• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

FAQ: About the Characters

Below are some answers to commonly-asked questions about Diana’s OUTLANDER-series characters. (Read carefully, as some questions contain "spoilers.")

All answers are from Diana, either written for this FAQ or are quotes from interviews, articles or her posts online:

How do you develop your characters? Do you keep charts or index cards to keep track of them?

black-jack-whipping-jamieNo, I don’t keep charts of characters–I don’t write down anything much but the text of the book, and I don’t even write that in a straight line. I write in scenes; lots of little pieces that eventually get glued together.

In the later books, I do have to sort of count back and see what month of what year it is when a given scene takes place, so I’ll know what the weather should be like, but that’s about as far as it goes. I don’t forget the characters, because I can "see" them.

As for where the characters come from:

There’s a local group of fans here in Phoenix who took me out to tea every spring for years. There’s a resort that does a full formal English tea, with scones and clotted cream and finger sandwiches and all kinds of goodies–we all have a good time and they get to pick my brains about the book in progress.

Anyway, at one of these teas, the readers got onto Jack Randall, and what a horrible, terrible, nasty, loathsome, repellent….etc. he was. And all the time, I was sitting there, quietly sipping my tea, and thinking, "You really don’t have any notion that you’re talking to Black Jack Randall, do you?" Just bear that in mind.

Image at upper right: Black Jack Randall (actor Tobias Menzies) shows his evil side as he whips Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), from the Starz Outlander TV series.

Are any of the fictional characters based on real historical figures?

Outlander_Cast_Geillis_420x560There’s a "real" female witch (late 16th century) named Geilis Duncane in Daemonologie, a treatise on witches by King James of Scotland (later James I of England….)–the book is about the trial of a coven of witches whom James believed tried to assassinate him via black magic. (You know how women are always teaming up with the devil to do things like that…). I figured anybody up on Scottish witchcraft would know the name, and for anyone who wasn’t, it didn’t matter.

It is, of course, not the OUTLANDER witch’s real name–we meet her in DRAGONFLY under (what we suppose is) her original name of Gillian–she took Geillis deliberately as a name, because of the original, whom she of course was familiar with, owing to her researches into witchcraft.

Image at right: Geillis Duncan in the Outlander TV series, portrayed by Lotte Verbeek.

Jack Randall is not real–so far as I know. I add that proviso, because quite frequently in the writing of these books, I’ve written someone, presumably out of my head–and then found them, in the historical record. Mildly eerie when it happens, but it always reassures me that I’m on the right track.

Now, Mother Hildegarde was a real historical person, though she lived in the 12th century, rather than the 18th. Likewise, M. Forez, the hangman of DRAGONFLY, was a real public hangman in the Paris of the 18th century. Bonnie Prince Charlie and many of the Jacobite lords were naturally real people {cough}, as were Benedict Arnold, General Burgoyne, and George III. But most of the historical people are treated as historical people; i.e., I haven’t messed around with the facts of their lives or personalities—with one minor exception.  Simon, Lord Lovat, aka “The Old Fox” was certainly a real person, and a very colorful one, too.   I made no alterations to his life or persona, save for grafting an illegitimate and totally fictional branch onto his family tree by making  him Jamie Fraser’s grandfather.  Given Old Simon’s persona as recorded, attributing an illegitimate son to him would in no way be character assassination.

In the fullness of time, we’ll have THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Part II, which will include a complete listing and brief description of historical characters, as well as the overall Cast of Characters listing for the series.

(Links: Read the full text of Daemonologie online or download it for free.)

How is Geillis’ name pronounced?

Well. <cough> I don’t know. FWIW, the reader on the abridged audiobooks (Geraldine James) called her GAY-liss or GAY-lee, and the reader on the unabridged audiobooks (Davina Porter) calls her (I think) GUY-liss or GUY-lee–and I’ve also heard GEE-liss/GEE-lie (with a soft "g").

Watch a Starz video on YouTube which explains the pronunciations of "Geillis" and "Loaghaire" as used in the Outlander TV series.

Who is the ghost in OUTLANDER? (SPOILER)

The ghost is Jamie–but as for how it fits into the story, All Will Be Explained–in the last book.

How is "Sassenach" pronounced?

SASS-uh-nak. It’s actually a little guttural on the end, a bit like the German “ach”, but not quite so throaty. That’s close, though.

Watch a Starz Youtube video which demonstrates how to pronounce "Sassenach."

When is Jamie’s birthday?

May 1. I had one reader argue with me about this, insisting that he had to be a Leo, but I assure you he isn’t. My husband and kids are all Tauruses, and I know what they’re like. May 1 it is.

Is the story true about the Dunbonnet and the laird who hid for seven years?

