It’s only been a few months since the penultimate chapter of the Outlander book series came out. And yet those who have read Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone already have a thousand questions and doubts wandering in their minds. Luckily, there is the television series to fill the gap until Book 10 comes out. Season 6, as Diana Gabaldon also points out, is doing an excellent job of adapting book 6, including more scenes from the books and working more on characters.
We at Survived The Shows had the great pleasure of interviewing Diana Gabaldon and discussing with her the highlights of her latest book Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone. Some hints of what’s to come in the final book of the Outlander saga. And what she thinks of the TV adaptation of Book 6, A Breath of Snow And Ashes.
You could say that the Outlander books literally fit together like a jigsaw puzzle in Diana Gabaldon’s mind. One scene at a time, not necessarily in chronological order, a scene that can be as filling as it is fundamental. And given the magnitude of Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, as well as the different plots it presents – ‘it has no less than 7 different storylines in it that intertwine and then reunite at the end’ – it’s no wonder her literary Droughlanders are so long. At the same time, however, during that great period of waiting, Gabaldon devoted herself to writing other books. Some of them belong to the non-fiction genre like the Outlandish Companion, others to fiction like the Lord John saga and the novellas.
As we all know, her books never lack great twists and turns, as well as excitement, fun and action.
This last book in particular saw, among its most unexpected twists, the return of Ulysses, Jocasta Cameron’s lover and her butler, to Fraser’s Ridge as a member of the British Government’s Black Soldiers, threatening to take away their land. Diana shares how she came to develop this twist, which her mind extrapolated following various historical research, but also explains how the notion that Ulysses would return had been with her since we saw him leave River Run.
“Things usually come out during the creation of the book, I usually don’t know much before I start writing. And then I start researching, of course, and various things come out of that research. And that’s where I discovered the existence of Her Majesty’s Black Pioneers, the black soldiers fighting for the British army. That element stayed in my mind for a while because I could just picture Ulysses eventually joining them. I knew that when he left Jocasta’s home he would be looking for a place for himself in the world and at that time [joining the Black Pioneers] was the easiest way for a black man to make a good career for himself.
[…] The Governor of Virginia, who was facing a rebellion at the time, enlisted black soldiers, as the historical records say. So [Ulysses] went there. He is there. He’s not that far away from North Carolina and I thought ‘he’s probably a plotter’ because the way we’ve seen him in the previous books, yes, we’re in his favour, he’s Jocasta’s lover, but at the same time we think he killed her husband […] he’s a ruthless man… we’re glad he’s gone, but he’s still a ruthless man, which means he does things without thinking.
Now he has joined the army to fight and things like that, but he will miss Jocasta. However, he can’t go back to her because he would be made a slave again if he is captured. Nor can he go near her because he would put her in danger. This makes him extremely frustrated. But then with the American Revolution things start to change. He can lead his own company, not just be a soldier. He has much more freedom of movement and could not be enslaved again because there is no longer any government in North Carolina. He’s essentially free for the first time since he left River Run, you know, free to go wherever he wants.
So, he wants to know where Jocasta is. He knows where Jamie is, because being involved in the government he’s heard about Fraser’s Ridge and the land grant and all that. In the course of events, he sees the concession document. He knows Jamie is Catholic, as is Jocasta and the whole family. And Jamie has sworn in writing that he’s not, but this was done with the goodwill of the Governor, despite it being illegal anyway. But, you know, we get to this point where Ulysses doesn’t know that the British are going to lose. He thinks, just like about 80% of the Americans, that the British will win. Then he could go ahead with his plan and confiscate their land. So he comes to make this political deal that leads him to do that.”Diana Gabaldon on Ulysses joining the British Army
Another shocking detail that marked the course of events for the Frasers in Book 9 is Brianna’s diagnosis of a heart disease following her time travel through the stone circle at Ocracoke.
The element stood out in Diana’s mind almost by accident, talking to one person after another who was suffering from atrial fibrillation. “It was like someone was trying to tell me something,” adds Gabaldon. Whereupon she began to think, as she always does when working on something, about how time travel works.
