Well, Outlander friends, we’re less than a month away from the end of Droughtlander–yay! All of the press releases, photos, interviews and sneak peeks have me even more impatient for the beginning of season five! From what I’ve seen, saying it looks like it’s going to be exciting is an understatement! I’ve tried to fill my time with re-watches, re-reads and reading about the history associated with the upcoming season. While the subject I’ve written about for this blog post isn’t historically significant–well, it is to a point–it was something that is important to our favorite show and questions about historical accuracy.
A few months back, social media lit up when one of the Outlander crew shared a last-day-of-filming-Outlander-season-five photo. Most of the cast and crew posed with smiling faces on the set of Fraser’s Ridge, with the Big House in the background. Opinions emerged, and some looked at that gorgeous two-story structure, and said “It’s just like I imagined it would be,” while others said, “No way–how could they build a house like that in such a remote area? Where did that come up with that paint color?!” Jon Gary Steele did share that the paint color was historically accurate, and the house, too, for that matter.
Whether it’s just as you imagined or not, I feel like our assumptions about mountain living are that it’s poor, dirty, and houses were unpainted and without adornment. We almost automatically think that a house such as the structure on set wouldn’t be sitting on a mountain ridge in the wild backcountry of Colonial North Carolina. Granted, the 18th century certainly lacked the construction technology we have today, but, just like today, if someone is well-off financially, they could afford all that modern life offered. There are several homes from the time period of the Fraser’s North Carolina that are still standing, and I’m going to share a bit of history about each one with you! (Disclaimer: I am not an architectural historian by any means–heck, I’m not even a historian, period! I love houses, and I especially love Colonial homes. I don’t claim to know all of the technical stuff, but hope you can enjoy reading my ramblings about these great finds in North Carolina!)
The town of Edenton boasts several homes of original architecture from Colonial times, including the Lane House, the oldest house in North Carolina, the Cupola House, and the 1767 Courthouse.
The two houses of interest that would’ve been standing in the Frasers’ time are the Lane House, and the Cupola House. Now, the Lane House is not a big fancy place, but it is important to North Carolina. The Lane House was discovered to have been built around 1719, making it the oldest house in the state! Recently, new owners were having it renovated for renting. A carpenter saw some of the wood under the layers of modern materials, and alerted the owners. Experts were called in, and after performing dendrochronological research, they estimated the age of the structure. (More about the discovery of this architecural treasure from NC Department of Natural Resources.)
The Cupola House, also located in Edenton, was built in 1758 for Robert Carteret, Earl of Granville, one of the Lords Proprietors. This gorgeous structure is a testament to building a house that is anything but a log structure in a remote area. A home in the northeast coastal region of North Carolina would have had to be built of local materials, as the swamps and large bodies of water surrounding the area would have made transport of imported materials difficult and very expensive. (Many census records show that “shinglemaker” was not an uncommon occupation, so if they were making shingles for homes, they were making pretty much everything else, too!) The house began to decline, even though one family owned it for 141 years, but thanks to the efforts of local citizens who organized the Cupola House Association, the house is refurbished and ready for visitors to come and tour the gardens and home. More recent discoveries about the original siding and other architectural details about the cupola can be read at the Cupola House Association website.
EDIT: I discovered these images of the Georgian woodwork from the Cupola House at the Brooklyn Museum website. In financial need, one of the family members sold the woodwork to the Museum in 1918. It is still on display.
Another house in the northeastern part of the state in Perquimans County is the Newbold-White House, the oldest brick house in the state, built by Quaker Abraham Sanders about 1730. I cannot be sure if bricks were made on-site, but I have a feeling that they were, as John Lawson noted in his expeditions that the coastal area had perfect brick-making materials. The house has been restored to its original appearance, and can be toured during the months of April-October.
In the Piedmont region of the Old North State, you can find the House in the Horseshoe near Sanford. The house was built by Phillip Alston (a Whig Colonel), in 1772. It was the site of a fight in 1781 between the Tories and Alston’s soldiers. Note the two porches are open underneath, and at one time, it’s very likely that none of the crawlspace was closed in, as it provided shelter for the roaming farm animals people kept for food during that time. You can find more about the architectural details, including a remodel done by a subsequent owner at the NC Historic Site webpage.
As we get in the Highlands of North Carolina, in Ferguson (not far from the venue of Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming), you can visit the home of William Lenoir, Fort Defiance. Lenoir fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain, and when he found the old fort abandoned, he bought the property and finished the house in 1792. According to the Fort Defiance website, there were five outbuildings located on around the house, as well, to serve the family’s needs for food storage and cooking.
Once again, I am far from being an architecture history expert, but after reading a bit about different Colonial homes that are still with us today here in North Carolina, I see that it is totally possible for the Frasers to build such a large “fancy” house in the rugged Highlands of North Carolina. The materials for posts, floors, walls and siding were all there in the forests. If you’ve ever watched The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS and seen Roy Underhill use all of those non-electric woodworking tools, you can imagine the back-breaking work involved for anyone building a structure during that time period. Materials for a chimney where most likely stones that lay anywhere and everywhere, found while clearing land, considering their location. Like the Newbold-White House, however, bricks could have been made as well, but I feel like most chimneys in the mountainous regions were made of stacked stone.
