Hey, J.K., meet G.P.
Tall, husky and sandy-haired, the visiting author is tired, favoring a sore wrist and nibbling on a cookie. Dressed casually in untucked shirt and jeans, he has just spent an hour signing stacks of books at Vroman’s in Pasadena, and has many other bookstores to visit, a Yes concert to attend, interviews to give and a dinner with Universal film execs before he heads home to Britain in two days.
Such is the new life of G.P. Taylor, 46, a motorbiking Anglican vicar, former punk rocker, police officer and social worker -- and the next J.K. Rowling, as some have dubbed him.
“Hotter Than Potter,” screamed headlines in Britain last year. The phrase, a publicist’s dream, referred to “Shadowmancer,” Taylor’s first book, a dark, 18th-century-era fantasy novel for ages 12 and older featuring boggles, witches, smugglers, heroic teens and an evil vicar’s plot to overthrow the Almighty, no less.
Since its publication, Taylor has written a second faith-based novel, “Wormwood,” just out in hardback, and has sold the rights for future books to publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. No longer reliant on his modest church stipend, he is now worth multiple millions and intends to spend “wodges of cash” on good works.
Shades of Rowling’s meteoric rise out of low-wage obscurity. But there’s a twist.
Church groups have anointed “Shadowmancer” as “the Christian alternative” to Rowling’s books about the boy wizard, and Taylor has said that he was moved to start writing out of his concern that the dark powers in Rowling’s Potter books are given too much weight.
His press junkets have included the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club.”
He insists, however, that his brand of Gothic spiritual fantasy, with elements reminiscent of C.S. Lewis, Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, “isn’t a Christian context in many ways. It’s just a context.” The “phenomenal support” he has received from church groups of many faiths, he says, is due to the fact that he balances the deeds of demons and occultists with “very strong themes from Judaism as well as from Christianity and Islam.”
In “Shadowmancer,” the forces of good include warrior angels and a deity called “Riathamus” (King of Kings).
The scripture-inspired “Wormwood” includes the biblical Lilith in 18th century guise, alchemists and a dark plot involving child abduction and murder.
“Somebody attempted to abduct my daughter once,” Taylor says quietly. “That’s why in ‘Wormwood’ there’s a warning: Beware, some adults are predators. Say no, defend yourself. Be violent if you need to be.
“My stuff isn’t cuddly or snuggly. Definitely not. It’s born in reality and it’s borne out of local myths and legends and the things that go on over the moors. If you are out on the moors at midnight and you’re on your own, you feel presences there that do shudder the spine. I’m a big guy, and I’ve felt quite spooked at that. Are they real? Is it within us?”
Taylor’s books (including his upcoming novel, “Tersias”) are stand-alone novels, rather than a continuing series, but all have been set in the 18th century “because it was a scary place. I’m absolutely fascinated by the way in which the scientists of the day were obsessed with magic. And I’m astounded by the cruelty of the time, yet it was a beautiful world [of art] too.”
He cheerfully agrees with critics who point out his books’ flawed craftsmanship. “I’m not a writer, I’m a storyteller,” is his mantra, although he feels that “Wormwood” is more writerly.
A poor student who was “asked” to leave school -- “I was just a horrible child to be around and very much came up against authority in any way I could” -- Taylor didn’t become a reader until his late teens. His creative process is visual because he grew up with deaf parents.
“You’re thinking in picture language. You’re trying constantly to describe with your hands what you’re talking about. And the TV was on day and night. I loved American westerns, sci-fi, trashy horror. All that sort of stuff would really send my mind going.
“So, when I write, I sit and think, ‘What’s going to happen now?’ And I see it, dream it and note it down and we’re away.”
From ages 19 to 22, Taylor was in the thick of London’s gritty punk rock scene, hanging out with such seminal bands as the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It was later, during his life-changing 10-year stint as a police officer in the drug and riot squads, that Taylor felt a calling to the church. He began theological studies at night and entered the Anglican priesthood while still on the force. (His wife is a former policewoman.) He left to become a full-time vicar after being seriously beaten by a gang of thugs “to the point where I really couldn’t physically or emotionally continue anymore.”
The experience fed Taylor’s long struggle with depression that he says inspired “Shadowmancer’s” soul-sapping demons called “thulak” (reminiscent of Rowling’s “dementors”).
“I thought about kids who are suffering from depression, because I’m a depressive. I don’t think enough is talked about it. And in the Christian world, depression becomes a very bad thing. But if you’d broken your leg, you’d be open about it. Why should there be a stigma about depression?”
Taylor’s first church was in Whitby, a northern Yorkshire locale in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Inspired by the atmospheric setting, the father of three daughters, ages 6 to 16, wrote “Shadowmancer” intending to share it with his family and parishioners. He sold his beloved Yamaha motorcycle to print 2,500 copies.
Picked up by British publishing firm Faber & Faber, the novel bumped reigning queen Rowling from the top spot on the U.K. paperback bestseller list and stayed there for 15 weeks. Published by Putnam in the U.S., “Shadowmancer” landed at No. 1 on the New York Times’ children’s bestseller list this summer.
Putnam’s agreement with Taylor includes a million-dollar-plus advance for six books. Faber & Faber has the multiple book deal in the U.K., and with Universal’s recent acquisition of the film rights to “Shadowmancer,” Taylor, still tithing his 10% to the church, reportedly stands to become nearly $2 million richer still.
The canny vicar has also locked in 15% of the film’s merchandising. “There is a huge market out there which is turning on to faith, and the movie industry hasn’t tapped into it yet.”
A tale of good versus evil
If the movie is made, it will be produced by Fortitude Films, an independent production company headed by Lisa Marie Butkiewicz, a leader in the Christian organization Women Influencing the Nation, and financier Steve Delaportas.
“I don’t think ‘Shadowmancer’ is a Christian product,” Delaportas says. “I think it’s just a phenomenal story that’s about good against evil and good wins.” But, he adds, “this book has touched the hearts of a lot of people. Whatever their God is or my God is, God is revealed in this book big time.”
Universal won’t shy away from the book’s “religious undertones,” said studio exec Donna Langley. “The time is right. People are very interested in exploring right from wrong, good triumphing over bad. We’ve seen it in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ we’ve seen it in ‘The Matrix,’ in ‘Spider-Man.’ And I think those clearly delineated roles are always appealing to a mass audience, particularly when you’re dealing with children.”
Many who had attended the Vroman’s event identified themselves as Christians. Tina Fiala, 15, of Downey, and her 12-year-old brother, Daniel, were among the few young people among the 60 or so fans who got Taylor’s smiley-faced scrawl. (Taylor says that 60% of his readers are adults.)
“I like fantasy books,” she said, including Harry Potter. “ ‘Shadowmancer’ was a really good story. It really incorporated good into it and I liked that. And kids who read it will learn something about God.”
“I think that part’s awesome,” her brother added, “that he’s a Christian author and gets books published and they’re a big hit.”
Jeremy Anderson, 31, had a different take: “To me it’s just good fantasy. The idea of good triumphing over evil is ages old, it’s been here forever.”
Taylor, his round face weary, is looking forward to getting home to his church and family. He doesn’t like to travel -- flying is painful because of the head injuries he suffered when he was beaten -- and he says he’s not one for the temptations that fame and fortune can bring.
Well, there is one thing
“I don’t think God would ever want me to have one, but I would like a new Cadillac.
“You don’t want to get carried away,” he says. “It could all be over tomorrow. I just want to enjoy today and see what happens.”