Hollywood dream no Chinese whisper for Borders teacher

Borders author Claire McFall, alias Claire Bowles, seen here in her English classroom at Peebles High School.
Borders author Claire McFall, alias Claire Bowles, seen here in her English classroom at Peebles High School.

It’s Hollywood or bust for a Borders teacher now her debut novel has been snapped up for a big-screen adaption.

Legendary Entertainment, maker of blockbusters such as the 2014 remake of Godzilla, is planning to produce two film versions of Claire McFall’s novel Ferryman – one for English-speaking audiences and another aimed at the Chinese marketas it has sold more than a million copies in China.

Claire is about to say a reluctant farewell to teaching.

Claire is about to say a reluctant farewell to teaching.

Mother-of-one Claire, 35, is a part-time English teacher at Peebles High School, and she admits to “dancing around the classroom” after her agent called with the news of the Tinseltown deal.

Ferryman, published in 2013, is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Charon, the ferryman of Hades, given the job of transporting souls to the underworld.

It won that year’s Scottish children’s book award for the 12-16-age category and was shortlisted for various prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, but it is in China that her star shines brightest.

She compared a promotional visit to the country last January to Beatlemania, with huge queues forming for book signings and one teenage fan fainting amid the excitement.

Since its publication there in June 2015, Ferryman has remained in the Chinese top 10 bestselling general fiction chart, joined by its sequel, Trespassers, after its publication last September.

Claire, of Clovenfords, is now working on the third novel in the trilogy, due out next year.

The author, married to Scottish Borders Council archaeologist Christopher Bowles, said: “Having Legendary take my book and tell me that they would like to turn it into a film is, quite simply, mind-blowing.

“Ferryman started as a scrap of an idea, based on a strange dream, and when I finished it, I was almost too scared to send it out into the world. I’m very glad I did.

“Holding the book in my hand, seeing my name on the front cover and my words inside, was an incredible moment.

“And from then on, it has been something of a roller-coaster ride. When Ferryman was released in China, I was simply excited to see my story translated into another language. Its meteoric rise in the Chinese fiction charts has left me speechless and delighted.

“The idea that readers on the other side of the world are engaging with my story, my characters, is incredible.

“Now, thanks to Legendary, we begin a new chapter.

“Seeing Ferryman alive on the screen is something I could never have envisaged back when I was typing out those first few words, a moment I remember vividly, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.”

The demands of raising her son, finding time for writing and continuing with her teaching career have led Claire to decide, albeit reluctantly, to leave her high school position at the end of this month.

She said: “With raising a three-year-old, writing and working, something just had to give and, sadly, it’s the teaching. Peebles High School has been great to me, and I’m going to miss it.”

Her departure will allow her time to pay a visit to Hollywood after she was promised a creative role in the making of the film.

She said: “Success in China has been amazin,g but because it is so far away the success hasn’t really sunk in.

“I have a profile in Scotland but am not really well known in England, and now I have the chance to go to Hollywood, which I can’t wait to do.

“I really want one of those director’s chairs with my name on the back.”

As for who should play the two young protagonists in the book, Claire has suggested Leonardo DiCaprio for the male lead role but is hopeful the female lead will go to a Scottish actress because “it is very much a Scottish book”.

She added: “I’m so uncool and I don’t know enough to decide about who plays the roles, and I don’t suppose I will have the choice, but I definitely want to be involved in how the film is developed.”