It’s funny what takes up our time during Droughtlander. Any little thing someone from the television series shares just grabs our attention–well, mine, anyway–and I find myself falling down the rabbit hole of history, or searching other fan sites or in the pages of my Outlandish Companion, hungry to learn more until season five begins and the yearning is over! I do enjoy houses, and have especially enjoyed learning more about some of these old homes that have such great historical meaning, and that they’re right here in my home state. Thank you for indulging me and one of my nerdy interests!
For more architectual information, (that I found pretty fascinating), download the pdf of the book Colonial Houses (written by John V. Alcott in 1963) from the NC Department of Cultural and Natural Resources. It describes every style of Colonial home, from the smallest one-room structure to the grand homes of wealthy landowners.
What’s getting you through Droughtlander? One thing that has me looking past the end of season 5 is Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming, taking place October 8-11 in Ferguson, NC! The historical reenactment groups, the interesting workshops and activities, and not to mention the fine entertainment that is scheduled to be there this year give me something to look forward to this Fall. Oh–by the way, there will be some bonus guests this year–stars from the television series: Annette Badland (Mrs. Fitzgibbons), Gary Lewis, (Colum McKenzie), and Graham McTavish (Dougal McKenzie)! Please check out the webpage for more information, and consider investing in this experience of 18th century mountain life, and the history of the Fraser’s North Carolina. You won’t regret it!
I first met my favorite author in Winston-Salem last year. Never in a million years did I think I’d be able to meet her again! However, I was fortunate enough to attend two of the events held in Burlington, NC, on April 27 & 28, 2019, thanks to our dear friend, Kimberly Kandros, manager of Development & Special Projects at the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. She was instrumental in getting Diana back to NC.
Saturday evening, we met at the Paramount Theater in Burlington. First, there was a speech from “Herself” with Q&A, followed by a book signing. I was front row, center, for this fascinating event and was in awe with every word. I visited with friends I’ve made through the Outlander effect. I even met Diana’s husband, Doug. He is just as kind and friendly as Diana. However, I spent more time with him than her. LOL After the event, several of us walked across the street to grab a bite to eat and drink and visit with each other. Such a lovely evening.
On Sunday morning I was so excited about the brunch with Diana at the Alamance Battleground, that I arrived a little early. I visited with Kimberly, look around the gift shop, and got first dibs on seating. It wasn’t long before another attendee, Marybeth Krichilsky, arrived and we chatted and started taking pictures. The tables were beautifully set under a tent on the grounds. One of the first things we saw was a dragonfly which kept landing on Diana’s place setting. How ironic. I was going to let Diana know, but when I finally could talk with her, I totally forgot.
Diana mentioned how she’d had to take allergy medicine since being here. (North Carolina was in high pollination that weekend!) She included a little background of herself, her process, how she researches her material for her books. While writing, she sometimes will stop and pick something else up when she needs a break. She can be working on several projects at one time and does this frequently.
The main topic of the day was, of course, the Regulators and events that led to the Alamance Battle. This was a taxpayer rebellion. Governor Tryon raised taxes to pay for his palace. The people didn’t want this since they could barely could pay for food, supplies, etc. When the Governor sent out tax collectors, they started raising taxes on their own and keeping the extra money. The Governor didn’t like this and told them to stop, but he couldn’t enforce it. This ended up with the Hillsborough Riot and the Alamance Battle. The backcountry people didn’t stand a chance against the cannons. Diana then read from “The Fiery Cross.”
We had the most delicious brunch which included fresh strawberries and fruit, quiches, muffins, dainty squares, salmon, and salad. It was interesting to know that some of the attendees drove or flew hours to get here! The furthest an attendee traveled was from California. One attendee which I had met at another Outlander event, Thru the Stones, in Iowa, was Lisa Margulies. It was so good to see her again.
After brunch, we walked to various parts of the Alamance Battlefield where Diana read to us from “The Fiery Cross” at each location. We even saw the wild strawberries all over the ground. I was totally fascinated with this whole experience. I also really loved this being such a small group and being able to spend longer in her presence. The book signing was last, and I didn’t want it to end. Diana is such an educated, talented, beautiful lady, inside & out. She never ages, never meets a stranger, always has a smile on her face, always accommodating, and so loving and generous! All the proceeds from the events go directly to the Battleground. (The land surrounding the historic Battlefield is at risk for development, and purchase of the land by the Save Alamance campaign will keep it in its natural state.)
There are so many wonderfully kind people in this Outlander Fandom. I’m amazed on how many new friends I have made due to this Outlandish journey.
Connie, thanks so much for sharing your photos and summary of your amazing weekend!
Blog editor note: Sorry for being so long in between part II and this last part of Lisa’s trip to North Carolina, outlandish readers! Between life and then the Memorial Day holiday weekend, well, it’s taken a while to get back to blogging. We appreciate each one of you who visit ONC, and especially for sticking with us when things get in the way of posting, especially our guest posts! Now, let’s hear from Lisa!–SHJ
Early tales of colonial unrest can be traced to many locations and times in American history. Seeds of rebellion have significant roots in the colony of North Carolina in the years before the Revolutionary War. The War of Regulation is one such seed woven in the fabric of Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross, the fifth book in her epic Outlander series. In April 2019, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) hosted Diana at historical sites that correlate with her Outlander story. As Diana Gabaldon is my all time favorite author and storyteller, I just had to travel from my home state of Iowa to make this historical trek with her (unfortunately not as a member of her entourage but as an attendee at these events). Here is my third and final recount of the journey.
