• “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

Historical Novel Society Conference this weekend

I’ll be at the Historical Novel Society conference this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fl.–where I will, among other things, be Mistress of Ceremonies at the Saturday Late-Night Sex-Scene Readings. [g]

Now, in previous years, we had only a half-dozen or so hardy souls willing to get up and read their naughty scenes in front of the banquet audience…but _this_ year, we had more than forty volunteers! (Must be the influence of the Fifty Shades books, I suppose. Suddenly it’s fine to read pornography in public, so why not scenes of literary merit with sexual content, hey?)

I could only take a few of the willing applicants, because you really can’t expect people to sit through more than an hour of sex scenes, no matter how well written…but how to choose?

Well, basically, I took the two men who volunteered, because it’s hard to find men who will do that –and then I kind of drew straws for the other slots. This left quite a number of talented sex-scene writers, though, who I thought deserved a chance of…er…exposure. (It’s just not possible to talk about sex-scenes without constant double-entendre, I’m sorry.)

So…I offered those who didn’t make the roster the opportunity to have their scenes posted here on my Facebook page, for the enjoyment of souls of a discriminating nature–who might, should they find the material interesting, go and look for the books of the person who wrote a good scene.

Several bold writers accepted this offer , so I will–over the next couple of weeks–be posting these scenes for your edification and enjoyment.

FOR THE MOMENT, though–here’s a brief taste of the less-rowdy side of the conference, with a Q&A I did with Jenny Barden (last year’s HNS organizer, and a brilliant job she did, too!), whose new book, MISTRESS OF THE SEA, is just coming out in the US in paperback:

Diana Gabaldon takes time out from packing for the HNS Conference in Florida to quiz fellow delegate Jenny Barden about her paperback debut, Mistress of the Sea

DG: What drew you to Francis Drake, Jenny, and why this particular episode?

JB: Sir Francis Drake is one of the best loved English heroes. He spearheaded the attacks against the Spanish at sea which led to the gradual erosion of their global dominance during the Elizabethan era and culminated in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In the episode that forms the backdrop to Mistress of the Sea, Drake managed to strike where the Spanish least expected and where it hurt most: at their bullion supply from South America. I loved the fact that Drake achieved this feat with so few men; only 15 English mariners accompanied him on the last decisive raid, and he did it in alliance with runaway African slaves whom he honoured as loyal friends. Drake also teamed up with French Huguenot privateers; plainly, he didn’t hold the conventional prejudices of his age! He was patriotic, recklessly brave, and totally determined to the point of ruthlessness. (He scuttled his brother’s ship to stop his men going back to England too soon.) I find that kind of passionate zeal and readiness to go the edge and beyond really fascinating in this age of moderation and compromise. Drake was definitely not pc! But he kept going in the face of successive setbacks and defeats. More than half his crew died during the campaign, including two of his younger brothers, but Drake never gave up. In that respect, if no other, I consider him an excellent role model for writers!

DG: Tell me about the love-interest, Will. What does Ellyn see in him?

JB: Will is a maverick. He’s ruggedly good looking in a Sean Bean kind of way (and if you’re not familiar with Sean Bean then think of a taller, chiseled Brad Pitt!). He’s also a charmer with the ladies, and there’s an immediate physical attraction between him and Ellyn. The rapport between them intellectually takes much longer to develop because of their social inequality. (Will is a craftsman, disowned by his father, who has run away to sea, while Ellyn is the daughter of a wealthy merchant with high hopes of an advantageous marriage.) Ellyn considers Will to be a bit of an upstart at first, but he also fascinates her with his tales of adventure. He has the allure of the high seas, travel to far flung places, escape and everything she secretly longs for. He’s also a puzzling character with a dark side, driven by bloodlust and a desire for vengeance for the loss of his brother at the hands of the Spaniards (a mirror of the vengeance that motivated Drake as a matter of historical fact). Will is a man of action, and Ellyn is entranced by him to the point at which she takes action herself, steps into her brother’s shoes, and follows Will aboard Drake’s ship…

DG: I found Ellyn’s feelings for her father very touching and well-drawn. What was the inspiration for that relationship?

JB: The inspiration for the relationship between Ellyn and her father came directly from my own experience. My dad died some years ago, alas – long before Mistress of the Sea was published. I was a bit of a tearaway tomboy, and was constantly in a ding-dong battle of wits with my father, determined to have my own way and prove that I could be just as good as any boy. My father had a rather Elizabethan approach to gender which was most definitely not one of equality! He was wonderful, but, in his judgement, girls were never going to achieve as much as men, and it was storing up trouble to extend their aspirations beyond being good wives and mothers. (Though higher education was not to be discouraged, it would probably be a waste in the long run – but that didn’t stop him taking great pride in my achievements!). In this respect, creating the character of Nicholas Cooksley and the tension between him and Ellyn was easy; I simply tapped into my memories, though, both in reality and in fiction, there was much more to the father-daughter bond and conflict. My father and I loved one another deeply but could never quite accept the other’s point of view.
Las Cruces trail – an extension of the Camino Real

DG: It is an exotic setting. What did you most enjoy writing about that?