Leap o’ the Cask is real–so is the story of the laird who hid in the cave for seven years, whose tenants called him the Dunbonnet, and his servant, who brought the ale to him in hiding. His name? Ah…..James Fraser. Really.

Who/What is Master Raymond? What is his significance? (SPOILER)

Well, he’s a prehistoric time traveler. I think he came from somewhere about 400 BC or perhaps a bit earlier (not technically “prehistoric,” but they certainly weren’t using written records where he started out), and the 18th century is not his first stop.

He is–or was–a shaman, born with the ability to heal through empathy. He sees auras plainly; those with his power all have the blue light he has–born warriors, on the other hand, are red (so yes, “the red man” is iconic). He has a rather strong aversion to Vikings, owing to events that happened in his own time; hence his nervousness when he sees Jamie. He’s afraid of them, but he also realizes just what a strong life-force they have–that’s why he makes Claire invoke it (using the sexual and emotional link between her and Jamie) to heal her.

His descendants–a few of whom he meets now and then in his travels–have the blue light about them, too; in large degree or small, depending on their talents. So he knows Claire, when he sees her, as one of his great-great, etc. grand-daughters. And Gillian/Geillis is another–you notice she has Claire’s sense of plants, though she tends naturally to poison, rather than medicines.

We’ll see him again–though not in Jamie and Claire’s story, I don’t think. Master Raymond should get his own series of books, eventually.  So in fact, we’ll see Claire, Jamie, and Geillis again, then– but as secondary characters in Master Raymond’s story (you recall, Geillis mentions having met “one other” (time-traveler) in Voyager, but doesn’t tell Claire who it is).

Heaven knows just when we’ll get to that–in about ten years, at this rate–but we will get to it. <grin>

Were Jonathan Randall and the Duke of Sandringham lovers?

No, the Duke and Randall weren’t lovers, though the Duke certainly understood Randall’s psychology, and no doubt used it to control him.

How is Laoghaire pronounced? Where did the name come from?

I got "Laoghaire" off a map.  And no, I had no idea how it was pronounced, though I had a guess.  Since then, I’ve asked various Scots, and got answers ranging from "L’heer" to "Leera" to "Leery." "Leery" seems to be the most common, though.

Watch a Starz video on YouTube which explains the pronunciations of "Geillis" and "Loaghaire" as used in the Outlander TV series.

Why doesn’t Jamie use the endearment "mo duinne" in VOYAGER?

Er….well….<cough>. He doesn’t say "mo duinne" in VOYAGER, because between DRAGONFLY IN AMBER and VOYAGER, I acquired the gracious assistance of a native speaker of Gaelic, one Iain MacKinnon Taylor (who kindly advised on all the Gaelic bits in Voyager). Mr. Taylor informed me that while "mo duinne" had the right words for what I meant to convey, it wasn’t idiomatically correct–that is, the proper expression would be "mo nighean donn". So I used that in VOYAGER, wishing (as always) to be as accurate as possible.

Watch a Starz video to learn how to say "mo nighean donn" from real Scotsmen and members of the Outlander TV series cast!

Who were the Paleolithic lovers in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER? What was their significance?

couple-embrace-neolithicI didn’t really have anything specifically in mind about the Paleolithic lovers–they were simply a metaphor for the briefness of life and the importance of love–but then again, often I write something that I intend to be only colour, and it sort of turns into something else in later books.

There’s that ghost in Outlander, for instance….<g>

I got the lovers from The National Geographic, as a matter of fact.  The original were a couple from Herculaneum (or possibly Pompeii) whose skeletons had been found during the excavation, lying the manner I described in Dragonfly–his arms around her, trying to protect her when the fire came down on them. One of the most touching and dramatic pictures I’ve ever seen. It’s stuck in my mind for years and years, so it was there when my subconscious needed it as an image of mortality and love. One reason why writers ought to read more than just their own genre (whatever that may be).

Note: See "The Dead Do Tell Tales at Vesuvius," by Rick Gore, in National Geographic, May, 1984, pp. 556-613 at a local library. Also, at right is a similar image of a neolithic couple found near Mantova, Italy. From a Reuters story posted on Feb. 7, 2007, “Eternal Embrace? Couple Still Hugging 5,000 Years On.

As a scientist what do you really think about the Loch Ness Monster?

Hoaxed_photo_of_the_Loch_Ness_monsterThe best answer I can give here, I think, is the one I gave to a sixth-grade student who wrote to ask me the same question (I include her very nice letter, as well).

Dear Dr. Gabaldon,
I am a sixth grade student at Falk School, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At school, we are working on a project called the I-Search. This involves doing a lot of research about a chosen topic and writing a paper. My topic is The Loch Ness Monster. I was hoping that you could answer a few questions about it, because  I know that you write books about Scotland. My mother is a fan of them and said that you mentioned the Loch Ness Monster in one of your books.