~I have tried to minimize spoilers for the fifth book and fifth season of Outlander. Please note that I do refer to actual history and do reference Diana’s storytelling from this point forward. The event recap is impossible to share without suggesting the Battle at Alamance and the story within are included in The Fiery Cross.~
From my first two stops in coastal New Bern, I traveled to the Piedmont region of North Carolina and the Alamance Battleground, just south of Burlington, to attend a morning of history sharing appropriately entitled, “Experience Outlander at Alamance with Diana Gabaldon.” Alamance Battleground lies off country highways forested in lush green hardwoods and conifers and is situated unassumingly along the banks of the Great Alamance Creek. I drove to the entrance of this historical site where I was greeted by a man in a kilt passing out lanyards to the attendees of the small and private Sunday brunch to be held with Diana as the guest of honor. The 40 in attendance were mostly Diana Gabaldon fans of her books and/or TV series but also patrons of this historical site. We gathered at the history center to await Herself before moving to a tent set up to offer intimacy during brunch and spoken words. Not a bad seat in this house! The beauty and excitement of the day were held in check by the ever present nature of the field and history’s solemn surround.
The Site Manager at Alamance Battleground, Jeremiah DeGennaro, welcomed us all to the preservation site and passed the introduction of Diana over to the Deputy Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Dr. Kevin Cherry. He spoke of the “Outlander Effect” on North Carolina’s historical sites. I had the privilege of sitting with Dr. Cherry at a previous weekend event where he asked me if I had ever heard of Tryon Palace before reading a DG book. My honest answer was “No.” This is a perfect example of the “Outlander Effect.” Just happy that my ignorance has been a good thing for tourism.
Diana was welcomed to the podium and shared the question she is often asked, “Why are you here?“ Her answer is that North Carolina history is very much Scottish history. Ever the historian, Diana reviewed Scottish immigration to the Carolinas and its relevance to her story. She has traveled the state many times to gain knowledge and understanding of the Scottish immigrant’s place in the history here. Because so many Scots settled in the coastal and the backcountry regions, Diana was able to continue the saga of her Outlander characters in this place and time with her gusto of storytelling.
Scots in conflict with the governing powers was not a new concept and the N.C. backcountry climate was a great set up for the author. The Alamance Battle of May 1771 was, in a way, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, a sort of “kick off” revolt, a taxpayer grievance to the Royal Governor William Tryon and his palace. Diana paused and looked around the field, noting a simple log cabin in the distance. She referenced the TV series Fraser cabin from season 4. The “Big House” to come in season 5 is a “glamping” equivalent of the cabin here – just wait and see. The set designer does not skimp! New settlers in the Carolina colony would have had spade and ax beginnings. Another aside: Carolina has mosquitoes and Scotland has midges.
Back to 1771… The farmers and backcountry settlers of N.C. did not want an elegant palace bought and built with taxpayer money. They felt alienated from the laws and established society of the Eastern governing region. Their economy was based on very little cash, a barter system of trade due to geographic isolation. If citizens were unable to pay taxes, their property was confiscated. Although tax collectors were directed not to do this by Tryon and the Assembly, they couldn’t be stopped. Not enough militia existed to oversee the corrupt sheriffs and other officials so far into the backcountry. The opposition to this extortion became the War of Regulation. Riots and revolts took place in Hillsborough and discontent reached New Bern. Governor Tryon appointed colonels of militia from wealthy and prominent social man in order to help combat the dissent. Men like (the fictional) Jamie Fraser were charged to outfit others in the community while men like Quaker Herman Husband were chosen by the disgruntled citizens as leaders sent to Tryon looking for peaceful resolution. The conflict and violence ensued despite all efforts.
On that note, the brunch buffet was opened. Much appreciation goes to Kimberly Kandros here as she was the chief organizer of the entire Diana/historic site/lineup/schedule. She and others from the NCDNCR offered a full weekend of educational nourishment for the mind and body! (Shout out to Michelle‘s Kitchen & Table from Burlington for the actual feeding of our bodies – totally delicious!)
After our lovely meal, Elaine O’Kal, an Alamance Battleground volunteer and all around Outlander enthusiast, became our tour guide. She began by setting the stage for us with the history of the area coming into 1771. The Loyalist-appointed militia consisted of 16-to-60-year-old free white men from each county. Prominent men were made Colonels and Captains. They were responsible for road and bridge maintenance as well as keeping the peace. When the fictional Jamie and Claire Fraser arrived to North Carolina in 1767 much discontent was already was brewing. By 1768, the Regulator Movement had officially formed. The men wanted to regulate their own affairs. The previously mentioned Quaker Herman Husband and Scots-Irish citizen James Hunter were leaders of the movement expressing grievances about fees, corrupt sheriffs, and Anglican-only officials. Under representation existed in government in regards to population dispersion in the counties (see photo of county map for reference). Diana’s fourth Outlander book, Drums of Autumn, points out the geographic population disparities and corrupt court officials and dishonest sheriffs. To illustrate the mounting tension, Diana read a passage from The Fiery Cross. The actual history directly compared to Diana’s fictional story only reinforces the reader’s understanding of the immense and finely detailed research Diana puts into her work.
