Claire McFall’s first novel, Ferryman, is a lovely, awkward girl-meets-boy story with a twist: the girl is recently deceased, killed in a train crash between Aberdeen and Glasgow, and the boy is death’s courier, tasked with delivering her to the other side.
For Dylan, the heroine, the inconvenience of her death is somewhat alleviated by the fact that Tristan, her guide to the underworld, is tall, brooding and beautiful, but soon after they adopt each other as travelling companions things start to get very, very complicated.
One of the strengths of Ferryman is the world McFall creates. It manages to be both empty and oppressive, from the site of the train crash where Dylan suddenly finds herself cut adrift from concrete form, meaning and adult supervision to the underworld into which she and Tristan descend.
The notion that Dylan’s moods and memories dictate the form that the underworld takes is an interesting device that McFall uses well to expand her creative palette beyond the clichés of fiction set in liminal spaces, purgatory or limbo. Furthermore, because the setting for the story constantly changes depending on the protagonist’s feelings, the environment becomes a litmus test for Dylan’s burgeoning relationship with Tristan, an unconventional new angle on what is, at heart, a story of a particular brand of young infatuation.
Claire McFall lives in the Scottish Borders where she teaches English, and, with Ferryman's recent shortlisting for the Scottish Children's Book Award, she looks set to make quite an impact on the Young Adult fiction landscape.
Ferryman was in the running for our 2013 First Book Award.