“I already knew that Buck, Roger’s great-great-great grandfather, when he went back into the past with him had some kind of heart attack. I thought ‘Okay, that makes sense. It’s very stressful…’. There was a need to show people that actually time travel is something dangerous. It’s not like getting into a lift and going somewhere. You have to think long and hard before you try it. And that’s why of course Buck has suffered such heart damage. Roger is sick at first but then he recovers so I thought it might affect some people more than others.
Anyway, at one point I saw Brianna kinda having one of these attacks and being upset about it. And there was one time when Claire was there and went straight to her. That’s where it all started, from that revelation, but then obviously inserting earlier moments in the story where she feels it herself.”Diana Gabaldon on Brianna suffering from a heart disease
A character who in the last few books has literally done moral leaps and seen his life and certainties go down the drain is William.
Not exactly loved by everyone as he was born from Jamie’s extra-marital affair with Geneva Dunsany after Culloden, Willie has been able to prove he has the makings of a Fraser but with the sweetness and good heart of Lord John Grey. A man who acts as a thread between the boy and Jamie following the big revelation of his paternity. That moment represented a turning point for William. the collapse of his life’s house of cards, leading him to face a personal crisis and find himself in the end.
Given the misfortunes that happened to William, the question comes automatically: will he ever have joy in his life? According to Diana Gabaldon he will!
“He’s had experiences, good friends along the way like the Hunters, John Cinnamon and others, and he’s obviously matured. His life has changed. Not just because of who he is, in that situation of finding out who he is, which is deeply heartshaking and disturbing to him. But also because he is in the middle of a war, which is changing the whole world as you know.
And at least to find a first place in that world he joined the army, but then he feels that he no longer feels any kind of anger, or any kind of place [in that world]. It’s something very tough for him, just as it is for me, finding him in any kind of situation and it will be dramatic because there’s going to be inner conflict, insecurity, worry, fear and things like that going around in him.”Diana Gabaldon on William and his journey
Despite all the drama and conflict Willie has to go through, he also got to express his charming side with Amaranthus Grey. Wife of his cousin Ben and one of the most enigmatic characters in this ninth chapter of the Outlander saga.
“Everyone suspects she’s a bad girl, but we don’t know, we don’t know yet. [laughs] She might be, and again she might be up to something but we don’t know what yet.”Diana Gabaldon on Amaranthus Grey
Although Gabadlon is well aware of the thousands of theories circulating on the net and in fan groups all over the world about Amaranthus Grey, the author has never really considered, or rather excluded, the theory that she is a time traveller. Is she telling us something or just misleading us? ?
No one would have expected (at least not me) that Frank would be so central on Go The Bees That I Am Gone.
With his book on the history of the Scots in America, Frank earns a backstage seat to yet another attempt by the Frasers to safeguard their destiny – and also the role of comic device, I might add, with Jamie reading his book and imagining his ghost talking to him.
Diana tells us how she generated that whole series of events in the book in a fairly organic way. He had known for a while that Frank would write a book, or possibly more than one, since that’s what historians do. And among the many topics he could research from a historical point of view, the one he is most interested in is undoubtedly Jamie, or rather Jamie together with Claire.
“He looks in history and finds them all, Jamie and Claire as a married couple. He finds Fraser’s Ridge. Jamie is pretty well documented in history, as, you know, he signs his documents, doing business and so on. There are a lot of traces of him left to be found. The only difficulty is that his name is very common. There are a lot of James Frasers around and so we’ve got to do a lot more of research to make sure you’re looking for the right one – which might come in to play in the next story, we don’t know – but anyway Frank has found out quite a lot about this and he strongly suspects that Jamie is going to die at the battle of Kings Mountain.
Maybe he hasn’t found any else about Jamie and he thinks he’s dead because he knows from the correspondence between Jamie and the highlanders that he was putting together a militia and was going to fight there. […] The only way he could communicate this information was to write this book and hope that Brianna would read it, so that if she went back to look for her father she would tell him […] He always feels this sense of obligation to Jamie.”Diana Gabaldon on Frank writing a book on the Scottish presence during the American Revolution
Another highlight of Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone is undoubtedly the moment when Claire manages to bring Jamie back to life by means of her ‘blue light’. This mysterious healing power is hereditary and typical of time travellers, although not everyone has it, and you only get to use it in your old age.
