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The bestseller Shadowmancer stormed the literary world, rocketing to top sales. Who could have predicted that a country vicar would have such a hit on his hands? But that's only one chapter in the amazing, faith-sustained life of G. P. Taylor. Kicked out of school for trying to set fire to a teacher's desk, Graham Taylor's future looked bleak. He became a roadie for a punk-rock band and launched into a life of nightclubs and drugs. It appeared he would live hard and die young ... but God had a different plot in ...
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The bestseller Shadowmancer stormed the literary world, rocketing to top sales. Who could have predicted that a country vicar would have such a hit on his hands? But that's only one chapter in the amazing, faith-sustained life of G. P. Taylor. Kicked out of school for trying to set fire to a teacher's desk, Graham Taylor's future looked bleak. He became a roadie for a punk-rock band and launched into a life of nightclubs and drugs. It appeared he would live hard and die young ... but God had a different plot in mind. In one awe-filled moment, Taylor heard God telling him to go home to Yorkshire. There he found a job and his future wife waiting, just as God had promised. Before his ordination, though, Taylor panicked, joining the police force instead. Like Jonah, he had to learn that hiding from the Lord's will is impossible. How did Taylor become a vicar in a part of England filled with tales of smugglers and storms at sea? How did he write Shadowmancer and his other runaway bestsellers to counteract the growing occult presence in so much of today's fiction? How did he find hope and healing when a near-fatal heart condition almost ended it all? This story is filled with unpredictable twists and revelations. And like Taylor's Christ-inspired novels, it's a tale you won't be able to put down.
In the summer of 1957, my father went out one night and had more than a couple pints of Guinness at the Newlands Pub in Scarborough, where he worked as a barman. He came home in a jovial mood, and nine months later, on 3 May 1958, I was born.
At least that's the story as he told it, and I tend to believe him. My parents were both older when I was born; my dad, Frank, was fifty-three, and my mum, Mary, was forty. They'd already had three children before I came along - a boy who died in infancy and my two sisters. There's a long gap between my sisters and me, and I learned that my arrival came as a bit of a shock.
My parents were hardworking, loving people. My dad was about five feet eight, with olive skin, jet-black hair and blue eyes. His family came from York, and his grandfather had come to Scarborough to work as a postman. My dad's father was a policeman. My mum's family came from Ireland, and she was born in Paradise, a section of Scarborough that overlooks the town's south bay. Her dad was in the Coast Guard, and they lived in the row of Coast Guard cottages at the top of a hill, not far from Scarborough Castle and St Mary's Church, where AnnBrontë is buried.
My dad was one of the hardest-working men I have ever known. During the week, he'd get up at six o'clock, wash, dress and then be off to work at seven at a shoe factory, where he was a cobbler - or a mender of bad soles, as I like to think of him. He would work a full day, come back at six o'clock at night and have dinner, then he'd get washed and changed, and by seven he was at his second job, at the Newlands Pub. Though he was deaf, he'd learned to lip-read, and that's how he took his customers' orders. He'd get home around eleven, go to bed and start it all over again the next morning.
Because he worked so hard, the only time I ever really saw him was at three o'clock on Sunday afternoons. He had to work Sunday lunch at the pub, so he would get up early and take care of the bar cellar work. Then he'd tend bar in the pub from eleven till about two o'clock and be home by three. My mum would have his dinner on the table when he arrived. He would always bring home a walnut cream for me. It's a kind of candy - a curl of chocolate filled with cream, with a walnut on the top. I would always give him my walnut because he loved them.
My dad never said much at those dinners, or anytime really. He spoke very little and communicated mostly in sign language. On those Sundays, I would sit with him for a while, then take my walnut and put it in his hand. And that was literally my relationship with him for the first ten or eleven years of my life because he was always working. My mum was a canteen assistant and a cook in my local school, so I saw more of her, but not much.
As a child with a profoundly deaf father and a mother who was hard of hearing, very little verbal English was spoken in my home. My mum was constantly communicating with my dad in sign language, but she would speak to us kids in English. Some children are angels. From their earliest days, they fill their parents' hearts with joy and laughter. They make up songs as they run through the house, and their giggles echo through the back garden when they are at play. For the most part, they follow their parents' instructions. When they disobey, they cry and say, "I'm sorry, Dad" or "I won't do it again, Mum, I promise."
But other children are spoiled brats. I'm sure I don't need to describe their behaviour, as no doubt you have come across them before. Yes, I was one of those, and from a very early age, I did what I wanted to do, not what my parents told me to do.
My earliest memory is of being three years old and having holes in my trousers. The holes were courtesy of our dog, a boxer whose name I can't recall and whose main job seemed to be keeping me in the back garden of our house on Maple Drive. We lived on a council estate, a row of about fifty terraced brick houses that were all joined together and ran along an abandoned railway line.