JB: The Caribbean, and Panama in particular, is a superb location for a story. I adored doing the ‘on the ground’ research, picking up as much of the Camino Real as I could find, by which I mean the old ‘Royal Road’ along which bullion from Peru was transported overland by mule-train, from the City of Panama on the Pacific, to Nombre de Dios leading to the Atlantic. This traffic in bullion went on for well over a hundred years. I found places where the constant passage of hooves had worn hollows in the stones leading to overgrown pathways in the depths of the jungle. From idyllic coral atolls to the summits of forest-clad mountains with precipitous drops and stunning views; from scuba diving off Kuna Yala to traipsing through rainforest in nearly 100% humidity searching for traces now largely lost under the Panama Canal. I loved finding where the adventure actually happened. In those places, in my mind, the characters began to speak and the story came alive.

DG: What do you think you would have found most difficult about living in this time?

JB: Not having a nice hot bath, or even a shower, after a tiring day would have been fairly miserable. I’d have gone to bed each night sweaty, dirty and scratching fresh insect bites (ugh!)

DG: What research materials did you find most useful?

JB: The first hand accounts, both English and Spanish, were the most useful resources for me. The best account of Drake’s raid comes from Sir Francis Drake Revived, compiled by his preacher from the testimony of his crew. On the Spanish side, we have the documents from the Archives of the Indies at Seville, translated by Irene Wright and published by the Hakluyt Society. Of the many biographies about Drake, I found John Sugden’s the most readable. Then I have a few personal favourites in terms of quirky reference material, such as Old Panama and Castillo Del Oro by CLG Anderson with some really good pictures of Panama before the Chagres River was dammed to make the Canal. I also found living history exhibits such as the Golden Hinde reconstruction near London Bridge very helpful. There’s no better way of appreciating how damp, cramped and uncomfortable life would have been on a long voyage aboard an Elizabethan sailing ship than spending three hours in the hold giving talks back to back!

DG: I gather the next book is finished! – congratulations! Is it in the same setting? What are we allowed to know?

JB: Your congratulations are very much appreciated, thank you. The next book moves north quite a bit to the Island of Roanoke in what is now North Carolina. The story is set against the backdrop of the ‘Lost Colony’: the first attempt to found a permanent English settlement in America. I’m sure that, when I first began looking into this, you knew a lot more about it than I did, because everyone in the States seems to have heard of the ‘Lost Colony of Roanoke’, and almost no one has come across it here in England. Whilst we’re taught about the Elizabethan era at junior school, we’re generally not told about this remarkable endeavour and enduring mystery. I’ve really enjoyed the research, particularly since new evidence came to light during the course of writing the novel; I’ve had fun working that in! The story follows my fictional characters, Kit Doonan (Will’s brother) and Emme Fifield, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, who embarks on the voyage with a secret brief from the Queen’s spymaster, Walsingham, in order to escape the predatory attentions of the son of the Duke of Somerset. (The Lost Duchess will be published in the UK on 7 November.)

DG: It will be great to catch up again at the HNS conference in Florida. What are you most looking forward to?

JB: I can’t wait for the Conference; it’s going to be a ball! I’m most looking forward to seeing you again and catching up with my HNS friends in the US, and particularly to the fabulous *not-to-be-missed* Saturday Night Sex Scene Readings which you’ll be hosting. (I’m still recovering from the San Diego experience 2 years ago!)

Thank you so much for asking me these questions, Diana, and for your interest in Mistress of the Sea. The novel is not yet available in the States, but I will be bringing a few rare advance copies for enthusiasts at the Conference!

Wishing you every possible success with the next Outlander – can’t wait for that either!



This year’s Historical Novel Society conference takes place Jun 21 – Jun 23 this year, at the
Vinoy Renaissance Resort, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA. And once again, I’ve somehow been persuaded/drafted into the job of ring-master…er, Mistress of Ceremonies for the Late-Night Sex-Scenes Reading, a regular feature of these proceedings.

I inadvertently started this a few years ago, when I attended the HNS and was put on a panel discussing sex-scenes in historical fiction (actually, sex hasn’t altered much in the last few thousand years, so this is pretty generally applicable stuff). There were six people on the panel, and we were mutually introduced electronically and left to figure out how we wanted to handle things.

Having done a number of workshops at writers conferences on How to Write Sex-Scenes, I mentioned that I thought it was virtually impossible to discuss the craft of such scenes without using examples to illustrate what you were talking about. General consensus on that point. OK…six people on panel. If each of us read _one_ scene—and a brief scene at that–it would use up all the time, and there’d be no time either for us to make illustrative remarks, or for the audience to ask questions. Quandary.

So—God help me—I suggested that we ask the organizers if we might have use of the hotel’s ballroom for an hour or so following the main banquet (the panel being next day). We might, I said, announce at the banquet that the panel members would be reading examples of their work, in order to reference these scenes in the next day’s panel; anyone who was interested could remain to hear them, and anyone who wasn’t could go to bed or the bar, depending on individual preference. Universal approval.

So we did. And the results were sufficiently entertaining that the Late-Night Sex-Scene Readings have been a regular feature for the last three or four years. Last year, Gillian Bagwell emcee’d the proceedings, doing a lovely job—and providing a popular YouTube video of herself, me, and Bernard Cornwell enacting one of Gillian’s scenes from her novel, THE DARLING STRUMPET.

