When the authorities in Beijing got to hear of his poignant new novel, Between Clouds and the Sea, they put in an order for books for their schools.
It would have been a nice little earner for Dr Ryan - who co-authored the international best seller, the Eskimo Diet.
They wanted two million copies. He'd only planned a print run of 200!
"I suspected a scam," says Dr Ryan, who lives in Dore.
It was after details of the book, a fictional companion to his latest non-fiction work, The Brain Food Diet, appeared on his publishers web site that he got an e-mail out of the blue from the Chinese.
"I asked my agent to check it out to see if it was a real company. It took weeks to check but it turned out it was kosher."
Dr Ryan had put the book through a tiny publisher, Swift Publishing, which was unable to handle so many copies.
The publishers offered to send the Chinese the book in electronic form but they wanted to see the real thing and the first copy off the press was rushed to China.
"We asked for money up front and they agreed but they wanted it in four quarterly consignments of half a million books each," he adds.
That proved just too much and the deal finally fell through when the Chinese lost patience and looked elsewhere.
Dr Ryan - and his agent - have been tearing their hair out.
"It was all blown out of the water by us being tiddlers."
While he concentrates on non-fiction - other international hits have included The Forgotten Plague and Darwin's Blind Spot - Dr Ryan likes to write the odd novel.
Between Clouds and the Sea was triggered by his favourite uncle's sad decline through Alzheimers and depression. He interviewed him and many of the conversations in the book are real.
He decided to write a book and use his uncle's condition as a discussion for depression.
It concerns Mylie, a young Sheffield lad, who leaves for London and gets a job as a health care assistant in a psychiatric unit in London.
Everything changes when an ex-army officer, Harry, is admitted after purportedly trying to strangle his wife, Muriel. Harry, who is suffering from melancholia, has no visitors so Mylie takes a special interest in the cantankerous old man.
So why did the Chinese take a fancy to the book?
"It is a contemporary novel written in simple English. In a way it was a kind of catharsis of the anguish I was feeling. It is probably the best quality work of fiction I have written," reflects Dr Ryan, who reads extracts at writers' talks.
And how much does he think he and his publishers have lost? "I think you are talking about a million quid," he says.
"I'm philosophical about the Chinese offer, though I'd have loved to help educate Chinese kids in English."
Between Clouds and the Sea is published by Swift at 6.99.
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