When my mum let me play outside, she gave me a strict warning not to leave the back garden. To make sure I followed her instructions, she let the family dog out to watch over me. Somehow the dog knew I wasn't supposed to leave, and if I went towards the gate, he would start growling. If I kept going, he would bite me on the bum and pull me back in. I'd try to pull away, and the dog would hang on - leaving holes in my trousers.
But I wasn't going to let a mere dog stop me. One bitterly cold winter afternoon, I was wrapped up tightly in my winter coat and hat, and I wanted to go out of the garden. As I got close to the gate, the dog bit me again. I turned around, and before he could react, I grabbed him by the leg and bit so hard that he ran off. I opened the garden gate and went on my merry way.
Since my sisters were much older than I was, they were assigned the job of looking after me when my parents were out. From what I can remember, they did that a lot. My sisters were good to me and were even prepared to fight the bigger kids when I got into trouble. And if I was sick, my mother would often keep my oldest sister home from school so she could watch me while my mum was at work. She and I were very alike, although she was six years older, and she often got the blame for stuff that I had done. She protected me, even if it meant she would get belted in my place.
* * *
Though we lived on the council estate, my parents made sure that my sisters and I never went without. We had plenty of food and new clothes. I had a pair of jeans, a set of playing-out clothes, a set of nice going-out clothes and a school uniform, and that was really all I needed. My parents also made sure my sisters and I never felt neglected and always had toys and gifts at our birthdays and Christmas. Looking back, I think that even my sisters went without so I could have what I wanted.
Our house was small but sturdy, made of red brick from the Ravenscar Brick Company. Going through the front door, you entered a small hallway, which was about six feet by six feet, and faced a set of stairs that ran straight up to the three bedrooms. Turning at the bottom of the stairs, you entered a sitting room, our main room, which was about twelve feet by ten feet. Next to it was the kitchen, about nine feet by seven feet, which you passed through to reach the toilet, which was about eight feet by five feet. And that was the whole house.
In my small bedroom, about eight feet by ten feet, the wallpaper changed every three or four years. As a young child, I had wallpaper with airplanes from the Second World War on it. At that time, my favourite thing was my tape recorder because I could record songs from the radio and listen to them in my room.
The sitting room was bare; it held a fireplace with a gas fire, a cabinet to one side, along with a sofa and my dad's big chair, which was placed right in front of the television. We never had lamps in our house. The main light, or what we called the "big light," was always on. Because my dad was deaf and, when he was older, partially blind, he used to sit very close to the television in our sitting room. My mum was hard of hearing too, so the TV was on at full volume all day. You could hear my house around the corner due to the constant noise from the TV, and we heard it even when we went to bed.
The television was our only source of entertainment. We didn't have many books, as neither of my parents was an avid reader. Before our television arrived, some of my friends and I used to stand outside the window of a neighbour's house and pray that she didn't close the curtains, because she had the only colour television on the street. We peered in and watched football on the screen, listening to the roar of the crowd coming over the speakers. It was fantastic. Then when our black-and-white rental set arrived, I was amazed. My friends and I wondered if there were little elves working in there, creating these pictures; it seemed like a magic box to us.
* * *
The day was 13 April 1965, and its events will forever be burned into my memory. I was a few weeks shy of my seventh birthday and had tagged along with my sisters as they and some friends set off for a day out along the Scalby Beck, which runs from the river Derwent to the North Sea. We were going to the weir - a concrete, artificial waterfall about two miles from our house - a good spot for picnicking and playing. It's a lovely wooded area where sycamore, holly, beech and other trees surround the beck. My sisters were forced to take me along since my mum wouldn't let them leave without me.
Once we got to the beck, my oldest sister told me very clearly to stay away from the water. She had just completed her lifesaving training, and she said in her firmest lifeguard voice, "Graham, don't go near the water." She was looking out for my own good, as I hadn't the slightest idea how to swim. But I just ignored her.
While my sisters and their friends were busy building a fire, I clambered up to the edge of the weir to catch some fish. I'd brought a jam jar with me, hoping to scoop up some minnows or tadpoles and bring them home. Some minnows were swimming just below the surface of the water, so I leaned over with my jar. Just a few more inches, and I'd have them.
The concrete wall was covered with moss and was very slippery. I leaned too far and slid into the water. It all happened so fast that no one saw me fall in. I sank straight to the bottom, about ten feet down because the weir is designed to hold water so that the river level is higher upstream.
Panic immediately came over me. I started thrashing my arms and legs in a frantic attempt to get back to the surface, but it was useless. The water was too deep, and besides, the force of the river was pressing me back down towards the weir. I sank back among the seaweed at the bottom of the beck.
I'm drowning, I thought to myself. This is it.
It was a bright, sunny day, and I could see the sunlight streaming into the water and the tree branches hanging just above. I stretched out my hands for those branches in vain hope, as if somehow I could reach them. But it was futile.
