Is G P the next J K?
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Date: 3 July, 2003

Pic: Sam Atkins, Harrogate (01423 871125/07836 266412)
'Everybody's trying to get rid of God and sanitize God out of the environment.'

Interview by Charlotte Haines

"I've got piles of reader mail here. Crumbs - this one's a two pager, with very, very graphic handwriting and lots of stuff in it. Good grief - I'm not even going to attempt to read this one now" exclaims the Rev Graham Taylor, author of Shadowmancer the children's book that is taking the publishing world by storm.

In fact Faber are so impressed, they have decided to publish it against Harry Potter. The gamble seems to have paid off as he has sold 50,000 books in advance of the publication date, which is impressive considering the average children's book (excluding a certain wizard) sells about 3000 copies in its first year.

It's one of those fairy stories that we occasionally hear about. Having paid an agency to critique his novel, only to be told it was the worst writing they had ever seen, he self published the book, which due to the demands of large book chains effectively cost him 10p a copy. Through a magical chain of events, it ended up in the hands of a major publisher and now his original editions are selling for £1000 on the internet.

When I tell him that I was amazed that Faber and the press would be so interested in what is an overtly Christian book, I am thoroughly admonished. "Its not a Christian book, I refuse to have it called that. Yes I've quoted from the Old Testament, but the Old Testament is the book of the Jew and the Muslim as well. That's why I did only quote from the Old Testament so that it did have an appeal for those of no faith and faith.

"If you read it as non Christian with no biblical knowledge and no Christian background, you don't read it as a Christian book. Shadowmancer is four books in one: it's a thriller for children; a book for teenagers to read on a metaphysical level dealing with the issues of light and dark and good and evil; adults are reading it as a thriller with the Harry Potter-esque children fighting evil sort of thing; then Christians read it and they get all the symbolism."

To further prove his point, Taylor tells me that "It has not been accepted well by Christians, I have faced blockages in the Christian press, where it certain Christian papers have refused to carry articles on it." It reminded me of Pilgrims Progress, I counter. "I'm a philistine, I've never read Pilgrims Progress. I didn't start reading books until I was sixteen, seventeen. Girls were reading books, so I started reading the books they were reading to not appear thick, so I started with Lord of the Flies, then 1984 and Animal Farm, then Ted Hughes poetry and Sylvia Plath."

If that was his reading material, how on earth did the forty-three year old end up writing in the horror/ thriller genre? "I felt a lot of children's books were losing their edge with their characters. I also felt that a lot of children's books were openly proselytising the occult and were anti faith whether Judaic, Muslim or Christian. Pullman is anti faith of any kind; 'God is dead, God's rubbish, God is senile' and that is deeply offensive to Jews, Christians and Muslims and I know that God is alive and as a Christian and a minister he's an interesting part of my life.

"I wanted to write a book where God was treated normally and was a normal part of life and wasn't this strange outsider but was visibly involved in peoples lives. I think that children enjoy the thriller stuff and I did want to make a statement about the rise of kids getting involved with witchcraft and magic through certain books.

"No, no, I'm an orthodox Anglo catholic" the father of three replies when asked if he was a charismatic evangelical, after all there's one passage that sounds like the Toronto Blessing. "No that was based on Pentecost, it's the flames, the wind, the power, it's about being smashed to the ground, it's about how God, good, the spirit can invade human life and physically alter the environment around us.

One would assume that such a successful first time novelist would have had grand plan for the book but apparently not. "I didn't - honestly. I started to type and just finished it; I just sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote. I had no plot; it was chapter one and then off with the words and that was were we went.

This makes what seems a deliberate attempt of evangelism all the more surprising: "It is also written in coded language for occultists, any witch reading this would think I'm a witch, it's in there at the beginning of the book and they read it and go 'wow we know what this means, we know where this writer's coming from' and then they read on and suddenly realise they've been sucked into this book which offers them a completely different way to communing with God. The right God not Pyratheon."

Taylor used to be a policeman and was ordained at the same time. "I was beaten up and subsequently couldn't work anymore, I couldn't hadn't handle the violence anymore." Which must help him as a priest. "Yeah it's the wounded healer business isn't it? I've suffered and I have had the dark night of the soul and I do have doubts." The experience also helped him write the book as the severe nightmares after the attack helped him write some of the more dark horror moments.

Has being a vicar been as helpful for being a writer? "No I don't think people like a vicar being successful. The Pullmanites in this country certainly don't like it because I am one of the people that Pullman thinks is a pile of shit. One of them said I should get back into my church and stop preaching."

The next project is a book that sounds equally gothic and thrilling: as well as including cabbalism, an evil villainess and an angel, it appears there's a fascination with the eighteenth century. "I think that the 1700s are the most important time in history, especially with Wesley and Whitfield. I think God actually had them birthed in that time for a particular reason. I think that we are coming to a time when the problems of the 1700s are resurfacing; a new enlightenment where people are now playing God, whereas in the previous enlightenment people thought that God was of no use.

"Everybody's trying to get rid of God and sanitize God out of the environment. We are in the new enlightenment and I think there will be men and women raised up to stop God being marginalized. I personally think it will be the Islamic faith who have a go, as they they're not going to take this sort of enlightenment lying down."

As a white British author, Taylor has made an unusual step in making his hero a black African, who has survived a shipwreck in order to reclaim his stolen property from the evil Demurral. "I get sick of British writers ignoring the fact that we are a multicultural society and that Africans and Asians and Eurasians have got an awful lot to offer our culture. This is not often reflected in modern writing and when it is the actual role models they use are a bit weak and I wanted a very strong positive black image."

Was he therefore deliberately trying to challenge our current attitudes to foreigners, especially asylum seekers? "Yes, I've got sick of the racism in this country, we are frightened of foreigners now, yet we're a nation of mongrels. I look typical white Anglo Saxon but if you did my DNA you'd have big shock. Yeah it was a statement that this guy's coming in to our culture and we've so much to learn from these people and nothing to fear from them. Raphah's a star."

With the morality tales and the metaphysical drama, Taylor has been compared to Rowling, Pullman, Dahl and Lewis and I wonder how a Yorkshire vicar copes with such accolades. "I'll tell you what it does, it's made me spend more time on my knees repenting for believing what they're saying!" And indeed at the launch party, it was gratifyingly obvious that the red headed giant was most uncomfortable being flattered and praised by his publishers. And he ends with a typically bemused question: "What's the fuss? - Its just a book!"

Read the review for Shadowmancer