Our group of 40 plus “students” followed Ms. O’Kal to a spot on the historic site. Here she pointed out that forces from both sides had gathered in Orange County some 5 miles apart. Despite the large number of Regulators assembled, Tryon sought to confront the uprising and moved his camp of men and ammunitions just a half mile away from the disorganized Regulator camp. Ms. O’Kal directed our attention to the physical space upon which we stood and nearness in proximity to what would have been the Regulator camp just across the creek bed. (See map photos.) It was here a most special treat ensued. The mic was passed between the two women storytellers. The historian would detail the Alamance gathering, and the author would read a passage from The Fiery Cross. This began a volley in time and space between the actual event and the fictional story. We were experiencing the timeline of history in real time with narration in real space. What an extraordinary shift of mind and body!
Ms. O’Kal had placed us on the battlefield where just 300 feet separated the forces. These were men that knew one another, lived in the same communities–and were, perhaps, related–looking across the creek at each other! Our guide spoke of Loyalist figures like David Fanning and Richard Caswell on the Militia side. These men are featured in Diana‘s books, Fanning being a pretty all-around bad guy and Caswell being a notorious pipe smoker. This last fact was advantageous in a medical procedure performed by our heroine Claire. Our guide shared details of the provisions and camp layouts of each side as well. The Militia forces were organized, armed and outfitted where as the Regulators lacked leadership, were in a state of disarray and had little in the way of arms. The 2000 men gathered on that side believed the sheer number of their forces would sway the Governor to listen to grievances. But the time for negotiations had long past in his eyes, and Tryon’s 1000 men were charged to end this uprising once and for all.
Diana read a passage from The Fiery Cross that elaborated upon the conditions of the backcountry farmers and disgruntled citizens. Quaker Herman Husband voiced these concerns in an intimate setting to his friends, Jamie and Claire. The book passage includes an actual letter from Governor Tryon who was known for his incessant letter writing. This emphasis once again serves as a reminder to me of the careful and accurate inclusion of history that Diana Gabaldon, the meticulous researcher, has included in her fictitious novels.
Back to Elaine O’Kal. She pointed out that many men involved in this battle went on to be government leaders after the Revolutionary War. Several are noted in Diana’s books because they are in direct contact with the Frasers or have an impact in American history during the span of the Outlander story. We already know that Royal Governor Tryon granted land to Jamie and made him a colonel of militia, thus setting up a relationship for future interactions between the two men. Diana has skillfully interjected Jamie Fraser into the Alamance conflict at the height of tense negotiations.
Elaine O’Kal recounted this strain on the morning of May 16, 1771 by citing the proclamation Governor Tryon sent across the creek to “those who style themselves Regulators.” In it, he gives the lawbreakers a chance to surrender peacefully or face consequences in one hour’s time. DG then read a passage from The Fiery Cross illustrating this history. In it, Militia Colonel James Fraser pleads with Governor Tryon to speak to Regulator and Quaker Herman Husband so a peaceful resolution may be found and blood be not shed. If Husband can be convinced to cross the creek and talk, will he, Tryon, not save the lives of these, his citizens? Both our guide and our novelist have orchestrated a sense of urgency on this morning just as it must have been on that May morning. And as we step nearer the creek bed, Ms. O’Kal points under our feet to a “slope covered with teeny yellow-flowered plants” – a detail observed by a major character in The Fiery Cross as he, too, crossed this path! Flowers, Quakers, and creeks – oh my! We are in the pages of history!
~A most emotionally charged, beautifully written passage from chapter 62 in The Fiery Cross was read by Diana at this time. I have chosen not to share details because I fear too much of her chilling storyline would be given away by my doing so. Suffice to say, in my notes I have written, “WOW,” and I remember that jaw dropping, moving feeling at the end of her recitation vividly.~
The hour had expired at midday. Documented accounts of the war cry given by Governor Tryon atop his horse were shared by both women, “Fire, Goddamn you! Fire on them or on me!” Diana’s last shared passage came from Jamie‘s point of view during the battle. It dramatically described the pitting of neighbor upon neighbor, and even family upon family. True to her style, Diana transports the reader, and in this case, the listeners, to the place and time of her characters. My heart was racing and I know how the story ends – both of them!
The Battle of Alamance effectively ended the Regulator Movement in North Carolina. Ms. O’Kal shared details of the short battle. The ill-outfitted and ill-prepared Regulators were no match for the Militia men with a battle plan, guns and cannons. A large boulder remains in the field today, its solemn significance noted for the little cover it provided the defeated Regulators. In less than two hours, nine Militia soldiers and up to 100 Regulators died, many were injured on both sides, 15 Regulators were taken prisoner, one was hung on the field of battle without trial, six were executed later. Two months later, Governor Tryan left to become Governor of the colony of New York, taking Edmond Fanning as his personal secretary. As he told James Fraser, he had done his duty. He did not leave the colony in a state of disorder and rebellion for his successor.
The volley of history and historical fiction ended on this somber note. Event guests were free to roam the grounds as we waited for Diana to be available for pictures and autographs. I took this time to wander, and read posted signs and visit that restored log cabin. This is the actual cabin built by Herman Husband’s brother-in-law, John Allen. A battlefield scene from The Fiery Cross takes place in a log cabin. Could this be where Diana’s inspiration was kindled? In her brunch speech, the author did note that this cabin example would be typical of a backcountry log cabin during the Fraser’s North Carolina time. My self-guided tour definitely did not indicate a glamping scenario. (See pictures!)