Now the time approacheth for all good men and women who don’t mind reading their sex scenes out loud in public—and who will be members of this year’s Conference—to step up to the plate. [g] The Late-Night readings are not, alas, open to the public (though if any good YouTube videos result, I’ll be sure to let you know).

The requirements are:

1) The reading needs to be your own original work (unless you’re team-reading someone else’s scene with them).

2) It does _not_ have to be published work; reading from a work-in-progress is acceptable.

3) It should be no more than 5-7 minutes in length.

4) You agree that people who take photos or video of you reading may post these online. (Mind, it isn’t common for people to _do_ this, but it does happen.)

Now, ideally, the scene is short enough to be dramatically complete in 5-7 minutes, but that’s not a requirement, just a suggestion.

Since we want to keep the program somewhere between 45-60 minutes, that means we can manage six or seven readers (to allow time for getting on and off stage, introductions, and hysterics on the part of the audience).

So if you’re interested in doing this, drop me an email at dgabaldon@aol.com, and let me know just a bit about your scene—what period you’re writing in, for instance, and whether it’s a serious or comic scene (or some combination thereof). If we have a _lot_ of volunteers, I may need to ask for more information in order to make a decision, but in recent years, about the right number of people have shown up. I look forward to hearing from you! [g]

Octopus/Octothorpe….there’re eight legs, what else do you want?

Newton abbreviation for poundEW.com (ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s electronic edition) reveals the official cover for MOBY (aka WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD), shown above. Here’s the link to their piece, which has a few questions and answers (such as they are [cough]).

Image at left: From the 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton’s stylized version of the abbreviation “lb,” which was short for the word “libra” in the Roman weight libra pondo, the origin of the octothorpe (#).

While I originally wanted an octopus on the cover—both because I really like octopuses and because of the symbolism (there are eight major characters whose stories I’m telling through this book—and it is the eighth book, after all), there were certain technical issues that made that difficult. My husband—never a big fan of the octopus concept—asked whether I could think laterally; surely there were other ways to get an “8” onto the cover.

So I thought. And almost at once, the word “octothorpe” sprang to mind. I’ve always liked the word, and it certainly was appropriate (you may or may not recognize it in its Very Artistic form—but it’s the lowly hashtag, or pound sign, #), as it not only has eight points (and eight “fields” of empty space surrounding it; one explanation of its origin is that it was a symbol on old English land documents for a farm surrounded by eight fields), but is a printing character—and the content of the book does indeed have a certain amount about the printer’s trade in colonial America during the Revolution.

altmann-octothorpeSo I went at once to Google and typed in “octothorpe”—and pretty much the first thing I saw was this (the symbol at right). I was so ravished by Conrad Altmann’s beautiful octothorpe that I emailed it at once to my editor, with the suggestion that we use this for the central icon of the new cover design.

Now, frankly, the Art Department was so relieved not to have to deal with any more octopuses that I’m sure they would have fallen on any alternate suggestion with cries of gladness. However, they were as pleased with this lovely octothorpe as I was, and came up with this elegant and striking concept, which I Really Like. Hope you will, too!

Further note: Sir Isaac Newton PRS (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726/27) was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author (described in his time as a “natural philosopher”) who is widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and was a key figure in the scientific revolution. Image of the symbol written by him above is from the Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library, CHF; and Wikipedia.

February 23, 2021: Thank you to Kate Mullin, who pointed out that a web link in a previous version of this blog by Diana was no longer valid, and indeed was erroneously pointing instead to an Asian porn site!

This blog page was last updated on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, at 10:25 a.m. by Diana or Diana’s Webmistress.


You have Barbara Schnell, my delightful and talented German translator, to thank for this: she asked whether I was going to post an Easter excerpt, in the style of our Advent Candles (which were her idea, too). Those of you who are German speakers will find the German translation of this (and a number of other things) on the German version of the website at http://www.dgabaldon.de/ (or simply click on the German flag icon at the top left of the home page here).

Do be warned: There is a Major Spoiler (not that it will help you in the slightest [g]) in this.

Copyright 2013 Diana Gabaldon

Roger hauled his way laboriously toward the summit of the mountain pass, muttering under his breath (as he had been doing for the last several miles),

“_If you had seen this road before it was made,
You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade_.”

The Irish General Wade had spent twelve years building barracks, bridges and roads all over Scotland, and if that bit of admiring verse was not in fact carved into a stone on one of the General’s roads, it ought to have been, Roger thought. He had picked up one of the General’s roads near Craig na Dun, and it had carried him as swiftly as he could walk, to within a few miles of Lallybroch.

These last few miles, though, had not had the benefit of Wade’s attention. A rocky trail, pitted with small mud-bogs and thickly overgrown with heather and gorse, led up through the steep pass that overlooked—and protected—Lallybroch. The lower slopes were forested with beeches, alders [ck.] and stout Caledonian pines, but up this high there was neither shade nor shelter, and a strong, cold wind battered him as he climbed.

