Graham Taylor is a former punk rock roadie and Church of England vicar described by top critics as ‘Hotter than Potter’! and ‘the new C S Lewis’. His first book Shadowmancer replaced J K Rowling at number one in the New York Times best sellers chart.
Recently Graham has launched a new project for schools to help make the stories of the Bible become familiar to a new generation largely illiterate in that department. The Yorkshire vicar has already fired the imagination of millions of young readers through Shadowmancer, Wormwood, The Vampyre Labrynth and other captivating tales of suspense and intrigue. And two movies based on his works are currently in production.
Recently published and now being given out in schools is The Flood, The Fish and The Giant – intriguingly subtitled YHWH – which he has penned with the help of American freelance writer Paula K Parker. It amounts to a thrilling re-telling of 20 favourite Bible stories in the same genre as his novels, playing on kids’ fascination for magic and mystery without compromising on the straightforward truths contained in the narrative.
Well-known stories such as David and Goliath are brought to life in a new way that has the reader literally sitting on the edge of his seat waiting for the young hero to release his sling. In fact it was this famous story that helped spawn the idea of the book, for when the author heard a football commentator refer to a ‘David and Goliath struggle’ on the pitch, the commentary box received a number of e-mails asking what the phrase meant.
Graham explains that he visits some 200 schools a year where he teaches creative writing, and his clear conclusion is that “kids are biblically illiterate”. Then he met up with Paul Keeys, the head of a national teaching programme in the UK called Bible Explorer, which supports trained communicators to take the message of the Bible into schools through a wonderfully inter-active series of lessons based on various signs that always have the effect of getting kids animated and involved.
Paul impressed on Graham that a new way of taking the Bible to young people had to be found, and the author came up with the idea of the book, for which he waived any fee – normally he commands up to £250,000 in advances. He will of course benefit from royalties, but is donating a percentage of the profits to Bible Explorer. “I hope the kids will actually go to the Bible and read the stories in their original form,” he said. “If you mention the Bible, kids will think ‘How boring!’ But if you tell them a story, it’s a different matter.” Paul Keeys has distributed thousands of copies of the book to schools.
Paula Parker, who interviewed Graham and runs a blog for film people in America called buddyhollywood.com, did the research for the book which they were asked to produce in just twelve weeks. And she was invaluable for being “very quick”.
Explaining the decision to use YHWH (the Hebrew name for God, leaving out the vowels as originally done out of respect) in the title, Graham said he did not want to call him God “because it’s not cool” whereas the ancient name introduces the element of mystery so prevalent in his works. There is a clear theme of God’s perfect timing in the stories, about which Graham has this to say:
“That’s just how he works. He is the God of the eleventh hour, a bit like the US Cavalry, always turning up just in time.”
The author, who lives in a village just north of Scarborough, Yorkshire, was going about his normal business as a vicar when his writing career – for which he had no experience – suddenly started.
“I was coming home from preaching in Hull and just suddenly felt I had to write a book. And the next morning I started.”
It took four months, after which he had to sell his beloved Harley Davidson motorbike in order to pay for the book to be self-published. But it duly got recognised and soon afterwards Hollywood made Shadowmancer into a movie.
But a movie based on a later book, Moriah Mundi, is likely to be out before that. It’s about an orphan boy sent to work in a North-East England hotel where he comes into contact with a bizarre magician.
“It’s basically a battle between good and evil; that’s why they call me the new C S Lewis.” Another of his books, The Curse of Salamander Street, follows the old coach route from York to Derbyshire and on down to London .
Graham’s work is sometimes compared to J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series – and seen as the Christian answer to its occult influences. But he hasn’t always been a Christian. He turned to Christ while living in London in 1981 after deciding that “there had to be more to life than getting up in the morning and getting drunk”.
And after trying various options, he decided Christianity was for him. It wasn’t until 13 years later that he became a priest. “I still write about the state of the church (in the Yorkshire Post) and get invited to speak all over the place.”
Graham is also a former punk rock roadie and policeman which, as one living on the edge of the North York Moors, makes him an ideal real live character for Heartbeat, the long-running TV police drama series set in this beautiful part of the world.
He has also worked as an exorcist in the past, being called to help when things go wrong as a result of the growing interest in the occult. “As a minister of the gospel and a Christian in whom Christ dwells, then, in the name of Jesus, you can pray and demand evil spirits to leave. These things have to go. It’s a biblical order.”
Graham is married to Kathy and they have had three girls.
He is clear about his beliefs.
“Christianity is about belief in a supernatural God that imparts faith in a supernatural way. As a Christian, I take my teaching from the New Testament, the words of Jesus and the traditions of the Church. In many ways I wish that many of the problematical passages of Scripture didn’t exist. But they do and, like them or not, I have to go along with them.”
Also now a broadcaster with London-based Premier Radio, Graham has always been fascinated by the world of religion. In Shadowmancer he explores the varied themes in a dark, magical thriller atmospherically set in Yorkshire, drawing on influences from history and local folklore.
Influences have been varied but it is perhaps his role as priest that inspired his first novel the most. He believed that “the problem with the villains in children’s books is that they aren’t scary enough.” So he created his own scary alternative, Obadiah Demurral. His second novel, Wormwood, is an historical thriller set in 18th century London . And he followed this with The Vampyre Labyrinth.
Story by Charles Gardner
photo: Graham P Taylor