In what is sadly becoming a book signing tradition for me, I missed my train to the city and had to wait half an hour for the next one, which would hopefully still get me to North Sydney before 1pm, but leave me right at the end of the queue.
Stanton Library is at the top of a hill I used to walk up to get to work a few years ago, so in my defence I was younger then and wasn’t carrying 6 very thick and heavy books, even if they are all mass market editions.
I had almost made it to the library when I was ushered into the neighbouring council chambers and up the stairs to their meeting room. I found a seat with a few minutes to spare before Diana arrived. I looked around and even though I’d heard about a friend’s experience in Melbourne, I was still surprised to notice that most of the crowd consisted of middle aged women. I noticed a small group of girls closer to my own age and two very brave and intrepid men.
Diana appeared right on time, in a flowing rainbow-coloured top with black V-necked undershirt, and was introduced as Diana GABble-dohn (last syllable rhymes with own).
She began by talking about how she became published and the appeal of men in kilts. I tried to get a very shaky (thanks to my decidedly un-surgeon-like hands that seem steady enough until there’s a camera in them) video but the playback on my phone sucks and it’s worse trying to get the damn 500Mb file onto my computer. I also had a digital camera that I used for photos but the mobile had a full battery.
Anyway, back to Diana, who also had a Q&A session.
Highlights from Diana’s speech
- She taught college Science and frequently had a row of half-sleeping footballers in her classroom looking for an easy A. They usually woke up for her rhyme on pre-condom contraception. (I managed to get this off my very unreliable recording of the early part of her speech, so hopefully it’s correct.)
In days of old, when knights were bold
And condoms weren’t invented
They wrapped old socks
Around their cocks
And babies were prevented.
- She is what Dianna Love would call a pantser. She doesn’t plot her books or the series as a whole and writes scenes as they come to her, regardless of when they take place in the story. Outlander/Cross Stitch began as a series of excerpts.
- Outlander/Cross Stitch was intended as a practice novel just to get her writing. She married an entrepreneur, so at times she was the breadwinner, and since she had kids, she had to find ways to make money without leaving the house and got into freelance scientific software writing and made more money than she did teaching Science at uni. When she was 35, she decided she wanted to write a novel, but she never told her husband because she expected him to tell her not to in case she collapses from exhaustion and can’t work to support her family.
- She decided to write a historical novel because she wouldn’t have to use her imagination as much and to play to her strength as a researcher.
- She chose the period because of a classic Doctor Who episode where a Scotsman jumped ahead in time from 1745 (not to mention that there was a lot of conflict in Scotland at that time), but when she wrote Claire, Claire sounded like a modern woman and although Diana tried to make her a proper 18th century lady, Claire refused, so Diana decided to work out how that happened later and that’s why there’s time travel in the books. She made Claire English to increase the conflict.
- Diana talked to other writers and learned that the fastest way to get published was to get an agent, and her preferred agent (based on info from writers she knows) didn’t accept unsolicited submissions. A writer friend offered to introduce her to his own agent (who also happened to be her preferred agent) and she followed up with a letter of her own asking if he would be interested in reading her excerpts (which were all she had at that time) because her book is long and she doesn’t want to waste his time. He said yes, and instead of rejecting it as too weird, he passed it on to several editors. Three editors were interested and the agent negotiated a 3-book contract before the first manuscript was even completed.
- A German man (who may have been a journalist) asked her what she felt was the appeal of a man in a kilt and she said it had to do with the possibility of him having you up against the wall in a minute. Her agent said this man fell in love with her after that.
Answers to audience questions
- Yes, her books are optioned for movies. There have only been 4 options since Outlander/Cross Stitch was published in 1991 because she has to be careful about who she sells options to, after having been approached by people who’ve never made a movie, or who haven’t read her books and want them only because they’re bestsellers, or those whose vision is incompatible with hers.
- Her current option expires next month, but the company has asked for an extension, both in time and for TV series rights.
- She doesn’t watch much TV or movies, so doesn’t have anyone in mind to play Jamie, but even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to tell if he could be Jamie until he does it. She thinks this is how bad casting happens.
- Someone suggested Kate Winslet could play Claire. Diana felt Kate would be getting a bit old because Claire was 27 at the beginning of the series.
- The characters all come from a part of her, so when she sits down with a group of her readers who say that Black Jack Randall was disgusting and evil, she thinks, ‘You’re sitting with Black Jack Randall right now.’
- Next year she has 2 releases: a Lord John novella (from memory called Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner) told from both Lord John and Jamie Fraser’s POVs; and a graphic novel from the time frame covered by Outlander/Cross Stitch but not actually a direct retelling of the story. She plans to cover the clan politics before Claire’s arrival from Murtagh’s (I think he might be Jamie’s godfather) viewpoint.
- Jamie cannot and never will be able to travel through time, so he will definitely never see the modern world.
- Her characters fall into 3 categories: onions have layers, and as she peels them back, she learns more about the character.; mushrooms like Lord John just pop up and take over their scenes; and hard nuts are inevitable characters, such as Claire’s child, who we now know as Brianna, or characters that she has to hammer on to find out who they are.
- Diana is sure that there will be another book after An Echo in the Bone, but is unsure if that will be the last in the series because she doesn’t plot the books.
- She keeps the series fresh by writing each book from a different approach and has had readers tell her that they were disappointed with her latest book, which she attributes to her not writing the same book over and over again.
- Also, Claire finds fewer things to remark on as seeming strange in the past because the longer she lives there, the more she gets used to it. It’s only when they face other tribes that Claire might find noteworthy differences.
Since the signing was held during most people’s lunch hour, Diana stopped taking questions and started signing books while library staff walked up and down with cups of orange juice and trays of cheese and crackers. A guy asked us in the queue who our books were going to be dedicated to so he could write our names on little Post-Its. I asked him if there was a limit on the number of books Diana would sign and he said no. I decided to push my luck with them all.
I tried to take a photo of Diana from the line, but it moved surprisingly quickly and soon it was my turn. The table next to her had stacks of the new release, An Echo in the Bone, in either hardcover or trade paperback—I can’t remember which, but either one would be heavy reading, no matter the plot, so with my usual aversion to large books, I passed them by.
I asked Diana how long it took her to write a book from start to finish and she answered, ‘Three years.’ I told her I wasn’t surprised and that carrying her books up the hill was my workout for the day. She said it was nice to meet me and I said it was nice that she’d come out all this way for the signing. Before I left, I asked if she got to see much of Sydney. She said, ‘Not much, but I got to see the aquarium yesterday.’ Then it was time to make way for the next person.
The speed of the queue was primarily due to the organisation of the staff on hand who did a fantastic job. When I was second in line, this girl and I pulled my books out of my bag to get them ready to be signed. I was introduced to Diana by name,and while I was getting a pic taken, the girl packed them all up for me and kept the flow of people running smoothly and made life easier for the rest of us.