Could Jem have come this far, by himself, if he’d escaped? Roger and Buck had cast round in the vicinity of Craig na Dun, hoping that perhaps Cameron had stopped to rest after the strain of the passage, but there had been no sign—not so much as the print of a size-4 trainer in a muddy patch of ground. Roger had come on then by himself, as fast as he could, pausing to knock at the door of any croft he came to—and there weren’t many along this way—but he’d made good time.

His heart was pounding, and not only from the exertion of the climb. Cameron had maybe a day’s lead, at the most. If Jem hadn’t got away and run for home, though…Cameron wouldn’t come to Lallybroch, surely. But where would he go? Follow the good road, left now ten miles behind, and head west, maybe, into the MacKenzies’ territory—but why?

“Jem!” He shouted now and then as he went, though moors and mountains were empty save for the rustling of rabbits and stoats, and silent but for the calling of ravens and the occasional shriek of a seagull winging high overhead, evidence of the distant sea.

“_Jem_!” He called as though he could compel an answer by sheer need, and in that need, imagined sometimes that he heard a faint cry in response. But when he stopped to listen, it was the wind. Only the wind, whining in his ears, numbing him. He could walk within ten feet of Jem and never see him, and he knew that.

His heart rose in spite of his anxiety, when he came to the top of the pass and saw Lallybroch below him, its white-harled buildings glowing in the fading light. Everything lay peaceful before him; late cabbages and turnips in orderly rows within the kailyard walls, safe from grazing sheep—there was a small flock in the far meadow, already bedding for the night, like so many wooly eggs in a nest of green grass, like a kid’s Easter-basket.

The thought caught at his throat, with memories of the horrible cellophane grass that got everywhere, Mandy with her face—and everything else within six feet of her—smeared with chocolate, Jem carefully writing “Dad” on a hardboiled egg with a white crayon, then frowning over the array of dye-cups, trying to decide whether blue or purple was more Dad-like.

“Lord, let him be here!” he muttered under his breath, and hurried down the rutted trail, half-sliding on loose rocks.

The dooryard was tidy, the big yellow rose brier trimmed back for the winter, and the step swept clean. He had the sudden notion that if he were simply to open the door and walk in, he would find himself in his own lobby, Mandy’s tiny red galoshes flung helter-skelter under the hall-tree where Brianna’s disreputable duffel-coat hung, crusty with dried mud and smelling of its wearer, soap and musk and the faint smell of her motherhood: sour milk, fresh bread, and peanut butter.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, “be weeping on the step, next thing.” He hammered at the door, and a huge dog came galloping round the corner of the house, baying like the bloody hound of the Baskervilles. It slid to a stop in front of him but went on barking, weaving its huge head to and fro like a snake, ears cocked in case he might make a false move that would let it devour him with a clear conscience.

He wasn’t risking any moves; he’d plastered himself against the door when the dog appeared, and now shouted, “Help! Come call your beast!”

He heard footsteps within, and an instant later, the door opened, nearly decanting him into the hall.

“Hauld your wheesht, dog,” a tall, dark man said, in a tolerant tone. “Come ben, sir, and dinna be minding him. He wouldna eat you; he’s had his dinner.”

“I’m pleased to hear it, sir, and thank ye kindly.” Roger pulled off his hat and followed the man into the shadows of the hall. It was his own familiar hall, the slates of the floor just the same, though not nearly as worn, the dark wood paneling shining with beeswax and polishing. There _was_ a halltree in the corner, though of course different to his; this one was a sturdy affair of wrought iron, and a good thing, too, as it was supporting a massive burden of jackets, shawls, cloaks and hats that would have crumpled a flimsier piece of furniture.

He smiled at it, nonetheless, and then stopped dead, feeling as though he’d been punched in the chest.

The wood paneling behind the halltree shone serene, unblemished. No sign of the saber-slashes left by frustrated redcoat soldiers, searching for the outlawed laird of Lallybroch after Culloden. Those slashes had been carefully preserved for centuries, were still there, darkened by age but still distinct, when he had owned—would own, he corrected mechanically—this place.

“_We keep it so for the children_,” Bree had quoted her uncle Ian as saying. “_We tell them, ‘This is what the English are_.’”

He had no time to deal with the shock; the dark man had shut the door with a firm Gaelic adjuration to the dog, and now turned to him, smiling.

“Welcome, sir. Ye’ll sup wi’ us? The lass has it nearly ready.”

“Aye, I will, and thanks to ye,” Roger bowed slightly, groping for his 18th-century manners. “I—my name is Roger MacKenzie. Of Kyle of Lochalsh,” he added, for no respectable man would omit to note his origins, and Lochalsh was far enough away that the chances of this man—who was he? He hadn’t the bearing of a servant—knowing its inhabitants in any detail was remote.

He’d hoped that the immediate response would be, “MacKenzie? Why, you must be the father of wee Jem!” It wasn’t, though; the man returned his bow and offered his hand.

“Brian Fraser of Lallybroch, your servant, sir.”

[end section]

Quick Correction!!

My apologies! Evidently I confused this afternoon’s live #Torchat on Twitter for THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION, with the live (fleshly) appearance at The Poisoned Pen for that book on February 25th!

The chat this afternoon will be from 4-5 PM EST, and will feature John Joseph Adams, editor of the anthology, Seanan McGuire, Austin Grossman, and me (all contributors of stories in the book). To follow and participate in the chat, when you go on Twitter, search on the hashtag #Torchat; that will show you all the messages with that hashtag. (As the chat progresses, you’ll need to refresh the search from time to time to show new messages, aside from ones that aren’t replies to you.)

