after oracle. Taylor had an original to work off for that book, but he also accidentally burned his original manuscript of Shadowmancer. Taylor was burning his papers because people had been stealing bits and pieces of his writing from his office because of his new-found popularity. He was also working on a fourth book, a ghostly murder mystery.

Despite acclaim, Taylor was still in awe of his success as an author. He told Troy Patterson of Entertainment Weekly, "I do get very nervous when people come saying 'You're going to be the next J.K. Rowling, you're going to be the next C.S. Lewis, the next Roald Dahl.' It's not a false modesty. It's terror more than anything. I woke up this morning and thought, 'Crumbs, what am I doing here?'"

Selected writings

Shadowmancer. self-published, c. 2002; Faber & Faber, 2003; Penguin, 2004.

Wormwood. Faber & Faber, 2004; Penguin, 2004.

Sources

Christianity Today, October 2004, p. 98.

Daily Telegraph (London), November 8, 2003, p. 3; April 20, 2004, p. 7; October 14, 2004, p. 10.

Entertainment Weekly, May 28, 2004, pp. 78-79.

Guardian (London, England), July 24, 2003, p. 6.

Independent on Sunday (London, England), February 16, 2003, p. 13.

Northern Echo, June 4, 2004, p. 12.

People, June 21, 2004, p. 51.

PR Newswire, April 15, 2004.

Times (London, England), June 14, 2003, p. 3; May 29, 2004, p. 42.

Writer, September 2004, p. 8.

—A. Petruso



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