From China to Hollywood screen
A small-town Scottish schoolteacher has become an international literary sensation with more than a million book sales in China and a Hollywood movie deal, but remains relatively unknown in her homeland.
Claire McFall has signed over the rights to her “Ferryman” series of teenage novels to Legendary Entertainment, the US production company behind blockbusters such as director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” saga and “Jurassic World.”
The 35-year-old mom had her debut novel “Ferryman,” published in 2013, and has been a top 10 best-seller for more than two years. McFall was teaching when her agent called in November last year to say she had been offered a film deal, prompting her to leave the profession to focus on writing full time.
“He didn’t actually drop in the name Legendary for about five minutes,” she said. “That is when I realized it was actually quite a big deal, so I did a bit of embarrassing dancing round the classroom. It still feels quite surreal. I can’t imagine seeing it up on the screen.”
Despite being a huge hit in China, “Ferryman” has sold much more modestly in Britain — 30,000 copies by June 2017.
“Ferryman,” and its sequel “Trespassers,” published in September last year, follow a teenage girl on her journey to the afterlife following a train crash.
She is accompanied by a guide inspired by the Greek mythological figure Charon, who carries souls across the rivers Styx and Acheron.
The desolate wasteland between life and death was inspired by the sparsely populated landscape of Lesmahagow, a small town around 35 kilometers southeast of Glasgow, where McFall grew up and worked as a teacher.
“The idea came to me in a dream about waking up on an empty train,” she said. “My commute to Lesmahagow was just fields, sheep and the occasional tractor. It is an absolutely beautiful, gorgeous landscape but it’s also very rugged, it’s quite dangerous and the Scottish weather can change at any moment, so for me it was actually quite a threatening environment.”
“Ferryman” has been translated into Chinese for the China market, Turkish and Vietnamese. McFall has also signed a publishing deal in France.
She said she believed the book’s theme of the afterlife found particular resonance with Chinese readers.
“In China they have a belief called The Black and White Impermanence, two ghosts that take the spirits of the dead to the afterlife, and that has parallels with the themes in the books,” she said.
In China, the book was marketed for adults, unlike in Britain where it was targeted at teenagers, and a large part of the Chinese readership are women aged under 25, she added.
“The people I spoke to at signings had a real love for British culture, the books and the landscapes, and they were really attracted to the male lead. He’s handsome, he’s charismatic and he’s brave.” McFall said.
The afterlife also has echoes of the Christian belief in purgatory, where souls undergo a gruelling purification before they are admitted into heaven, but the ebullient author stresses that she is no theological scholar or historian.
“I’m not an expert in Greek mythology. I literally know as much as I needed to write the book,” she said. “I’m not a religious person and I’m agnostic in that I’m not quite sure what I believe. My idea for the book was that the afterlife would be like coming home, somewhere that you feel safe, but that you should also have to earn it.”
Her second novel, “Bombmaker,” set in a dystopian independent Scotland, while the third and final novel in the “Ferryman” trilogy is due next year.