On the _25th_, John Joseph Adams and I will be doing a joint talk/booksigning at the Poisoned Pen, at 7 PM. Hope to see you there! (Psst…the Pen tells me they’ve just got a bonus shipment of A TRAIL OF FIRE–a return from the UK publisher–and so now have a hundred or so copies unspoken for.)

Here’s the link for the Poisoned Pen appearance!

Dogs are Pure Love

” Dogs are pure love.”

Diana Gabaldon

I recently agreed to become an Ambassador for Bianca Associacao, the Portuguese shelter that annually rescues, cares for and re-homes 600 dogs and cats, many the victims of severe abuse and neglect, which is also supported by Mike Gibb (Outlander the Musical) through his Scottish charity Friends of Bianca.

Mike writes:

You can check this out at and find out more about this remarkable charity, established by and run by volunteers in a country with no Humane Society, RSPCA or the like, on their website at www.bianca.pt/english.

And even if you can’t take a dog why not, for a mere $4/ £2.50/ Euros 3 per month, become a God Parent to one of the many animals who can never be re-homed but who will be cared for for life by Bianca. You can view them all at “Animals For Fostering”; once you have made your choice send details to Mike at info@friendsofbianca.org and he will do the rest.

And when you are visiting the site why not check out the merchandise? Before long you could also be the proud wearer of a Bianca T-shirt!

Best Before…2013?

You know, I don’t usually _feel_ old, bionic knees notwithstanding. But I got a letter a couple of months back from the “Be the Match” organization that gave me pause for a moment.

“Be the Match” ® is the registry for the National Marrow Donor Program ®, which I’ve belonged to for the last thirty years or so. This is the registry that allows people to volunteer as a potential donor for bone marrow, should their genetics prove a good match for someone in need of a transplant.

I’ve never been asked to donate—evidently I don’t match many people –but have been on their books a long time. So along comes this letter, containing a small Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation, recognizing me “for outstanding commitment to and life-saving support of the Be The Match Registry ®.”

After thanking me, the letter went to say (in boldface type, no less):

“With your 61st birthday approaching, you will soon complete your eligibility for being on the registry as a potential donor.”

So evidently my bone marrow has expired, in terms of shelf-life. [g] The letter went on to ask me to donate $100 (tax-deductible—or at least it _was_, before the latest round of tax-hikes) to the Registry, to help them in recruiting a replacement donor.

Frankly, I thought it might be more effective to mention it here, in case any of you kind folks feel moved to sign up. The letter says further:

“Since 1987, we have facilitated more than 50,000 transplants from unrelated donors to give patients a second chance at life. Last year alone, we helped more than 5,500 people get the transplants they needed. We’re very proud of those accomplishments, but we have much more work ahead of us. Each year 10,000 patients with leukemia, lymphoma and many other life-threatening blood cancers need a marrow transplant from an unrelated donor.”

So. If any of y’all are interested in helping out with this valuable work, you can find out more details at BeTheMatch.org/help. Any of you who haven’t expired yet, I mean…

P.S. You want old? Well, age is relative. The photo above was taken this past August in the park at Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, Scotland. The tree I’m standing in front of was planted by Mary of Guise (this would be Mary, Queen of Scots’ _mother_) when she came to visit the castle back in 15-something. [You can see more about the Castle itself here.] Both the tree and I are doing Just Fine, Thank You.

SCOTLAND – Where to Go and What to See!

I get a _lot_ of mail and messages from people saying that they’re planning a trip to Scotland—where should they go, and what should they see?

Well…there’s a _lot_ of Scotland to see, but what you see and with whom might vary a lot. I thought I’d do various posts this month (and probably some of next) about different ways to visit Scotland, and Things You Might Like to See.

The first choice is perhaps: go solo, or with a tour? Scotland is an extremely tourist-friendly country, and it’s not at all difficult to get around and see an enormous amount by yourself. On the other hand, going places with a guide or a group can offer you a lot, too: less risk of getting lost , good company, decent meals, comfortable and efficient travel, and a fair amount of fascinating information about what you’re looking at.

Now, I don’t run tours myself—when would I find the time?—and I have No Financial Connection whatever with any tour group or guide. That said, I do _know_ several very good and reputable tour guides and operators, and I’m more than happy to give them a little exposure here, for your and their mutual benefit. [g]

Several of these guides are listed on my website (they’re under the tab labeled “Resources”).


Some of these operators have recently updated their material, and I have a couple of new ones to add. I thought I’d introduce them to you, and as we go on, add information on specific places (such as Castle Leod) that you might like to go either with a tour/guide or if traveling alone.

Let’s start with Lord Jamie Sempill, who is now working in conjunction with Alistair Cunningham’s ClansandCastles group (this is on the webpage), but is offering his own specialized tour dealing with the life, times, and places of Mary, Queen of Scots. See below for Jamie’s account of his first tour, and his contact details!

[That's Falkland Palace above, btw—one of the stops on the Mary, Queen of Scots tour.]