If you could answer these questions, I would be very grateful. If not, it’s okay. I know you are very busy.

  • Have you ever been to Loch Ness?
  • Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?
  • Why or why not?
  • If so, what kind of being do you think he/she/it is?
  • Do you know anyone who thinks they saw Nessie?
  • If so, what did he/she/it look like?
  • If not, what do imagine he/she/it looks like (If you believe)?
  • What role did the Loch Ness Monster play in your book?
  • What inspired you to include the Loch Ness Monster in your book?
  • Do you think that scientists should continue to search for evidence of the Monster?

Thank you very much for your time.  I hope to also become an author one day.

Olivia Perfetti

My answer:

1280px-Plesiosaurus_3DBDear Olivia–

Well, let’s see…

Yes, I have been to Loch Ness.  It’s huge!  Very, very deep, and a dark blue color in good weather–almost black in bad weather, under the clouds.

I don’t know about the Loch Ness monster.  On purely scientific grounds, then probably not–at least, not if the monster is as big as it’s been described; I’ve seen an analysis of the amount of biomass produced in the loch, and it isn’t great enough to sustain a population of creatures of that size (see, there can’t be just one monster, unless a) it’s immortal, and we don’t know of any immortal flesh-and-blood creatures, so you shouldn’t assume that one exists, a priori (that means, "in advance of finding anything out"), or b) you have a situation in which the monster isn’t confined to the loch.   Unless that’s the case, you have to have a population of a size to permit breeding; otherwise, they’d die out.

On the other hand…I don’t know how much your mother’s told you about my books, but the main thread of the story involves time-travel.  Now, if you believe that time-travel is possible–and both Stephen Hawking and I think it is <g>— then you don’t have to have either a set quantity of biomass or a breeding population of monsters.  All you need is a time-portal under Loch Ness, which would occasionally allow a prehistoric creature to pass through it.

OK, if this is the case, then the monster could quite easily be a plesiosaur, elasmosaur, or any other aquatic prehistoric reptile. Going just on the basis of the most popular published photo of the supposed monster, my guess would be plesiosaur.

I don’t know anyone personally who’s seen the monster, but I’ve met a lot of people in Scotland who believe it’s there.

In my books, there’s a scene in which the heroine (a WWII nurse who passes through a time-portal in a stone circle in the Highlands, and ends up in 1743) sees the Loch Ness monster when she goes down to get water from the loch.   In a later book, when she’s talking to her daughter’s boyfriend, she tells him she thinks the creature she saw was a plesiosaur, and speculates that maybe it got there the same way she did–but through a portal under the water.

What made me include it?  I’m tempted to say pure whimsy, because that certainly had something to do with it.   However, there really is more to it than that.  In Highland folklore, there’s a creature called a waterhorse; this is a supernatural thing that lives in bodies of water, and is rather dangerous; there are lots of stories about them.   I did a lot of research on folklore, customs, etc. when writing these books, and so I saw a sort of tie-in between the notion of the Loch Ness monster, and the much older notion of the waterhorse.   And when I began thinking about it in depth, I could see the poignancy of having this woman, thrown out of her own time, meeting a creature that might also be displaced–or might be an omen to her.  You know, thematic stuff.

Well, I was a scientist before I began writing novels (I have a Ph.D. in ecology, a Master’s degree in Marine Biology, and a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology), and I’m all in favor of scientists looking into anything they think is interesting.   Still, there have been a number of studies of the loch, using radar, sonar, and so on, which have not found anything.   But you can’t prove a negative (this is an axiom of the scientific method, btw; you have to have a falsifiable hypothesis.  That means you have to have an idea that could theoretically be proved wrong.   That’s why creationism isn’t science–it can’t be; you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.  Ergo, you don’t have a falsifiable hypothesis) in this case; there’s always a possibility that something is there, and we just haven’t found it yet.   The odds are against it, but after all, you only need one monster. <g>

Good luck with your report!  (Btw, there’s a Loch Ness Monster center at Drumnadrochit, on the shores of the loch.  You might try Googling them and also visit their website.)

Best wishes,


Images at upper right: 1)The famous "Surgeon’s Photo" of the Loch Ness monster’s head and neck from 1934, now known to be a hoax; and 2) What scientists think plesiosaurs probably looked like. Photo credits: Wikipedia.

What kind of dinosaur is Nessie?

Well, the one Claire saw (in OUTLANDER) is probably a plesiosaur, as stated above. I have one of the British Museum models of it on my bookshelf. The model is blue…and so is Claire’s monster. <grin> The small details of appearance are based on a knowledge of basic reptilian anatomy, though.

This page was last updated on Friday, July 11, 2014 at 4:45 a.m. (PDT) by Loretta.