It is with great affection and gratitude that I add a belated review for this book, which I first read in 2013. Not only did it finally send me to Scotland, it also prompted me to begin my own work in progress novel The Scottish Exiles. So what was it about this book that informed and inspired me so?
The writing style
Diana Gabaldon’s writing style is not literary, but it is educated. She has several degrees and had already published non fiction books. I like this balance: I don’t personally enjoy purple prose; I prefer plain speaking. But I do like a book to be well-written. This is where I aspire to place myself as a writer.
It is what I call ‘a stonking good adventure’. Gabaldon gets plaudits for her well researched historical fiction. This was wasted on me, and I didn’t check her sources, instead just enjoing it for what it was. Although my novel is not historical, and is in fact set in the future, the ‘history’ will be accurate, at least until the last edit! It is also the history of the Scots in the hands of the English that informs and underlies my fictional narrative.
Diana Gabaldon describes her book as ‘multigenre’, and I am encouraged that this does not seem to have adversely affected its popularity. Tutor Meredith Miller Meredith Miller, author of Little Wrecks, and Falmouth University Writer in Residence Wyl Menmuir, author of The Many, both say: write the book you want to write and worry about the genre later. This is exactly what Gabaldon did, and so am I.
The Scots and Scotland
Diana Gabaldon had never been to Scotland when she wrote this, the first in the series, and nor had I when I read it. However she received plaudits for getting it right – almost certainly attributable to her meticulous research. I have had many Scottish friends and lovers, so the characters and dialogue come naturally, particularly that of Davey Kirk. The first book in my series does not take place in Scotland: unlike Gabaldon, I wanted to immerse myself in the location. I live near Dartmoor, a similarly wild and beautiful place, and it was when I asked myself: ‘What could a Scotsman be doing on Dartmoor? that the idea of exile was born. The ‘hot Scot’ features similarly in my novel, hence I see it appealing to Outlander readers, despite some genre differences.
I read Outlander as a romance, and having read reviews I was prepared for the hot scenes. In my opinion Gabaldon does these appropriately and well. I like detailed writing, and although good taste is essential it is always a little odd in a romance if you get to know everything but. I am convinced that the hot scenes helped the book’s great popularity, and yet I still find myself wondering whether to include them. My mentioning to author and commissioning editor Susannah Marriott the question ‘Does sex still sell?’, she assures me the answer is ‘Yes’. At present my protagonists have not met, so luckily my critiquing MA peers have been spared blushes (as have I).
The point of view
Gabaldon uses Claire’s first person viewpoint throughout in Outlander but in the sequels she introduces Jamie’s third person viewpoint yet keeps Claire in first. This seems to work: it wasn’t particularly noticeable. It seemed appropriate, as it is firmly Claire’s story. I think the sex scenes worked better in first person, because it was as if Claire was choosing to divulge intimacies. This works a lot less well for Claire’s daughter Brianna and her husband (both third person viewpoint characters) – there is something voyeuristic about it, and since we have identified so closely with Claire, it feels a little odd to be so intimate with her daughter. In my novel, the only sex scenes will be between Rosa and Davey. It is a romance; their romance.
The path to publication
Diana Gabaldon is generous with her story, with numerous accounts of how she didn’t tell anyone she was writing a novel, and did not even intend to expect it to be published. She then inadvertently posted an excerpt on a CompuServe writers’ forum, from which it snowballed. Having attended several London Book Fair seminars on writer branding, I am inspired by this. There is a compelling symbiosis between producing a book that people really want to read, and ‘putting yourself out there’. I see no way of avoiding either.
In the meantime, thank you Diana Gabaldon. I owe you.