The Inaugural Mary Queen of Scots tour.
by Lord Sempill

The inaugural tour was a great success, with the notable exception of the weather, which decided in memory of Mary to replicate her arrival in Leith some 450 years ago. Grey, misty and wet.

In fact, so bad were the conditions that we arrived at Edinburgh Castle to find it closed on account of the conditions. Fortunately, the Museum of Scotland is close by, and provides a wonderful insight into her reign plus allowing sufficient time for the Castle to re-open. Bad weather, however, is good for team spirit, and adds to the sense of adventure. So by the time we toured Holyrood Palace and had been told the tale of Rizzio’s bloody murder, the dark rain filled sky had provided the perfect backdrop.

The following day saw us in the Borders, where the dreak [DG - that’s how it’s pronounced; you usually see it spelled “dreich”.] weather had decided to park itself for the day. The Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh is a real gem. It is dedicated to her memory and has been open to the public since 1930. One of the rooms has painted panels of all the key players in her reign, which helps in putting faces to the names which crop up throughout the tour. It is also a great example of a 16th century tower house, which stands as a good contrast to the castles and palaces where she lived.

It is incredible to think that during her very short reign she travelled over 1200 miles and stayed in 80 different properties. One of which, Traquair House, was our lunch time destination. This house is still lived in by the Maxwell-Stuarts, whose ancestor was the Captain of Queen Mary’s Royal Guard. The group, by now enjoying a rapidly clearing sky, was met by Catherine, the current Mistress of Traquair. It is Scotland’s oldest inhabited house and boasts its own brewery and chapel.

Craigmillar Castle sits on the outskirts of Edinburgh in a district known as Petit France, on account of the number of French who lived in the area at the time of her reign. It was here that a group of her advisors decided that Darnley, by now a major political embarrassment, had to be removed. The Craigmillar bond is said to have been agreed to by Mary, but the document has never been found. The castle is a well maintained ruin and has a great view of both the city and the coastline. It is also very close to the Sheep’s Heid , Scotland’s oldest inn, and the perfect place to end the second day.

The final day started with a 10 minute boat trip on one of the country’s largest bird sanctuaries. We were blessed with clear blue skies and no wind. Loch Leven is probably more closely associated with Mary, than all the other properties bar Holyrood. She was held captive here for nearly a year during which time she had a miscarriage and was forced to abdicate her throne.

Falkland Palace is by contrast a far more inviting location. We had the great advantage of being guided by Lindsey Fowell, a member of the Marie Stuart Society. She was dressed as Mary and plays the role to perfection. The chapel is very special, and is still open to the local community. The palace also has the advantage of being well looked after and is still lived in by the Crichton-Stuart family, the hereditary Keepers of Falkland Palace.

The group’s last visit was to Stirling Castle, which recently won the award for the most popular tourist destination in Scotland. The restoration of the castle by Historic Scotland has been a major achievement and is very much the icing on the cake as far as the tour is concerned. The great advantage is that the restoration takes us back to what it would have looked like during her reign. This helps to show the power of the Stuarts and the impact of the renaissance on Scotland, all of which is greatly enhanced by the performance of the guides dressed in contemporary costume. They are a real tour de force.

Over dinner that evening, which I hosted in my home, it was quite apparent that the tour had been a great success. Importantly, it had been entertaining whilst informative. One of the group, Pauline, who lives on the isle of Skye, had really enjoyed seeing a part of Scotland that she had only ever driven through. I believe that key to the success of the tour had been how well the group had enjoyed each other’s company.

It was the first time I had run the tour, and I really enjoyed it. The fact that my family had had been party to many of the events that occurred during her reign, enabled me to provide a personal view, albeit with a small touch of poetic licence!

So if you are interested in knowing more about sixteenth century Scotland and the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, call at www.clansandcastles.com/mqs, where you will find all the appropriate information about the tour.

Jamie Sempill


The State of the Wicket* – as of New Year’s Day, 2013

This is a quick run-down of everything I know about that y’all might possibly want to know about. [g]

1. The cable-TV series of OUTLANDER.

a) It _is_ an agreement for a cable-TV series.

i. It is NOT a mini-series.

ii. It is NOT a movie.

iii. It is not regular network TV.

iv. Yes, if it gets made, unless you already subscribe to STARZ, you will have to pay to watch it, sorry.

b) The cable-TV series is being developed by STARZ.

i. It’s being _developed_.

ii. It’s not (yet) being _produced_.

iii. There is no casting call at present.

a. If there was one, I’d have nothing to do with it.

b. Please stop sending me pictures of your male relatives that you think look like Jamie.

c. Please stop sending me photos of yourself, even if you’re _sure_ you look just like Claire.

d. _Really_ stop sending me photos of that grotesque Irish wrestler with the clown hair.

e. Yes, Kevin McKidd, Gerard (not Gerald) Butler, Kate Winslet and Alex Kingston are all wonderful actors.

f. All these people are about twenty-five years TOO OLD to play any of the main characters in OUTLANDER.

g. Jamie is 22. Claire is 27.

h. Makeup and special effects do have limits.

c) No, I don’t know when the series will air.

i. The pilot script is still being written.

ii. The pilot script is not yet approved.

iii. If it is approved, STARZ might or might not agree to confirm the whole series or they might shoot the pilot first; we don’t know.

