Diana Gabaldon

'I needed a female character to play off against all the men in kilts'

People often say to me, 'You write such strong female characters,' and I say, 'Well, I don't like stupid women.' Claire has always had a mind of her own. She was quite accidental to begin with. I needed a female character to play off against all the men in kilts so I introduced an English woman - I had no idea who she was or how she got there, but I loosed her into a cottage of Scotsmen to see what she'd do.

And she walked in, and they all turned around and stared at her. And one of them said, 'My name is Dougal MacKenzie. Who might you be?' And without stopping to think, I typed, 'My name is Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, and who the hell are you?' And I said, 'Well, you don't sound at all like an 18th-century person.'

So I fought with her for several pages, trying to beat her into shape, make her talk like a historical person. But she kept making smart-ass modern remarks, and she took over telling the story herself. So I said, 'Go ahead and be modern. I'll figure out how you got there later.' So it's all her fault that there is time travel in the books.

Hard nuts vs. onions

Claire has, essentially, always been who she is. She's always been straightforward, take-no-prisoners in her attitude. Her essence hasn't changed. Claire is an onion, as is Jamie. I have three kinds of characters: mushrooms, hard nuts and onions. An onion is someone I know who they are at the core of their souls, but the longer I work with them, the more layers they get. They become more rounded and pungent with time, but they remain who they are.

Claire, of course, has been through childbirth, loss of family members, death, dislocation, serious illness, threat of death - and the continuing struggle to express what she feels is her destiny as a healer. She just goes on being who she is, but that 'who she is' is also constantly being shaped by the experiences she's been through.

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