Several strange things began to happen. A sense of peace and warmth washed all over me. I knew I was drowning but didn't really worry about anything, because there was nothing I could do except literally go with the flow.
Then I felt like I was being dragged towards the surface as if I were a fish and something, or someone, was reeling me in. Suddenly I was above the surface of the water, looking down at the body of a young boy. His mop of ginger hair was floating around his head, and his hands were outstretched.
Where's he come from? I wondered. There are two of us drowning here. As the distance between the boy and me grew further, I realised that the boy was me and somehow I was out of my body. Everything seemed to get brighter the further I moved away from my body, though I didn't see a tunnel or any of the other sights that reportedly go along with near-death experiences. Below me, my body floated in the water as I drifted away into the sky.
Then suddenly I was back on the shore, puking up all the water I had swallowed. My elder sister had dived into the beck and pulled me from the water. I was alive. I suppose I should have been grateful to be alive, but the only thing I could think of was how awful I felt after spitting out all that water.
To my little six-year-old mind, the most traumatic part of the day wasn't nearly dying but afterwards when I had to walk the two miles home in some of my sister's friends' clothes. Someone lent me a pair of shorts, and someone a jumper. I remember walking up the road in this jumper, which was about ten times too big and was hanging down like a dress. Not the look I was after!
My sister ran ahead to tell my mum what had happened. When I got in the house, she was furious and told me off for getting my clothes soaked. She also told off my sister for not looking after me. She didn't realise that my sister had actually saved my life.
All that day and the next day, people kept coming round the house. They'd heard the story - that I'd drowned and my sister had saved me - and wanted to find out if it was true. Then my mum realised the depth of the experience. She wrapped her arms around my sister and thanked her for what she'd done.
A few days later, I got my first exposure to the media. Word had gotten around that a little kid from Maple Drive had drowned in the river and his sister had brought him back to life. Before long, someone from the local newspaper showed up at our door.
I was playing out in the back garden when my mum called me into the house. Inside was a strange man, wearing a trilby hat and carrying a notepad. A photographer was there as well, and as the reporter started asking questions, something about him terrified me, so I just turned heel and ran back to the garden. The next day, the headline in the paper read, "Girl, 13, Saves Drowning Brother."
* * *
I never told anyone about my out-of-body experience. It frightened me, and I didn't know what had really happened. Had I imagined it all? Or is something actually out there after we die? These questions would haunt me for years. This wasn't the kind of thing I would have thought to ask my mum about. She and my dad believed in God, but faith and spiritual matters weren't things we discussed at our house.
We didn't go to church, so I didn't have anyone there to talk to about it either. People on our council estate didn't attend church; it wasn't part of the culture. For one thing, the nearest church was a ways off, and not many people on the estate owned a car. The churches were in better parts of Scarborough, in middle-class neighbourhoods. We were working class, and for us, church just wasn't relevant to our daily lives. It was a place to go only when you were baptized, when you were married and when you died (for your funeral). Sunday morning was for doing other things. I didn't know what time church ser vices were held, or even what people did when they were at church.
But my close encounter with drowning left me convinced of two things. First, death was real, and someday it would claim me. And second, I would have to find someone who could tell me if there really is something after death.
But it wasn't going to be the local vicar. In the Church of England, the vicar is supposed to care for the whole community, not just for the people who show up on Sunday morning. But he rarely came to our housing estate. In all the years I lived there, I think I saw him only once. I'd have to look elsewhere for the answers to my questions.
* * *
I lived out my early life in a fantasy world of cowboys and soldiers and strange creatures from other planets. My friends and I would play amazing games with bits of wood and cardboard boxes. My favourite was the Lone Ranger.
One Saturday morning, my friend Chris Metcalfe and I were at the Odeon Cinema with a couple of hundred other kids. There were no television shows for kids on Saturday mornings, so the Odeon, a big, thousand-seat cinema up by the railway station in Scarborough, showed movies for kids. We'd get there between half past nine and ten o'clock and watch the short movies and cartoons. Chomping on popcorn, we'd watch Superman, Dan Dare, Flash Gordon and Tom and Jerry on the big screen for a couple hours. Sometimes they'd show American westerns, like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers, which were my favourites. Then on the way home, we'd act out what we'd seen.
In the adventure shown on this day, the Lone Ranger approached the canyon entrance, his six-barrel gun drawn, his horse Silver just a few feet behind him. Trouble was nearby, and he knew it. High above, a group of Apaches looked down on him. One drew his bow back and launched an arrow that landed right between the Ranger's feet. Our hero jumped back, and the whole cinema seemed to gasp at the same time. What would he do?
Excerpted from G. P. Taylor by G. P. Taylor Copyright © 2006 by G. P. Taylor. Excerpted by permission.
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