iv. When I _do_ know, I’ll tell you.

d) Ron D. Moore is the developer, writer, and show-runner for the OUTLANDER cable-TV series.

i. Yes, I like him.

ii. He came out to my house and spent a whole weekend with me, talking over the books, characters, etc.

iii. I believe him when he says he cares about doing a faithful (but effective) adaptation.

iv. I liked his ideas and suggestions.

v. Yes, I’ve seen the outline for the (projected) first season.

vi. Yes, I think it’s good.

vii. No, I haven’t seen the pilot script. But

e) IF the series does get produced, I can pretty much guarantee that it will have a lot of sex in it.

i. If you are one of the readers who reads the books with a black marker in hand in order to cross out naughty words and scenes of intimacy, you might want to make plans to watch something else.

2. MOBY. Aka WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. Aka Book 8 of the Main (Big Book) Series. Aka Yes, it’s about Jamie and Claire. (My Own Heart’s Blood = MOHB = MOH-B = MOBY. Geddit?) Also, it’s probably going to be fairly large. (Precedent, you know?)

a) No, it isn’t on bookshelves today, even though it –is- now 2013.

b) No, it won’t be on sale this month, either.


d) Yes, it _will_ (God willing and the creek don’t rise) be published this year.

e) In the Fall, OK?

f) I live in the Northern Hemisphere. I mean MY Fall. All y’all Australians and Kiwis are smart people; I have complete confidence that you can make the mental adjustment.

f) No, I don’t have a pub date.

g) The publisher sets the pub date.

h) The publisher certainly wouldn’t set a pub date without some reasonable expectation of having a manuscript in hand by said date.

i) They don’t have a manuscript in hand yet.


m) No, I can’t tell you that I will be finished writing it on X date.

n) Because it doesn’t work like that.

o) And for heaven’s sake, what possible difference could it make? (Talk about OCD…)

3. Other Stuff.

a) Novellas. There are several novellas, dealing with secondary characters from the main series. Most of these were originally written for various anthologies, but as I get the reprint rights back, are now being made available as print collections and/or standalone ebooks.

b) Which form you, personally, can get hold of easily depends where you live. Printing rights are sold and managed on a geographical basis: i.e., print rights are sold _separately_ in the US and in other English-speaking countries. In practice, it usually works out that the US and Canada have the same rights and timing, while the UK/Australia/NewZealand group of countries may have something different.

c) Now, I do urgently need to go back to writing MOBY, so I’m not writing up all the ghastly details of where/when/what about the novellas AGAIN. I’ve done it on Facebook and on my website, _and_ as a special “extra” for the UK edition of THE SCOTTISH PRISONER. You can find the complete (mind-numbing) explanation on www.DianaGabaldon.com later this week. However—

d) IF you live in the US, you can get “The Custom of the Army” as a standalone (i.e., cheap ) ebook for $1.99,


and likewise “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows,” which is the story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents in WWII.


e) IF you live in the UK/Australia/NewZealand end of things (OR you want to go to the expense of getting an imported book), you can get A TRAIL OF FIRE, which is a print volume containing both the novellas noted above, plus two others: “Plague of Zombies,” and “The Space Between” (which deals with Michael Murray, Joan MacKimmie, the Comte St. Germain, and Mother Hildegarde, among others).

f) “The Space Between” _will be_ released in the US/Canada market IN AN ANTHOLOGY (that means you should look up the title OF THE ANTHOLOGY on Amazon.com/ca, not the title of the story) in February of This Year. Right soon now. The ANTHOLOGY is called THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION. (I’ll be doing an appearance to sign this—and anything else anybody wants signed—on Feb. 20th, at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, along with John Joseph Adams, the editor of the anthology.)

g) For information on getting autographed copies of any of my books, see



Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent!

Our wait is nearly over, and through the shadows and difficulties that beset our lives, we see the glow of everlasting light.

Excerpt from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. Copyright © 2012 by Diana Gabaldon [Please don’t repost or reproduce this blog entry or its contents, but certainly you may link to it if you’d like to! See below.]

2012-Advent-wreath-DGabaldonJamie was sitting as I’d left him, alone by our tiny fire, now burnt down to a bed of red ember furred with ash. And yet… not quite as I’d left him. I stopped abruptly, a little way outside the glow of the embers, fascinated by the look on his face.

He was entirely still, still as a waiting hunter, still as the stump he sat on. And yet his face was alive, his eyes looking into the fading coals but somehow beyond them, not abstracted at all. He was seeing something, and I felt the hairs lift on my arms, so slowly that I felt each one rise. And yet, the sense of him was one of absolute peace. The hurry I’d felt a moment before had vanished as I watched him. He might have been alone in some vast wilderness—alone, save for whoever he was talking to in the silence that surrounded him.

I didn’t move. I couldn’t take my eyes from his face. I too stood apart from the chaos of the camp for a moment, and heard silence. Silence filled with presence, a sense of quiet joy.

Then Jamie drew breath and closed his eyes, shoulders relaxing. The sounds of the night and the racket of the camp came back. I drew breath, too, and he heard me, for his head came up, his eyes opened, and he smiled at me and reached out his hand.

