Troy Patterson
May 28, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The vicar of Ravenscar packed his clerical collar — a thing he wears in church and at photo shoots — and cruised to New York City on the ”Queen Mary 2.” On board, he autographed a few hundred copies of his hit novel in his looping, smiley-face signature and delivered a lecture titled ”How to Write a Best-Seller.” It was well attended: The vicar, a 46-year-old known as G.P. Taylor on dust jackets and Graham to his friends, ranks as an authority on the topic in Britain. His first book — ”Shadowmancer,” a magic-drenched period thriller for ”ages 12 and up” — spent 15 weeks on top of the U.K. paperback charts last summer, besting even J.K. Rowling’s latest wizardly installment. That triumph spurred Taylor’s publishers to repeat their slogan as if it were a mantra: ”hotter than Potter, hotter than Potter.” Now on a mission to turn the catchphrase into the truth, the author’s come to America for a moveable feast of bookseller dinners, lunch interviews, and greenroom fruit plates, and because of the book’s spiritual tilt, he’ll turn up for ”The 700 Club” as well as CNN.

A May morning finds Taylor — secure in the knowledge that his book will shortly debut on the New York Times children’s best-seller list — sitting across from Al Roker on the set of ”Today.” ”Could there be a new children’s book hotter than Potter?” Roker asks. ”Get ready for ‘Shadow’mania!” Thing is, Taylor — though a natural performer who can easily banter with a weatherman — seems dazed by all the attention, only halfway ready for ”Shadow”mania himself.

But, as Taylor later tells it in the lobby of his hotel, making it this far has been a cinch. His success story combines ridiculous ease with even more ridiculous good fortune. He wrote a book because a woman who heard him talk at a church said, ”’You should write a book.’ So, on my way home, there was a huge storm, and I was crossing the moors, and this idea of smuggling, witchcraft, and magic just came.” It was a gothic fantasy in which a trio of 18th-century urchins unite to save the world from the dark spells of a fallen priest; it was a kids’ book because Taylor wanted to write about ”the big questions,” faith and hope, good and evil: ”All the adult books on the market seemed to be written by bald-headed men infatuated with sleeping with young women. Or it was fat women writing diaries. The only people writing things of any worth were translating adult issues to the medium of children’s books.”

After nine months, he had a manuscript. After selling his motorcycle, he had the money to self-publish 2,500 copies. After a parishioner passed one along to a publishing bigwig, he had a swank agent and fat multibook deals on both sides of the Atlantic. Taylor stands to make up to $6 million for the movie rights. He sold them to Fortitude Films, cofounded by Lisa Marie Butkiewicz, most notable for her work with Women Influencing the Nation, an ad hoc group ”in support of ‘The Passion of the Christ.”’ Taylor says he was less influenced by her piety — ”I’m the most un-born-again Christian there could be” — than the opportunity to give David a shot against Goliath: ”Why sell to an established film company?”

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