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‘Ferryman’ author Claire McFall talks about the series’ unexpected success in China

2018/10/9 10:08:12   source:Xinhua

Scottish author Claire McFall never expected her Ferryman series to become such a phenomenal hit in China, where more than 2 million copies have been sold since the debut of the series in 2015.

"It [the first book's Chinese edition] came out in June 2015, I was checking the internet in October, just checking to see if anyone in China read about it and what did they say about it, so I logged on Dangdang [one of China's largest online bookstores] and saw it got over 46,000 reviews! How can I have 46,000 reviews? That's crazy! And then we saw that it was also on the top 10 of the fiction chart," McFall told the Global Times in mid-September during her visit to Beijing to promote her books.

It was not until her and her literary agent Ben Illis "read" through all the Chinese reviews with the help of Google Translate that they were finally assured that the reviews were all real and not just some random comments.

"We thought probably they're reviews that you can use to chat to each other, maybe there are just 10 reviews and the others are all just conversations," joked Illis, who had joined McFall on her promotional tour.

"But they were not… It was just amazing," McFall concluded.

Huge success

Following the romance between Tristan, a ferryman who guides souls from a wraith-haunted wasteland to the afterlife, and a 14-year-old girl named Dylan, the story was inspired by the underworld ferryman Charon from the Greek myth and, according to the author, a dream.

"I had this crazy dream that I was on a train, and then there were sort of shake-ups and there's just me," McFall said.

"I must have been really grim, or why would I have thought about death? But once I made that connection, though I didn't purposely think I wanted to write about Greek mythology, it just clicked in," noted the author.

While the series, which has two volumes so far, is hugely popular in China, it has not fared as well in its home country. The prize-winning series had sold a mere 30,000 copies in Britain by June 2017, AFP reported in January. Unless sales have seen significant growth since then, the book's sales figures in China are around 60 times that of its home market.

For reference, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one of the global hit series' best-selling books in China, sold 1 million copies in its first year when it debuted in China in 2007.

The Ferryman phenomenon in China has turned the heads of the British press.

"Claire McFall is little known in Britain but is hugely popular in China where her children's book Ferryman is a best-seller," wrote a Guardian report in January.

But why have the books had such success in China?

Aside from the British cultural background that might interest young Chinese readers, McFall said she believes that the book's success may also boil down to the coincidental similarity between the ferryman in the book and the legendary Chinese figures known as "the Black and White Impermanence" - the two deities who are in charge of leading the souls of the dead to the underworld.

Moreover, according to the Chinese fans who McFall has chatted with on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, "they really like the love story between the two characters, they feel like they're strong characters and they're rooting for them," said McFall.

Enthusiastic fans

Talking about Ferryman's Chinese fans, McFall is all praise. The writer even opened a Sina Weibo account in 2015 in order to chat more with her fans. The account currently has some 6,400 followers.

"Their [Chinese fans'] enthusiasm for the book impressed me the most," McFall told the Global Times.

"They're so knowledgeable and insightful and they came up with questions like 'Is that a metaphor?' I said, 'I didn't intend it, but yeah it actually is.' We really, really had many interesting talks about the book."

Another interaction that McFall has treasured deeply is the fan art she has seen from Chinese fans.

"I got a wall at my house with all these pictures printed out. Really amazing," said the Scottish writer.

Different from her first China trip last year, McFall's trip this time includes more exchanges with young readers than just signing events.

Over the past two weeks, McFall has visited colleges and middle schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Chengdu to talk to teenagers about the stories behind the book and her job as a writer.

As to her future plans, the series' last book is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2019, with a Chinese edition in May, according to the Chinese publisher Beijing White Horse Time. A film adaptation - the series' rights were bought by Legendary Entertainment, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate the Wanda Group - is also on the way. Probably because the book's huge popularity in China, the film is reported to be getting a version for Chinese audiences as well, according to a January report from the Guardian.

"There is a possibility, but we are not sure about it yet," Illis said.

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