“Mo nighean donn,” he said softly, and kissed the hand I put in his, his breath cool on my skin.

“What were you doing just now?” I asked, as softly, and laid my free hand to his cheek, stroking back the ruddy hair behind his ear. “Praying?”

His mouth twitched, but he looked away, self-conscious.

“Och, no. I was just talkin’ to Ian.”

I blinked, glancing automatically over my shoulder, searching for Ian’s tall, rangy figure among the fires and smoke, even as I realized that wasn’t who he meant.

“No, the elder Ian,” Jamie said, smiling as he caught my look. “My friend, aye?”

“Do you do that often?” I asked curiously, sitting down beside him on a convenient rock. He turned toward me, and I saw the puff of white at his shoulder. “You have a split in the shoulder seam of your coat. Take it off, why don’t you, and I’ll fix it. You can’t be going into battle with your sleeve hanging off; General Washington wouldn’t like it.”

He gave a small snort at that, but obligingly stood up and wriggled out of the heavy coat, while I dug the hussif out of my pocket and found a needle threaded with something dark—it was impossible to distinguish black and indigo in the shadows.

“Aye, I suppose I talk to Ian often,” he said matter-of-factly, sitting down again. “Just the odd word now and then, when something minds me of him. But I dreamed of him last night, of when we were in France, so he was still wi’ me today.”

I looked sharply at him. I generally knew when he dreamed—always when he dreamed about war—but hadn’t noticed any disturbance of his sleep the night before. In fact, he’d slept like the dead until the wee hours, when he’d suddenly rolled over, gathered me into his arms, and fallen instantly back asleep, his face buried in my bosom.

“Aye, it was odd,” he said thoughtfully, as though knowing what I was thinking. “The closer we come to—” He waved a hand, encompassing the army around us, “—the more terrible the dreams get. Things comin’ back, aye? And yet last night… I was sittin’ by a fire with Ian, in France, and the rest of the band around us, and we were sharpening our dirks, sharing an oilstone. I kent we were readying ourselves for a fight, but I wasna at all concerned about it, nor was Ian. I was only glad to have him there, by my side,” he added softly.

I’d seen him once, standing in nothing but his shirt at a spring on Fraser’s Ridge, call on Dougal MacKenzie for help, and seeing him now in his shirt, pale against the dark, reminded me. That encounter had held something of the strange stillness of what I’d just seen, but wasn’t the same.

“Did you—ask Ian to… er… come with you?” I asked, cautious, but curious. “Just now, I mean. Into battle?”

He blinked at that, surprised.

“No,” he said, and smiled, half-embarrassed. “It’s—och, it sounds foolish to say.”

“You don’t think I’d laugh, do you?” I asked, smiling too. I stabbed the needle into the fabric of the coat, and took his hand. It was hard, but smooth-palmed, and his fingers curled slowly round my own.

“It’s only—sometimes I find myself at peace, ken. No for any reason; just there it is, the gift of a moment when bein’ alive is all there is, and all I could want. Does that happen to you, Sassenach?” His head turned toward me, features now fading into darkness, but I caught the brief shine of his eyes, heard his beard-stubble rasp softly against his stock.

“Yes,” I said, after a moment. “Yes, it does. Sometimes in the most peculiar circumstances. But not often… and out of the blue.” Like this one.

“Out of the blue,” he repeated, liking the phrase. “Aye, that’s how it is. Ye canna make it happen; all ye can do is live it—and if ye’re lucky, remember it now and then.”

He paused and cleared his throat.

2012-Otis-sees-a-great-light-Gabaldon“Sometimes… well, it strikes me sometimes, the dead must be happy and at peace as spirits in heaven, but still—maybe they miss bein’ an animal. What it is to touch, and taste, and breathe and all. And so… I was just sitting here, feeling full of good food, wi’ the taste of decent beer on my tongue, thinkin’ how sweet it was to sit down and rest, and how the night air felt soft on my face and… aye, well. Sometimes there’s a good moment and I… well, I ask one o’ my dead in, ye might say. To share it with me.”

He squeezed my hand gently, let it go, and put his arm around me, drawing me in so that my head lay against his chest. I could hear the slow thump of his heart and the gentle gurgling of his stomach, smell sharp mustard and beer on his breath, smell his sweat and the sun of the day in his skin.

“I dinna always feel them nearby—but tonight I kent Ian was with me.”

I hoped he didn’t feel the seep of my tears through the damp cloth of his shirt, but he did, for he drew back a little and with a small “Tck” sound, cupped my face in his hands, wiped the tears away with this thumbs, then bent and kissed me, soft and slow.

“Ye live in all my moments, Sassenach,” he whispered. “And the taste of you is aye on my tongue.”

[end section]

[And many, many thanks to Barbara Schnell, my Most Excellent German translator and mistress of the German Diana Gabaldon website, for the wonderful notion of the Advent “candles.” Danke!]

[Second image: “In which Otis Sees a Great Light”]

Copyright © 2012 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.

As stated above, please don’t repost or reproduce this post, excerpts of my work, and images, but certainly you may link to this blog entry if you’d like to! Copy and paste this text version of the link (URL):



This blog entry was last updated on Monday, December 24, 2018, by Diana’s Webmistress.