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Outlander author Diana Gabaldon I needed Scotsmen because of the kilt factor

Writing a novel shouldn’t have been high on Diana Gabaldon’s list of priorities in the late 1980s. She already had two jobs as a university professor at Arizona State, with an expertise in scientific computation, and as a software reviewer for the computer press. And she had three children under six. But she’d known since she was eight years old that she was supposed to be a novelist so she decided it was time to give it a try.

With three degrees a bachelor’s in zoology a master’s in marine biology and a PhD in quantitative behavioural ecology her thesis was on nest site selection in pinyon jays Gabaldon says she liked science I was good at it. But I knew that was not my vocation, that’s not my calling. So when I turned 35 I said to myself well you know Mozart was dead at 36. If you want to be a novelist, maybe you’d better start.

More than 30 years later, it is clear Gabaldon had her priorities right. The Outlander author, whose blockbuster historical fantasy series about Claire, a married woman from the 1940s who accidentally time travels back to 18th-century Scotland and falls for outlaw Jamie, has sold 50m copies around the world. She is in London after a cruise from Basel to Amsterdam accompanied by more than 100 of her fans, here to talk about Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone , the eagerly anticipated ninth novel in the series.Fans have been waiting for it since 2014, when Written in My Own Heart’s Blood left them hanging but Gabaldon has been somewhat delayed by the television adaptation of her series, which kicked off that year and on which she is a consultant. Go Tell the Bees, in which Jamie and Claire have finally been reunited with their time travelling daughter Brianna and her family in 1779 North Carolina, only for the American revolution to cast its shadow over their lives, also runs to more than 900 pages.
It was definitely more of a challenge to write, mostly because of the chronology, which was very complicated she says. In any event, seven years is less time than fans of George RR Martin have been holding on for the sixth Game of Thrones novel Gabaldon has, incidentally, included a chapter in her latest doorstopper called The Winds of Winter a nod or a dig, depending on how you want to interpret it” at Martin’s writing speed.Poor George I feel very sorry for him she says. What happened is that his show caught up with him, and he then met with the showrunners and he told them what he was planning to do in that book so that they could then write accordingly. Only they didn’t write accordingly they took his stuff, and distorted it and wrote their own ending, which wasn’t at all what he had in mind but used all the elements that he told them.

This won’t she says, happen to her: she has one more Outlander novel to write and the popular TV series, starring Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser and Caitriona Balfe as Clair is only up to the sixth which is due to air next year. They’ll never catch me she says. I will certainly finish the 10th book before they finish the show.Gabaldon began writing novels in absolute secrecy: she knew her husband would have raised an eyebrow at her desire to add writing to her packed schedule, so she’d get up and work between midnight and 4am, before getting on with her day.He would have said, wait till the kids are in school and you have more time, wait till my business is doing better and you can quit one of your jobs. It would all have made perfect sense, and he would have succeeded in stopping me because my grip on it was very tenuous to start with.Gabaldon read everything, voraciously she didn’t have a particular genre she was drawn to. So she decided that she might as well put her academic research skills to use in writing historical fiction. Also if I turned out not to have an imagination, I could steal things from the historical record.
The only question was, with all of history laid out before her, where to start. I was just casting around mentally for a time and place to set this novel Roman times, the American civil war Venice under the Borgias. And in this malleable frame of mind I happen to see a really old Doctor Who episode.This serendipitous viewing, much recounted, was of Jamie McCrimmon, a kilt wearing 18th century Scot played by Frazer Hines. Gabaldon was an instant fan but had never been to Scotland so she went to her university’s library and started checking out books about its history culture and geography.The only thing I knew about novels was that they should have conflict so I was thinking, well what kind of conflict was going on in Scotland in the 18th century That’s an easy one to answer it’s the Jacobite risings. That sounded cool, and it’s this doomed cause that’d have a lot of openings.So I said OK well do that, she says. It looked to me, at this point not knowing the subtleties that it was essentially the Scots the Jacobites, versus the British army. I had to have a lot of Scotsmen because of the kilt factor but I thought it would be good if I had an English female to play off these guys. We’d have sexual tension thats conflict and maybe theyd fight over her or want to kill her or whatever.

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