Hot topics close

Outlander author Diana Gabaldon wrote first words of book series in church car park in Arizona

THIRTY years ago the Outlander phenomenon was born – when the first book in the series was published in 1991. Written by a then unknown American academic Diana Gabaldon the series has spanned eight…

THIRTY years ago the Outlander phenomenon was born – when the first book in the series was published in 1991.

Written by a then unknown American academic Diana Gabaldon the series has spanned eight novels - selling an astonishing 50 million copies in 39 languages - and sparked off a major Scottish tourism boom.

Writer Diana Gabaldon with actress Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan from Outlander.

9

Writer Diana Gabaldon with actress Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan from Outlander.Credit: AP:Associated Press

They also led to the global TV sensation Outlander with wartime nurse Claire Randall – played by Caitriona Balfe - who travels back in time and falls for Sam Heughan’s Jacobite warrior Jamie Fraser.

 On the 275th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, we launch our Outlander series with an exclusive interview with the book’s creator.

DIANA Gabaldon had a flash of divine inspiration when she wrote the first words of Outlander while sitting in a church car park – which would lead to her walking the “haunted” Culloden battlefield

The church in Arizona where Diana jotted down the first words to Outlander in the car park.

9

The church in Arizona where Diana jotted down the first words to Outlander in the car park.

The married mum with three young kids was working as a university professor, while editing a software magazine, when she took time out from her hectic life to worship at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The academic had been toying with the Jacobite era as a possible topic to write a “practice novel” after watching a 60s episode of Doctor Who.

It starred Emmerdale actor Frazer Hines as Scots warrior Jamie McCrimmon who was plucked from the Battle of Culloden by Patrick Troughton's Time Lord.

The US writer hadn't even been to Scotland when she started her book about the Jacobites.

9

The US writer hadn't even been to Scotland when she started her book about the Jacobites.Credit: Michael Schofield - The Sun Glasgow

And although she can’t recall the exact words she jotted down that day, she certainly remembers the location.

Diana, who lives with hubby Doug Watkins, says: “I was in the church parking lot, after Mass.

“I’d been thinking - vaguely - about a man in a kilt, and a scatter of words came along with the thought ‘that’s what I need to start writing every day - a few words need to show up, to give me a foothold’.

Diana's hubby Doug Watkins was looking after their kids when Diana went to church then wrote the first words to Outlander.

9

Diana's hubby Doug Watkins was looking after their kids when Diana went to church then wrote the first words to Outlander.Credit: Getty

“I had two full-time jobs and three small children under the age of six at this point, but they didn’t come to Mass with me unless my husband was along to help wrangle them.

“So being alone for once I dug out a crumpled piece of notepaper, an ex-grocery list most likely, from under the front seat of the car, and jotted down those few words.

“I don’t recall what they were, though there was something about a grave.”

Diana's books have become a publishing sensation selling 50million copies worldwide which sees her mobbed by fans.

9

Diana's books have become a publishing sensation selling 50million copies worldwide which sees her mobbed by fans.Credit: Colin_Hattersley

The American author admits she was immediately drawn to this turbulent time of the 1745 uprising when Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to claim the British throne which culminated in the Battle of Culloden, which took place 275 years ago today, Friday April 16.

She says: “The Jacobites suited me very well. The 18th century was a time of intense activity and social ferment, full of travel, ideas, adventure, and, of course, war.

On a trip to Culloden Diana's hubby Doug was

9

On a trip to Culloden Diana's hubby Doug was "choked up" about the death of a character in her book.Credit: Alamy

“It’s still close enough that there’s a ton of primary sources easily available.

“For example John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure was published in 1747 and is still in print – which proves good porn never dies.”

 Remarkably Diana still didn’t expect anyone to read Outlander, adding: “Remember this was my practice novel, written for the sole purpose of learning how to write a novel.

Diana is convinced that Culloden is haunted by the 2,000 Jacobite souls slaughtered by government forces in just one hour.

9

Diana is convinced that Culloden is haunted by the 2,000 Jacobite souls slaughtered by government forces in just one hour.Credit: Getty

“So I didn’t have to worry about whether anybody else would be interested in Jacobites.”

Fortunately they were and US publisher Delacorte Books paid her a cool one million dollar advance for the first three books in the series.

What’s more they would also give her an additional advance of 10,000 dollars for every week they were in the New York Times best sellers list.

And their success ultimately meant Diana stopped, “being a university professor and became a full-time novelist.”

Outlander star Sam Heughan shares behind the scenes pictures as filming of season six begins

 She adds: “I also - by great good fortune - got rich and famous, though that took quite a while.

“They didn’t just hand me a cheque for a million dollars. But after three books and bonuses I was a hair short of a million bucks.”

Although fame and fortune hasn’t stopped fans mispronouncing her surname.

