Diana Gabaldon is notoriously protective of her work. Her website asks amateur writers to refrain from producing any fan fiction based on her characters and it has taken decades for her to OK a screen adaptation of her best known novels, the eight-part Outlander series.
The former academic-turned-bestselling-author writes thick books that Entertainment Weekly describes as containing a “time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
Since the publication of the first Outlander book in 1991, rumours of a film franchise have flitted about, with big names like Liam Neeson and Sean Connery attached. The mix of romance, time travel and adventure sounds tailor-made for the screen, but Gabaldon wanted to make sure the story was told properly.
“Outlander is a very big story,” she says. “The very intricate plot fits together like the pieces of a watch. You start pulling things out and the whole thing isn’t going to work. Consequently a two-hour movie cannot be made and reflect the integrity of the work.”
Enter Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore who says he “read the book and was quite taken by it. It’s a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. I really liked the central character of Claire because she was intelligent and strong; very capable and interesting.”
He saw Outlander not as a movie, but a television series.
“There were surprises along the way, reversals of fortune I didn’t see coming,” he says, “which I thought would be really great for a television series. I got it. We’d do one season a book and there’s seven more books in the series.”
His take on the material won Gabaldon over. “I told Ron when I saw the pilot script, ‘This is the first thing I’ve seen based on my work that didn’t either make me turn white or burst into flame.’”
The show, which premieres Aug. 24 on Showcase, stars Irish model/actress Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, a married Second World War combat nurse mysteriously transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland.
“We’re trying to keep the show grounded throughout,” says Moore. “You want to really believe that both those places exist. I’m a strong believer in the idea that if you’re going to take the audience on a fantastical journey, the more believable you make it, the better. That way the audience will go with you when something crazy, like time travel, happens.”
Gabaldon gives the show her stamp of approval, saying, “I feel very fortunate to be able to share with them in this production.”