A vicar who printed his own novel and distributed it via his parishioners could make millions after being signed by one of Britain's biggest publishers. Rights to the children's book – a controversial tale about witchcraft – are being fought over by major film companies.
When the Rev Graham Taylor wrote Shadowmancer, his aim was to entertain local children while indulging his own fascination with the occult.
After engaging an amateur artist to design the cover, he printed the novel through a writers' co-operative and offered it to children in his congregation.
Three months later, he has scooped a five-figure deal with Faber, the publisher of Andrew Motion, William Golding and Michael Frayn.
His book was picked up purely by chance. A parishioner read it, loved it and passed it to his uncle – David Reynolds, the founder of Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books. He passed it to an agent who sold the rights to Faber. Now Mr Taylor, 43, is being pursued by film companies eager to turn Shadowmancer into a movie. The book will be republished in time for Hallowe'en.
"I can't believe my luck," Mr Taylor said. "I'd heard so many stories about people sending off their manuscripts hundreds of times and being turned down again and again.
"We set up a local writer's co-op, and I thought I'd try to promote it a bit through my parishioners. We went ahead and printed our own copies. I thought it might sell 200 copies through local bookshops, but it sold 3,500 in the first six weeks.
"Somehow, word of mouth got around and items started appearing on local radio stations around the country, so local branches of Waterstone's agreed to stock it, and some say it has been selling better than J K Rowling."
Perhaps surprisingly for a man of the cloth, Mr Taylor, who served as a policeman before entering the clergy, pulls few punches with the depictions of horror and witchcraft. Set on the North Yorkshire coast in the 1750s, Shadowmancer is a spine-chilling tale about the adventures of two children, Kate and Thomas. They are drawn into a world of superstition and devilry after befriending Raphah, a teenager from Ethiopia who has left his homeland in pursuit of a fragment of the Ark of the Covenant stolen from his tribe.
In spite, or perhaps because, of his day job, Mr Taylor has a fine horror pedigree. Before moving to his present parish, at Cloughton near Scarborough, he was for several years the vicar of Whitby, the brooding coastal village where Dracula came ashore in Bram Stoker's vampire novel.
Mr Taylor has had a lifelong interest in the occult, and performs regular exorcisms – or "house blessings" as he prefers to call them – for concerned parishioners.
"People can't get their heads around the idea that a vicar has written a frightening book for kids," Mr Taylor said. "But it's aimed at older children. Yes, it's frightening, but it's also a feelgood story. It's Notting Hill with ghosts."
So taken is Faber with Mr Taylor's book that it has asked him to "keep them coming"; the sequel is already half-written. Some people, however, don't approve. "One Christian wrote to me and said he thought I'd burn in the fires of hell for writing about witchcraft," he said. "You can't please everyone."