Diana Gabaldon was inspired by a Doctor Who character to create her “Outlander” series

Also, the author of the steamy historical fantasy series is a former tech journalist. She wrote for Byte, PC World, and PC Magazine. And she was active on CompuServe way back in 1984.

One of us. One of us. One of us.

She wrote the first novel of the series, Outlander, in 1988, just for practice to see if she could write a novel. She didn’t intend to show it to anyone.

Well I decided to write a historical novel for practice because it seemed like the easiest thing to write. I was a research professor in Biological Sciences so I knew my way around a library. I said it seems easier to look things up than to make them up and if I turn out to have no imagination I can steal things from the historical record, which actually works pretty well.

So I said, fine, historical fiction. Where shall I set this? I have no background in history, just the six hours of Western Civilization they make you take as an undergrad. So I was looking for a convenient time and place to write about and I happened to see a really old Doctor Who rerun on public television.

For the benefit of your listeners who haven’t seen Doctor Who, it’s a really old really long running fantasy show that’s done in the UK. It’s been filmed for the last 60 odd years. The Doctor is a time lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through space and time having adventures and along the way he picks up companions from different periods of history.

Well on this really old show that had to have been filmed 55 years ago at least, he picked up a young Scotsman from 1745. This was an 18, 19 year old young man who appeared in his kilt. I said oh that’s kind of fetching.

I found myself still thinking about this the next day and said well it doesn’t really matter where you set this book, why not? I said, fine, Scotland 18th century. So that’s where I began, knowing nothing about Scotland or the 18th century.

I had no plot, no outline and no characters, nothing but the rather vague images conjured up by the notion of a man in a kilt which is of course a very powerful and compelling image. So that’s where I began, the man in the kilt. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know anything about the history of Scotland so I wasn’t sure what clan he should belong to or what his family name was. I began with him. He did have a name.

The part played by the young man in the Doctor Who episode, that young Scotsman was named Jamie McCrimmon and so I called my main character Jamie as a sort of compliment to the original. Other than that there really was no connection between them, the name and the kilt. So he was just Jamie. He was Jamie blank for a while.

I went to the University and began looking around the library. I typed Scotland Highlands 18th century into the card catalogue, which had just recently become electronic luckily and out came 38 references.

So I went and looked and there were 400 books on Scotland – geography, language, customs, history, anything you want. I took out anything that looked interesting and began doing the research along with the writing.

I said to myself, having seen a lot of would be historical writers who actually have never written a word because they’re still doing research. I said the point here is not to learn everything about Scotland in the 18th century; the point is to learn how to write a book.

Diana Gabaldon: Bringing Outlander To Life In Books and On TV for Millions of Fans


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