Move over Harry Potter and make way for the vicar

Snub to J K Rowling's latest novel as leading chain promotes priest's story, and kids pick winner of Children's Book Award
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The Independent Online

A children's horror story written by a country vicar is being promoted over Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by one of Britain's leading book chains. Ottakar's has chosen Shadowmancer, a dark fantasy by first-time author G P Taylor, as its children's book of the month for June, in an unorthodox move that will infuriate Bloomsbury, the publishers of Harry Potter.

WH Smith is also considering making Shadowmancer its children's book of the week, in what would be another snub to J K Rowling's new novel.

Mr Taylor's challenge to Harry's hegemony does not end there. Faber has brought forward Shadowmancer's publication date to coincide with the release of the new Potter novel on Saturday. Faber is convinced that Shadowmancer is a much better book.

With advance sales to date of 280,000, The Order of the Phoenix is certain to go straight to number one in the bestseller chart, where it is likely to remain for some time. However, Ms Rowling is facing unexpectedly stiff competition from Mr Taylor, whose unlikely transformation from priest to publishing sensation was revealed in The Independent on Sunday in February. Pre-orders for Shadowmancer, which follows the exploits of three 18th-century children ensnared by an evil clergyman on the North Yorkshire coast, have exceeded 30,000 and the book is already into its second print run.

Such is the buzz surrounding Shadowmancer that first editions are selling for up to £1,000 on the internet auction site eBay, mainly to buyers from American and Australia, where it has yet to secure firm publishing deals.

In addition, the book is being pushed enthusiastically by Ottakar's, Waterstones and WH Smith. Adverts placed by Faber in the trade press describe the novel as "hotter than Potter".

This is all a far cry from the book's humble beginnings. Mr Taylor, the vicar of Cloughton, near Scarborough, printed his first copies through a local writers' co-op and distributed them to the children of his parishioners.

He was unwittingly "discovered" after a member of his congregation handed the book to his uncle, who happened to be David Reynolds, the founder of Bloomsbury.

Since then, Mr Taylor has become an unlikely celebrity. On Friday, he was interviewed by former page 3 girl Melinda Messenger for her digital television chat show Loose Lips, and this week he will be gracing the sofa of BBC1's Breakfast. He is also being filmed for a fly-on-the-wall series charting his curious rise to fame.

Despite his extraordinary overnight success, Mr Taylor, 43, who is married with three children, remains realistic about his prospects of ever usurping Ms Rowling.

"She's going to be at number one in the charts for the next two years with that book. I'm a young pretender. I know my place," he said. "Really, it's already been a phenomenal success, even if I don't sell another book. They say we all get 15 minutes of notoriety, and by my estimation I'm already up to 14 and a half."

The word from the book trade tells a different story. Not only are Shadowmancer's advance orders six times those of most debut novels, but shops are falling over themselves to praise it.

Commenting on the decision by Ottakar's to choose the novel as its children's book of the month over Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the company's marketing director, Paul Henderson, said: "The books are read by a panel, and they select the titles they think should be made books of the month.

"We are not about promoting the bestselling book of the month, but the one we think is one of the best reads."

No one at Bloomsbury was available for comment.

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