I was one of the last to get autographs and pictures from the weekend’s star attraction. I suppose I didn’t want to be transported back to my time and place. I have been fortunate to meet Diana Gabaldon and a few others associated with the Outlander series at prior events. This being the case, I did not bring a “big book” for autographing, but instead brought a personal photo and my own “wee medicine box.” I’d like to think Diana remembered my box as she perused the accumulated familiar signatures. She graciously signed “best regards” in Gaelic to (me) and posed for a few quick pictures. So hard to believe my journey through Diana Gabaldon’s North Carolina has come to an end. Thank you readers for trekking along my three part history trail!
Many, many thanks go to Outlander North Carolina, Beth Pittman and Susan Jackson, for inviting me to share this journey – a wonderful opportunity made possible by these two lovely ladies. I’d like to recognize all the people working at Alamance Battleground for their contributions to the success of this event. Elaine O’Kal did an extraordinary job sharing history and coordinating the presentation with Diana. Thanks to Jeremiah DeGennaro, Ann Hunnicutt and all the crew at this special site. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources deserves an entire weekend of ovations. Dr. Kevin Cherry, Kimberly Kantros and Jennifer Farley get special recognition for their efforts. And, as always, my deepest appreciation goes to Diana Gabaldon for the sharing of her life, her time, her incredible talents, her humor…and her husband (Doug Watkins) with us all! Where would we be without DG?!?!
Lisa, we cannot thank you enough for your wonderful memories of your weekend in North Carolina! Come back soon!
If you’re ever on a DIY Outlander tour of North Carolina, don’t forget to stop at the Alamance Battleground historic site, as well as the many other real places that are host to the Frasers and their family and friends! Speaking of an Outlander tour–have you ever traveled to Outlander destinations? Tell us about it!
On a recent North Carolina trek, I followed the historically noted footprints of my favorite author, Diana Gabaldon. The Fiery Cross, “big” Book 5 in the Outlander series, traces the earliest beginnings of unrest prior to the American Revolution in the continuing saga of the Fraser family. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources planned several events with the author across the state during the last April weekend to promote and raise funds for their historical sites. This second day of my journey brought me to New Bern on the South Lawn of Tryon Palace, a reproduction of the original Governor’s mansion. It was a beautiful day to share Outlander love under a tent with one hundred-plus DG fans all gathered to listen to Herself speak.
William McCrea, Executive Director of Tryon Palace, began the program’s introduction of Diana by way of his familial connection to the author in the early days of her writing. His mother was also in the CompuServe Forum! Their “antiquated” digital friendship began from there and lead to Diana‘s acknowledging McCrea’s family in the Drums of Autumn novel! Susi Hamilton, North Carolina Deputy Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources and avid DG fan, formally introduce Diana to the crowd. The Deputy Secretary’s job is to tell the story of North Carolina to the general population. This is the gift Diana Gabaldon has given her as she sees it: A STEM education study applied to North Carolina history!
Diana rose to the warm welcome and accolades, immediately telling us of the Jacobean history and rich Scottish connection in North Carolina. This land felt familiar and akin to the homeland many had fled or been forced to leave following the war of cultural eradication. The Battle of Culloden greatly contributed to the Scottish emigration to America. Although many here today could trace their roots back to Scotland, Diana cannot. And with that, the author shared her own ancestry, (which is not it all Scottish), with us! So why Scotland in her books? Basically for the kilts, truth be told!
Diana Gabaldon knew she wanted to be a writer since she was eight years old but as there was no money in this profession, she was encouraged to pursue a different path – science. At 35, she still knew she was supposed to be a novelist, but was writing for scientific publications. She recounted being paid $125 for an instructional piece on how to clean a cow skull. The clean skull still resides in her home today and, as she did such a good job of writing the how-to, other scientific texts and some comic book writing followed. These were her only writing experiences. Her husband, Doug Watkins, had just begun his own entrepreneurial venture so she needed to keep her day job(s), but Diana Gabaldon had to answer her calling and, without telling anyone, began to write that first novel, just for practice. Did I mention they had three small children and she was doing this in the middle of the night?!? History was her starting point, Doctor Who’s man-in-a-kilt character her inspiration, and the rest became her creation and her history, so to speak.