She says: “I’ll get ‘Are you by chance Diana GuBALDun?’That’s as close as anyone in the British Isles has ever come to pronouncing my last name.

“Gabaldon actually rhymes with ‘Bad to the bone’, but no matter.”

Diana is now a regular traveller to Scotland where she visits Outlander locations.

9

Diana is now a regular traveller to Scotland where she visits Outlander locations.Credit: Colin_Hattersley

After Outlander, Diana wrote Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, an Echo in the Bone and Written in my Own heart’s Blood.

But she admits at the beginning she still had no idea the series would be so well received.

She says: “Hopes, dreams and ambitions are never realistic and looking at huge runaway bestsellers like The Horse Whisperer, The Da Vinci Code, Outlander didn’t fit the pattern.

Outlander TV series has become a world-wide hit since it was launched in 2014 and has confirmed it will now return for a seventh series.

9

Outlander TV series has become a world-wide hit since it was launched in 2014 and has confirmed it will now return for a seventh series.Credit: Sony Pictures Television

“It is off-beat and is actually a complex book. What I hoped is Outlander would strike enough people favourably that the second book would sell better than the first, and the third better than the second—and that I’d get a contract for what came next. So that actually worked.”

Outlander was also a thick book at 305,000 words – about three times longer than an average novel. But others, like The Fiery Cross, were half a million words long.

 And Diana soon had to get used to some people’s reaction being, “I just can’t read it - it’s so thick.”

She jokes: “I do claim some modest credit for never once, in the last thirty years, having replied, ‘Aye, so’s your heid’.”

But one of the amazing off-shoots of Outlander is it helped raise the profile of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising.

And Diana is utterly convinced Culloden - where around 2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded by government forces in just one bloody hour on April 16, 1746 – is haunted after she first visited the site of the massacre near Inverness back in the 90s.

She says: “I walk a lot of battlefields in the way of business, and most aren’t noticeably haunted, but two of them are - the site of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and Culloden.

“And both for the same reason - a lot of men stood there for a long time, knowing they were going to die.

“The first time I went to Culloden with my husband we walked the trails quietly, and now and then he would ask me a question, like “Where did Jamie fall?”

“I would lead him a little way, to a declivity among the broom and heather, half-filled with water, just behind what would have been the original British lines. ‘About there,’ I said. ‘You can see why the water soaked up through his clothes.’

“Once we’d finished the walk, we sat quietly on a bench near the Graves of the Clans.

DIANA WAS UNSURE OF 1st COVER VERSION

DIANA admits she was left “upset” by the first Outlander book jacket – as she felt it unfairly portrayed her as a romantic author.

 The writer’s debut cover featured a broken clock and a sword along with pearls and a flower.

 She says: “I didn’t like the cover, so the first twenty-four hours were kind of a shocked, upset kind of feeling.

 “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good cover, I just objected to the pearls and flowers, which I thought were cheesy and stamping the book as ‘women’s fiction’.

 “I didn’t want to start out my career with that label, for assorted reasons. After that, though—sheer ecstasy.

 “I’m always thrilled to bits, every time, when a new book arrives, whole and pristine. I carry it around for days, fondling it at stop-lights.”

“After a bit, my husband said, ‘Where’s Murtagh?’ – Jamie’s godfather, Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser died at Culloden in Outlander.

“I replied, ‘Over there’, pointing toward the Fraser clan stone. Silence resumed for several minutes, and then my husband said, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting all choked up over the death of somebody who didn’t really exist.’

“‘Maybe not,’ I said. ‘But a lot of men who did exist are here’.”

 Now Diana is putting the finishing touches to her much anticipated ninth book Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone before starting work on the 10th and final novel in the Outlander series.

Kiss of loveAshley Cain tenderly kisses daughter Azaylia’s head as she wakes up back home

Exclusive

FLUSH HARRYHarry Styles is richest 1D star with £63m fortune — including £28m record label

LAD FER ITLiam Gallagher's son Lennon shows he's Rock ‘n’ Roll like his ex-Oasis dad

'it's over'JLo & ARod end their engagement saying they're 'better as friends' in statement

bear hugsAshley Cain's daughter Azaylia entertained with dancing bears

FERDY NICEKate Ferdinand shows off post-baby figure in nude crop top and pencil skirt

And she knows how she would like to close the chapter on the literary phenomenon that had its humble beginnings in a church car park all those years ago.

She says: “I’d like to have all 10 show-up on the NYT Bestseller List at once. I mean, go big or go home, right?”

Tomorrow: How we managed to deliver the perfect Jamie Fraser.

We pay for your stories and videos! Do you have a story or video for The Scottish Sun? Email us at scoop@thesun.co.uk or call 0141 420 5300

Sam Heughan and Outlander co-stars confirm show renewed for seventh season
Similar news
  • Outlander: Jamie Fraser star Sam Heughan addresses 'awful' element of show 'It's torture'
This week's most popular news