Outlander inspired by author’s first sight of ‘men in kilts’

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan playing Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser in the TV series Outlander.

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan playing Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser in the TV series Outlander.

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Outlander author Diana Gabaldon has revealed how the global phenomenon was inspired by her first sight of “men in kilts”.

The American chart-topping writer said she got her first glimpse of Scotland’s national dress while watching an old episode of Doctor Who and found it “powerful and compelling”.

Speaking on BBC Alba’s “Sàr-sgeoil: Outlander”, to be shown on Thursday, she tells interviewer Cathy MacDonald the Doctor Who episode titled The War Games was a turning point as she had no prior knowledge of Scotland or the nation’s history.

Gabaldon’s hugely successful Outlander novels later inspired the hit television series starring Scot Sam Heughan and Catriona Balfe.

The series – dubbed “Scotland’s answer to Game of Thrones” – has attracted thousands of visitors to Scotland from across the world.

But Gabaldon, 64, said: “I didn’t expect that anyone would read this novel, let alone publish it. I didn’t know anything about Scotland, but the image of the men in kilts stayed in my head.

“I then wanted to have a strong female character to create a sexual tension and I decided to have an English woman to create conflict.

“Then as I started writing the character of Claire Randall she just wouldn’t speak like an 18th century Englishwoman at all.

“She was speaking in a modern tone of voice and after wrestling with her for a few pages I hit upon the idea of having her travel back in time.”

The character in the 1969 Doctor Who episode “The War Games”, who inspired Gabaldon, was Jamie McCrimmon, one the Doctor’s companions.

The young Scottish warrior provided the initial inspiration for Gabaldon’s main male character, Jamie Fraser, and for her novel’s mid-18th century Scotland setting.

Outlander centres around Claire Randall, a Second World War combat nurse living in the 1940s with her husband Frank.

On a second honeymoon to Inverness, Claire goes to a stone circle and is mysteriously swept back in time to the Highlands in 1743.

She meets a young Scottish warrior, Jamie, and falls for him, leaving her torn between her 18th and 20th century lives.

For the programme, MacDonald visits some of the Scottish locations which inspired the novels, including Culloden.

Gabaldon insists the battlefield where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite rising was crushed by government forces in 1746 is haunted.

She said: “I’ve walked on a lot of battlefields. Most of them are not haunted. That one is.”

Gabaldon reveals that Outlander was her first foray into novel writing - but she had no intention of showing it to anyone. The series of books has gone on to sell more than 27 million copies worldwide.

She said she had developed a close connection to the people and places she writes about, particularly Scotland.

Sàr-sgeoil: Outlander is on BBC ALBA, on Thursday at 9pm.

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