AN Oscar-nominated screenwriter has turned one of his old screenplays set during the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden into a new book.

Around 20 years ago, John Sayles received a call from Trainspotting star and Scots actor Robert Carlyle asking if he wanted to pursue an idea about a film focusing on a Highlander who escapes the famous eighteenth-century battle only to be recaptured and sent to the New World.

This led to a scouting mission in Scotland - an experience that Sayles loved, having already visited the country’s major cities for film festivals and the Fringe.

Speaking to The National from Los Angeles, Sayles said: “Me and my producing partner scouted the Highlands and looked into how much the move might cost.

“Travelling around in the Highlands with Robert Carlyle opens a lot of doors. It was great seeing the different accents, it felt like the Highlands was a country in and of itself.

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“Unfortunately, we were never able to raise the money for what would have been a pretty big movie.”

The movie wouldn’t have just taken into account Culloden but also its protagonist’s role in the Seven Years’ War, meaning financing it proved tricky.

“It went from Culloden to Quebec which takes in dozens of years so we could never quite get it off the ground.”

Being in the movie business though, not getting something off the ground is simply par for the course, Sayles explained. 

Sayles has twice been nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, first in 1992 for Passion Fish and then again for Lone Star four years later.

He also directed some of Bruce Springsteen’s music videos, including for iconic songs Born In The U.S.A. and Glory Days.

Eventually, Sayles would return to his passion project.

“A couple of years ago, I just thought this was such a good story and so I made it into a novel. I did about a year of research and writing," he said. 

The National: Sayles hopes his books can find success the way Outlander hasSayles hopes his books can find success the way Outlander has (Image: Starz)

The book, titled Jamie MacGillivray: The Renegade's Journey, begins in 1746 where, after narrowly escaping execution having fought on the losing side at Culloden, the book’s eponymous hero is transported to America where he is indentured into servitude.

His travels are paralleled by those of Jenny Ferguson, a village girl swept up in false charges by the English and likewise sent to the New World.

Part of the benefit of adapting what would have likely been a two-hour film into a full novel is that it allowed the author to expand on certain characters.

“It’s nice not to waste a good story. It started to expand and the character of Jenny, for example, would actually have been a minor one in the film but now maybe a third of the book is her adventures”, Sayles explained.

That’s not to say that going from screenwriting to novel writing came without its challenges though.

“One big difference is that when you’re making a movie you have an art department, you have production designers," he added. 

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“You don’t have to describe anything; you just tell them it’s set in 1746 or it’s set in Inverness and they go do the research.

“Telling a story this big in two hours wouldn’t have been easy so fleshing those out was really nice.

“Books you have to describe which adds an element of fun. I started as a short story writer when I didn’t know anybody in the film business. The way I got a film agent was by selling my work.”

Sayles even worked on a version of a script that would go on to become E.T. although is keen to stress that the movie’s incredible success is not down to him.

Laughing as he recounts what happened, he explains: “I worked on a screenplay way back when - this is like the 1980s and Spielberg was going to produce it.

“It was about a remote farm family who is invaded by extra-terrestrials and at the very end there’s one nice alien who stays behind because he’s not hard-line enough.

“Spielberg took it and started playing with it but I was not available to work on it at that point. At some point they sent me a screenplay which had a different name and there’s about one sentence of contact.

“Usually you get scripts to rewrite them but I knew this would be a good movie. I was asked if I needed credit but there wasn’t much left of me there.”

He’s happy with how the book turned out, but Sayles still holds out hope we might one day see his hero on screen.

He said: “You know, something this big I think these days it’s much easier to get a series made than it is to get a feature made, especially a big historical feature.

“Somebody might want to do it. The Outlander series did very well so somebody might think there’s an audience for this kind of stuff. I personally think the best writing is on TV.”

“Admittedly though, I don’t have time travel”, he joked.