Graham Taylor's first book was an international bestseller and his second is published this week. The Shadowmancer author talks to Christen Pears about his success and why it hasn't changed him.

GRAHAM Taylor is waiting for Madonna to complain. The villain in his new book - a glamorous, ruthless follower of the ancient belief system of the Cabala - bears more than a passing resemblance to the singer. "People have pointed it out to me but I had no idea she was even into the Cabala until a couple of weeks ago. Still, it's given me the idea of asking her to play the part in the film," he says. And I suspect he's not entirely joking.

Graham, who writes as GP Taylor, was vicar of Cloughton, near Scarborough, when his first novel, Shadowmancer, became an international bestseller. He was told that no-one would be interested in his 18th century story of Christianity and black magic, but he ignored the doubters and published it himself, selling his motorbike to finance the first run of the book.

His gamble paid off when the novel was picked up by publishers Faber and Faber. It has sold more than 300,000 copies in the UK and has just reached number one in the New York Times list of bestselling children's books.

His second book, Wormwood, went on sale yesterday and, like Shadowmancer, is a dark-edged 18th century adventure that pits sorcery and the supernatural against Christianity. Graham's growing legion of fans will be delighted, but he is not without detractors.

Only yesterday, he received an anonymous letter from a Christian accusing him of writing evil books and calling for his resignation from the church.

"I get a lot of emails from Christians saying they really enjoyed the book but I get a few like this too. It upsets me because we share the same faith but because they think I believe something different from them, they see me as an outsider. It's spiritual fascism."

True, Graham's books have strong elements of sorcery and witchcraft but their message is a Christian one. "These people obviously haven't read the book because if they had, they would see that," he says.

Graham, who is married with three daughters, worked as a policeman before joining the church. He has been vicar of St Mary's at Cloughton for the last five years but recently given up his parish. Critics accused him of abandoning his vocation for money - book and film deals mean he's now worth an estimated £6m - a claim he strenuously denies.

The 44-year-old had pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas and was rushed into hospital after collapsing on Boxing Day. He has now been diagnosed with a heart condition, and it's forced him to take stock of his life.

"I was lying there in hospital staring up at the big, white light and I thought to myself, 'Am I being told something?'. I tried going back to work almost immediately and I managed to struggle on until the end of January because I didn't want to let anyone down but I kept getting sicker and sicker until I just had to stop.

"I have a beautiful wife and three beautiful kids. I want to make the best of everything with whatever time I've got left. It's nothing to do with the money and when I'm fit enough, I'll be in a position where I can work for the Church for free."

Graham spent a month in bed recuperating. Writing became a form of therapy, helping him through his ill-health, even if it was just a few sentences a day. Without it, he says, he would have gone mad.

"Don't let anyone tell you that writing is a pressurised job. It's like doing your favourite hobby. I sit down and just allow my mind to think the most outrageous thoughts I possibly can."

Graham's "hobby" had earned him a lot of money but he says it hasn't changed him. It sounds like a clich but in the case of this down-to-earth Yorkshireman, it seems to be true.

"On paper, it's fantastic but in reality I won't see a lot of it until many years down the line. There's a system where you get it in installments and I'm glad it's done that way. If I got everything I was owed at once, it would just blow my mind."

So far, there's been enough to buy a house and enough to put aside to "pay the taxman" but the family still lives on the same amount of money they did before Shadowmancer. They have the same car, shop at the same places and their last holiday was spent in a caravan at Haggerstone Castle in Northumberland.

"I'm not a miser or a Scrooge but I can't get used to the fact we've got more money. My attitude hasn't changed and nor has the kids'. They don't ask for anything. We just carry on as we did before."

Inevitably, there are some perks. Graham seems most excited by the fact national newspapers have started calling on him to write articles. "I've always been outspoken and this is a chance to let thousands of people know what I think."

But there have been other benefits, including a holiday to America paid for by his publishers. Too ill to fly, he travelled across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2. "It was tough," he says, his voice heavy with sarcasm, but the crossing turned into something of a working holiday.

"Everyone knew I was a vicar so I ended up praying for a lot of the passengers. I had a real chance to minister to people and that was lovely. They only knew who I was because I'd written a book but that meant I was able to reach people I may not have been able to otherwise."

But despite his success, he is determined to keep a low profile, partly due to his natural modesty but also because he dislikes the way successful people are treated in Britain. "In America, people celebrate it but over here, they just seem to want to have a go at you," he says.

So far, his strategy seems to be working. Leaving a London restaurant with his publisher recently, he was stopped by a man with an autograph book. Graham signed his name, the fan looked at it and then declared disappointedly: "I thought you were Les Dennis".

"A fat Les Dennis but I can see what he means," says Graham with typical good humour.

His third book, Tersias, is almost finished. Also set in the 18th century, it's the story of a boy blinded by his parents so he can beg. Tersias becomes an oracle whose skills are soon sought after by a scheming politician, the leader of a cult and a villainous thief.

"It's about desire," says Graham, "but on another level it's a romping good tale of blood, guts and gore."

Book four is also underway - a departure from Graham's previous works. More upbeat, it's a ghostly murder mystery set in the Scarborough's Grand Hotel, just after it was built in the 19th century.

Like Shadowmancer, which was set on the North Yorkshire coast, it's inspired by the landscape Graham has known and loved all his life. It also reflects his determination to stay true to his roots.

"Life doesn't change at all. I get up in the morning and go through the same routine. The kids need feeding, the grass needs cutting, the books need writing."

* Wormwood by GP Taylor (Faber and Faber £6.99).