On that note, Diana invited questions from the audience (paraphrased questions and answers): Q: How will religion and Celtic Christianity play into the story going forward? A: Pagan rituals continued in spiritual beliefs especially in Highland Catholics. Spells or incantations are very much like prayers. We will see a lot of this with the mix of people on the Ridge in NC. Diana also hopes to have more Gaelic speaking in the upcoming television season for this reason. She is pushing for it in season five. Q: Do the first person accounts Diana uses in her historical writing come from a secret vault somewhere? A: The Battle of Kings Mountain will be in the next book (Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone). Diana detailed an historical journal she had used to help write this 15-minute battle into her story. In it, the Militia (Patrick Ferguson) and the Over Mountain Men gave her the material needed to get inside the fighting event and the men involved. Newspaper accounts are available but not always accurate. In the 800+ interviews she has given over the years, only two have been 100% correct! (Suddenly I’m having pangs of nightmares where I’m taking a college final but have never attended the class!) Q: Are the magic and myth of the stones from documented sources? A: No, they are her invention. And Diana has it pretty well mapped out at this point. She didn’t even go to Scotland and see standing stones until after her first book was published. This opened up research avenues and the “Gabaldon Theory of Time Travel” evolved. (At this point in the Q & A, a man in full kilt regalia came to the microphone and distracted Diana. A few moments and a glass of water were needed to recover! Seeing Herself in a swoon and flustered sure has a way of making her feel real and endears Diana to her fandom even more. What a great moment!) On the subject of time travel/science fiction… The first publisher of Outlander needed to label the book and it was decided that romance was the better-selling category. It took three Outlander books on the New York Times best-selling list to move them to general fiction. Even then, Barnes & Noble still had the series in the romance section; and, at eight years out, Diana had to write a very directive letter to the CEO to get them moved! Q: Any other stories in Diana’s mind? A: Oh yes, Master Raymond will be a whole other collection for us someday. (Yay, personal fave!) Q: Why the death of one particular “small” character? (a reference to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood story line) A: That death was not planned and was shocking to her too. But the story had unfolded that way to Diana and had to be written as such. It was very difficult for her to write that tragedy. Q: Will Young Ian ever be happy? A: Yes! That is, until the Mohawk appear to tell him something that knocks your socks off–BEES spoiler! Q: How does Diana feel about script writing? A: Well, it’s like being God versus not. Her first script came back with notes all over it. She needed to throttle back on being funny. Too much of a “Diana tone” that didn’t match the rest of the series, she was told. (I think we all picked up on and appreciated that vibe at the time. Can you imagine what the first draft must have been like?) Also, she wrote a chase scene involving Dougal/Graham McTavish and left it to the stunt team as to how it would be implemented. Graham had to do a lot of his own riding for close-ups, however. His comment to Diana afterwards: “I’ve just been having a conversation with my balls. I’d rather not do that again.“ (We love these stories, don’t we?) Q: When in North Carolina, it’s vinegar or tomato. Which barbecue taste does Diana prefer? A: Vinegar Q: Was the character Black Jack Randall just born bad? A: People are always asking how the author can possibly write such a despicable character. Well, she tells them to their great surprise, that BJR is part her! Diana retold the shock of this revelation through the story of her yearly Arizona tea where she enlightened those attending with this information. The ladies were all aghast! Q: Has the show affected DG’s visualization of the story/characters? A: No, they are two separate entities. Her story has been with her for far, far longer. She thinks the actors are great, though. Q: Does Diana listen to any musical influences while writing? A: No. She occasionally listens to Scottish folk music to get a sense of the cadence but not while writing. Words/lyrics interfere with her own mind’s process. During the writing of Voyager, Diana did listen to Carmina Burana. Some music she will listen to for two or three days just for tonal influences. Q: How will Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan being co-producers influence the show? A: They will have more time off! No, maybe less (with more responsibility). Diana noticed in the first two weeks of dailies that they had one or two days off each week. However, there are more leading characters and stories to cover this season. She is sure that their new involvement will be a positive for all. Q: Did DG know that Into the Wilderness author, Rosina Lippi, was going to use the characters of Jamie and Claire in her novel? A: Yes, in this case Diana gave her permission for the characters to be used in the story because Lippi was not writing the story of Jamie and Claire. She was including them in the same historical space and time, enabling the reference. Q: A North Carolinian shared that her husband’s ancestor fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Does Diana know of him? A: Yes! The questioner’s husband should be pleased to hear that Colonel Cleveland plays an important role in the upcoming BEES battle. (Well that is exciting for her! Makes me want to do some ancestry searches looking for journals and personal accounts of my long ago family members that I can send off to Diana ASAP!)
So many fans with so many questions–a line formed down the center of the tent at this point. I’ll give a brief recap of general answers as follows: ~Cross Stitch was the working title for Outlander. Publishers in the UK went with that. ~No thoughts of a “Pottermore”-type website. Diana has “The Methadone List.” Be careful when Googling that! It is Diana’s recommended booklist, NOT something else! ~Characters are all her, not based on family members. ~Davina Porter, audiobook narrator, was a happy accident and will read Diana‘s books up until she (Davina) turns 75. (Oh please be done writing by then!) ~Simon the Fox Fraser had lots of illegitimate children. This was a great find in Diana’s research for her character development. ~Diana is usually not disappointed by scenes left out of the TV series adaptations. It’s mostly stuff added in that can be upsetting! ~As to why her Marine Biology interest knowing she was terrified of the deep water? Diana was drawn to deep sea creatures from her childhood years and the family collection of “All About…” books. It wasn’t until she was serious with a fellow French horn player that she knew she would just have to live in Arizona! To continue to be with now-husband Doug, the scholar Diana changed to the study of Land Biology. ~Diana compared her science background and experience to writing and the creative process. She described it like the conscious versus the subconscious. People often ask how she overcomes writer’s block. Diana has always worked on three or four projects at one time. She vacillates among them; learning to write more than one thing at a time allowed her to overcome “being stuck.“ Thus, she is very productive and prolific!
