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Author of "Ferryman" Claire McFall

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When Dylan emerges out of the ruins of a crashed train, she finds herself in a strange place, the pathway between life and death. A mysterious boy called Tristan is waiting for her to help her cross. Together they embark on a treacherous journey, but as it draws to a close, Dylan realises that she can’t leave him. However, Tristan has to stay and ferry the next person, and Dylan has to go on. That’s how it has always been, and always will be. So Dylan faces a crossroad: life, death or love.

Ferryman is a thrilling story of suspense, love and the choices we face in life. McFall wistfully weaves language to create a story of an impossible love and of never giving up.

Q: Does being a teacher make it easier or harder to write?

A: Ooh... I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of time studying great literature (old and new) and looking at the effectiveness of language, so from a technical viewpoint I’d have to say yes. But then, you need imagination to write... you are creating something from nothing but the memories and ideas inside your own head, and being a teacher doesn’t help with that.

There’s also the fact that teaching is really hard work! I know some people think we have lots and lots of holidays so it must be a breeze, but really, it’s tough going. By the time July comes around I’m like a poor, exhausted Duracell bunny who’s no longer banging its drum. Fitting writing around teaching and planning and marking definitely makes it harder. But it’s worth it!

Q: Many YA authors are teachers, why do you think teaching and writing goes so well together?

A: I suppose it’s because so many English teachers become English teachers because we love reading! We love books, stories, characters, the beautiful images words can conjure up. A lot of pupils who don’t like reading ask me how I can enjoy it so much, and I tell them it’s like watching a movie right inside your mind – I don’t even see the words on the page – only (if I want to) I get to imagine myself as the main character. Who wouldn’t love that?

I think it’s a natural extension from reading to writing. I love reading stories – but I love creating my own more. Plus, if I am going to encourage pupils to write and explore their own plots and characters and ideas, it would be hypocritical if I wasn’t doing the same!

Q: Although Tristan appears to be the same age as Dulan, he's over hundred. Why do you think many teenage girls fall for guys that are old (for example Dirty Dancing and Twilight, would you fall for someone hundred years older than you?

A: This is probably going to sound a bit caveman, but I think there’s something inside us girls that’s instinctively attracted to confidence. Maybe it goes back to finding the strongest hunter, who knows, but I think confidence and self-assurance draws in the females! That’s something that takes time to build. Not bravado – “normal” teenage boys have that in spades! – but real, bone-deep, I-know-exactly-who-I-am-and-I’m-comfortable-in-my-skin confidence is something takes time to grow. That’s what Edward has, that’s what Johnny had, that’s what Tristan has. And yes – I would so fall for that!

Q: Do you see an element of "patient-doctor-love" was present in Ferryman, with Dylan falling for Tristan greatly because he was her "protector" when in fact, it was just his job to help her?

A: Hmmm. I’m not sure. Remember, a lot of the “protector” things he did at the beginning – bossing her around, making her trudge up big hills at a hideous march, telling her he knew best and to trust him (urgh – don’t you HATE it when people say that?!) – really annoyed her!

What made Dylan fall in love with Tristan was the selflessness of what he did – the way he kept going, guiding soul after soul after soul. Even though they didn’t deserve it. Even though he’d never get to experience the same gift of life that they did. That acceptance he had of his lousy situation tore at her. And then there was the fact that he was strong and confident and did I mention he was gorgeous? What’s not to love? ;)

Q: As both a teacher and an author, what advise would you give a budding writer?

A: Start with reading. In every trade you need to learn the basics, and reading is the best way to familiarise yourself with different genres, different styles, ways of using language. It’ll give you ideas, expand your vocabulary, sometimes even teach you what not to do!

For the writing itself, I’d say: baby steps. If I’d sat down and thought: right, I’m going to write a novel today, I’d have still been there three weeks later, covered in cobwebs, staring at a blank page. Writing a novel is like climbing a mountain, and hiking up Mount Everest isn’t something I’d want to do if I’d never done any hill climbing before! In fact, I’d never want to do that. Dylan isn’t the only one who hates up! But I digress...I’d start with something small and managable. Practise with some short stories, flash fiction, snippets of bigger tales – really just anything that comes to you.

And then, when you are good to go with “the big project”, make sure you’ve got a cracker of an idea. Something you’re really excited about; something you have to write. It’s a long old slog writing a novel, and if you aren’t totally in love with your story and your characters, you might lose you way.

Q: Why did you decide to write about afterlife, is "life after death" an issue that conerns you, or did you just want to write about fantasy?

A: I don’t think I ever consciously decided to write about the afterlife. In fact, when I started writing (this shows how much I planned Ferryman...) I hadn’t even decided poor Dylan was going to die! My main idea was that the train would crash and Dylan would suddenly find herself totally alone, trapped in the darkness. Everything just grew arms and legs from there (Note: this is not how I would recommend writing a novel! I usually plan, I do, but this idea just came out of nowhere and I wanted so badly to start writing I just let it happen. Luckily for me it turned out okay).

Once I got her out of the tunnel, I knew I wanted to pull her out of her world, and Tristan, to be who I wanted him to be, had to be more than just a boy. I’d always loved the ferryman story from Greek mythology and, almost as soon as I introduced Tristan to Dylan, I just knew that’s who he was going to be. I was a bit leery about writing the bit once she’d finally crossed over from the wasteland (in fact, the original story stopped right there, at the moment of betrayal!) because I really didn’t know what came next. I just couldn’t imagine it.

I’m happy with how it turned out, though. And if I’ve gotten it right and that’s really what happens after you die, well I think I’ll be happy with that too. :)



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