In particular, we asked Diana about how much this resurrection of Jamie could be related to the mystery about Jamie’s ghost visiting Claire in Edinburgh in 1945. The author deflects the question somewhat, explaining how she doesn’t know how much this might have to do with the mystery of the ghost. However, we’ve just gained an explanation of the origins of the blue light and the relationship to the time travel gene.
“Throughout the books we see Brianna and Roger working on this guidebook for their children. They try to write down as much as they know about how time travel works, then they unveal some evidence […] They hypothesise, and make theories but they’re not 100% sure about these things. So as they go along in this process they find out more and more about how it all works.
But apparently, one of the things that time travel works for is because it’s genetic and you know, a lot of information travels in one chromosome. So if you get this specific chromosome or part of it from an ancestor there might be even more to it than just the ability to time travel, and one of the things that some of these timetravellers have seem to be this healing ability. Some see it, but most don’t, as a blue light, which belongs, you know, to their own energy field. Each of us has what is called an ‘aura’, an energy field…”Diana Gabaldon on the blue light
What can we tease about book 10, which is still untitled?
- The book will start in May 1781 and finish in October 1781, the date of the Battle of Yorktown and America’s Declaration of Independence.
- It will explore a great chapter of history as the American Revolution.
- It will solve the mystery of the prophecy of the Scottish ruler on the English throne.
- Throughout the book we will explore the relationship between Jamie and William.
Speaking about the adaptation of her sixth book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Diana compliments the writers on the great job they did on Outlander Season 6, which she describes as her favourite season since Season 1.
The author couldn’t be happier that the season is sticking so closely to the books, “which is always a good thing from my point of view,” Gabaldon adds, “and for the readers too, thankfully.”
“They did a very nice job. A lot of the dialogues is from the book, as are a lot of the plotlines. You know, it’s a tightly-proded peice of film, as they had to do everything in 8 episodes instead of 12. They were able to pull things together more tightly. And it’s also very intense all over through. So yes, I liked it a lot!”Diana Gabaldon on the work the writers have done with the show
Of course, as she points out, there are always scenes that she wishes they had included in the series, because there’s not enough room for everything.
Diana says there is a constant communication between her and the writers of the show. The production team constantly shows her the scripts of what they are going to do in the series and she points out if she sees something that catches her eye, like mistakes or things that could be handled, from her point of view, differently.
“At time they listen to me and at times they don’t,” says Gabaldon with a smile. “Sometimes I’ve had them notice something [in the scripts] and then I’ll tell them ‘You know you could add a line here that says this and it would help accomplish this particular goal’. Or I notice that maybe I’ voiced that particular little speech and then it hasn’t been included in the daily clips. So I ask ‘are you going to use it somewhere else or are you going to pull it back in?’ and they often do, especially if it’s something small, but you know it’s not something they can do all the time. There’s not room for everything.“
She adds then: “There is this kind of communication between us. I point things out to them and they listen, they take it into account. They don’t always get to do what I want, or they don’t always agree with me, but they always listen and that means we’ll keep talking about it.”
If she could choose one character from the Outlander universe that she feels is closest to her, Diana would choose Jamie Fraser, who has more similar characteristics to her than the others. In all of this, however, it can be said that she is literally every character in that universe, as each one has elements from her personality.
“There’s a group of local fans who occasionally invite me out for tea in the springtime to pick my brains a bit and maybe come up with interviews like this. On one of these occasions they started talking about Black Jack Randall and they were like ‘Oh he’s so bad, he gives me the creeps, I just hate him’. And I was sipping my tea and thinking ‘You really have no idea that you’re talking to Black Jack Randall, do you?’ because obviously they don’t. But if it’s not coming from me, who else could it be coming from?”Diana Gabaldon
Go Tell The Bees That I Amo Gone is available on Amazon or other book shops – Don’t Miss Outlander Season 6, which airs Sundays on STARZ.