This speaking of her writing operations led to Diana’s sharing what her husband Doug describes as “the people who open doors have names“ process. The author took us inside her mind’s eye to elaborate. I’ll do my best to relay the incredible mechanization of her mind by paraphrasing here: Diana works in the front of her mind on craftsmanship and balance, moving words and clauses to and fro. It’s very mechanical work and all the while the back of her mind is murmuring questions. This is all going on together, all of the time. On a cold day with no ideas, she goes to her stacks of historical material looking for a good “kernel.” The kernel gets her into the page but it’s not necessarily having to do with the scene. She picks up a catalog of 18 century Scottish silver and crystal. Her mind’s eye picks up a beautiful goblet incised with thistles on the side:
“The crystal goblet is made of glass…well everybody knows that, crystal is made of glass. The crystal goblet…light from the side…passing through…how is the light passing through? The light is coming in low and the color is blue…why is the color blue? The color is blue because it’s snowy outside and it’s a late winter afternoon…so the cold blue light of the late winter afternoon fell through the crystal glass…no, no, no goblet. How did it fall through? Did it go splat? There’s something in it refracting light. The cold blue light of the late afternoon fell through the crystal goblet casting a pool of glowing amber…why is it amber? Because there’s something in the glass casting amber light on the polished wood of the table top—now I know where I am. I’m in Jocasta Cameron’s parlor because she’s the only one that would have a glass window, a crystal goblet full of whisky and that’s why the light is amber.”
(Whew! Play that in your mind at the speed of light and you might imagine Diana’s incredible intellect at work just as we all experienced it! Applause, applause!) Read more about Diana’s writing process here.
All mouths were agape after listening to her re-counting, but Diana still took time to answer a couple more questions. She shared again that it is impossible for her to have a research assistant. I think we get an idea of why from the previous detailing. One last interesting question was about the prologue in Drums of Autumn. Who is the voice? It is Brianna’s voice based on Diana‘s personal experience. Mhmm, fascinating.
The author closed the “Tryon Palace Tent Q & A” by reading a passage from Go Tell the Bees… Just listening to Diana Gabaldon voice her own words is such a delight. The passage she shared is about the reading of a modern children’s book. The selection seemed apropos with all the Fraser family of characters gathered under such a calculated mastery of storytelling. Our experience soaking Diana Gabaldon all in on this fine morning under a grand tent on the majestic South Lawn of this historical North Carolina location did, indeed, feel like home.
Many thanks go again to author Diana Gabaldon for her gracious gifting of self and time, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Tryon Palace, all the representatives of these organizations, and the many residents of New Bern and fans of Outlander that made my weekend experience so memorable! Look for my last stop on The Fiery Cross/North Carolina Tour on the Alamance Battlefield coming to a blog post soon!
Thanks once again, Lisa, for a wonderful recap of your weekend with Diana Gabaldon in North Carolina!
I recently had the opportunity to visit several sites in North Carolina, tracing the steps of the 18th Century historical figures, James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser and his wife, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser. What? They are NOT real historical figures? Don’t tell that to the fans of Diana Gabaldon’s writing. To us, they are as real as the locations the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources brought the author to this last weekend in April.
My journey began in Iowa with a flight from Des Moines to Raleigh, NC. I drove to the historical town of New Bern on the eastern coastal region to kick off my tour. Tryon Palace would be the first to host Diana’s visit so I decided to familiarize myself with the Palace and the community in which it is centered.
The Palace as described in the Diana’s Outlander series is indeed like the grand opulence on display today. The first NC Governor’s state of residence was completed in 1770 and occupied by Governor Tryon until 1771 when a new Governor, Josiah Martin replaced him. Tryon went to great lengths to document the construction and furnishings of his mansion. This proved invaluable for the 1959 reconstruction of the Palace. All but the original stables were destroyed by fire just 28 years after its completion in 1798. The Governor had hired an English architect to create a place of residence worthy of King George III and Queen Charlotte of England, one that could support visits of royalty and promote the affairs and the Crown’s dominion. It is easy to imagine the pages of The Fiery Cross come to life and to understand the the Regulator’s points of view regarding unfair use of tax payer’s dollars! The Palace is definitely fit for a King! No wonder Governor Tryon “got out of Dodge” (or accepted the commission of Governor of the State of New York taking his furnishings with him in late 1771) before the backlash of his spending could ignite a Revolutionary War. Wait, in a way, it did. The grievances aired by North Carolinians to their government became seeds of revolutionary discontent. Thus, history as we know it.
The beauty of the Tryon Palace was used as a backdrop for Diana Gabaldon and the two events for which she was the guest of honor. The first, “An Evening with Diana Gabaldon,” began with a small group and cocktails at a private historical residence in New Bern and then moved to the North Carolina Historical Museum adjacent to the Palace for a lavishly Outlander themed dinner with seventy plus in attendance. The event had been planned for the South Lawn of the Palace Gardens but due to inclement weather was moved indoors.
Diana was escorted in by her husband, Doug Watkins, with accompaniment from a local bagpiper playing the Skye Boat Song . The attendees were seated, (well, actually standing at that point), around ten tables, pumped to hear all that she had to share. Introductions were given by various members of the North Carolina State Government and Diana was given platform to speak for approximately 30 minutes before taking questions from her followers. Our character-themed dinner and dessert followed the conclusion of the Q&A session.
So what did Diana share? She began by addressing her writing connection to North Carolina and the importance of the Regulator history in the story of Jamie and Claire, and now, Murtagh, in the TV series. This storyline, by the way, was her suggestion and she is pleased with the conflict it sets up going forward in the adaptation. While she does see the scripts and is allowed notes upon them, Diana does NOT have complete control of every detail. Sometimes her voice is heard, sometimes not. She joked that the NC of the show is NOT geographically accurate and that the powers that be are counting on viewers not having been to the actual state of North Carolina! She further added, that having seen the dailies from season 5, at least the wigs are a lot better! (Cheers from all!)
Back to the subject of writing and specifically why it takes so long for Diana to complete a book… The average novel is 100,000 words. Outlander, the shortest book in the series is 300,000 words. It takes at least 2 1/2 years to write a book with all the research that she puts into each novel. This led to Diana’s reasoning for not having an assistant. She could tell someone to go to the store and pick up hotdogs and beans but if she went to the store, she might see other interesting ingredients. Thus changing, adapting, creating a whole new menu at the end of the day. DG has many times described her writing style as nonlinear in fashion. Her example illustrates this as well. Needless to say, none of her adoring fans will be hired as a personal research assistant anytime soon. (Sigh.)
Diana also looks for first person historical accounts to weave in the details of her storytelling. She cited the Battle of King’s Mountain and the historical account of an actual soldier’s experience for this. The Battle will be included in the ninth book. Watch for details about tree bark flying from bullet spray and the aftermath of other sights, sounds, and smells experienced by a character in Bees. “History is not what happened, it’s what people wrote down about it.” Diana went on to share other consultant and script-writing anecdotes. She told the story of Jamie’s missing hat in an early season four episode. It was written that after the misplaced hat had been found in the pig’s pen the hat was to be thrown away in the trash can. Diana had to step in and explain the value of the leather and that nothing would be thrown away in that time period, especially in a wastebasket because that didn’t even exist! The scene was rewritten and the hat was then placed on an upper shelf. Script writers think dialogue first then what people are actually doing last!
Overall, DG’s experience with the series, writing and being on the set has been most enjoyable. Everyone is always joking around! Diana made us all want to stow away in her luggage next trip to the set.
Six questions were answered from the audience during the last part of the formal programming and before dinner. Diana was asked about how much input she has in the casting process and she told the story of finding the leads Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. Diana has no say in the hiring and remembered thinking Sam was a chameleon actor, he looked different in every role he had played so far. Diana was shown “grotesque” pictures of him but the tape sent to her was “Jamie.” The standing joke was that Jamie would probably turn out to be the UPS man, but Sam was found quickly in the selection process! Finding Claire proved to be the difficult one. Down to the wire in time, everyone was sent home with the reject pile and told to find her. Caitriona was then unanimously selected from that pile based upon her own self tape with an episode 1 scene, “Help, he’s going over!”
Other questions were also answered: Q: Has there been any talk about a spin off Lord John series? A: Although lots of interest has been expressed by many sources, no official conversations have been had.
Q: How has Diana’s Catholic upbringing influenced the characters and her writing? A: Diana has knowledge, for one, (unlike many of the show’s script writers). Also, Celtic Catholics/Christians have an interesting take on religion. They tend to incorporate incantations, charms, rituals into their beliefs and daily lives, lending to a more natural process. The issue of killing was discussed and the introduction of other characters such as Quakers help to give the story balance here.
Q: Does Diana know what her characters will be and do? How do her characters come to her? A: The pace and process take shape from a kernel, scene by scene. Diana went on to describe this process of her writing from the kernel in her mind’s eye of a Scottish crystal goblet.
The final question of the evening revolved around the origin of her writing and 1st novel. Her practice novel had to be historical because if she couldn’t come up with original stories, at least she’d have something to fall back on. Many of us have heard this telling of the Doctor Who episode that sparked the flame for an 18th-century man in a kilt who would become our beloved Jamie. Her English character, Claire, wasn’t having any of that 18th-century vibe though, and Diana knew from her voice and that first cottage introduction that Claire would be a modern woman having gone back in time, thus creating the sci-fi aspect. This origin of Outlander is a pleasure to hear in Diana‘s voice anytime.
On a personal note, I was given the opportunity to mingle a few minutes at the end of the evening. After bit of fangirling, I recovered my senses enough to ask this final question: If she could remove Herself as author and just be a fan of The Fiery Cross, what three moments would she most like to transfer to the visual medium of season five? Diana responded with the scene that involves Claire in the windowsill in the middle of the night. Jamie comes in to find her with goosebumps on her arms. What transpires then is a very intimate moment that Diana is really pushing for inclusion this season. (Fingers crossed!) The next scene she described to me I will only say, for spoiler reasons, is a moment of great impact on Roger and his character. She would want to include that and also the poignant aftermath with his son.
Of course I was thrilled to have had this interaction with my all-time favorite author. So, along with my thanks for her insight and time that evening, I told Diana I would be following her as she traveled across the state over the next few days. (Now cemented in the mind of Diana Gabaldon is the image of me as a stalker. Great.)
This incredible “Evening with Diana Gabaldon” transpired over four plus hours and was made possible by the coordinated efforts of Bill McCrea, Executive Director of Tryon Palace, Susi Hamilton, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary and their amazing team members. Many thanks and much praise to everyone involved.
Thank you so much Lisa for sharing your “Evening with Diana Gabaldon” at Tryon Palace with us!
Tryon Palace is a great place to visit, as well as the adjoining NC History Center, with informative and interactive exhibits–it’s fun and educational! We appreciate the folks at the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources bringing this amazing event to eastern North Carolina in support of historic New Bern. All proceeds went towards continuing repairs at Tryon Palace from Hurricane Florence in September 2018.