View across the Forth

Wow!  Is it really so long since I last added a post.  I guess so.

I had an amazing trip back to Scotland a few months ago.  There were many very special moments: staying in a renovated 15th century castle; a ghost tour of Edinburgh; delicious scones at all the National Trust properties we visited; visiting old castles; horse-riding along the beach; long, lazy chats with old friends; visiting family; did I mention the National Trust scones…

But perhaps the biggest highlight for me was visiting the town of Culross (pronounced q-ross), in Fife, not far from Edinburgh on the other side of the Forth.  As the guide-book says, ‘Culross is a town which time has passed by; the most complete example in Scotland today of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries’.

One of the old streets in Culross

Not the Mediterranean but Culross Palace courtyard.

The Mercat Cross – used in Outlander

If the town reminds you of a film set, it is, in fact, frequently used as one! If you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, many of the buildings are instantly recognisable, including Geillis Duncan’s home, or the market cross where a young lad has his ear nailed to a post.

Lost in time it may be, but it is a thriving community. There’s little I can say to adequately describe what a fascinating place Culross is.  From its Palace and garden, to the Town house, Stinking Wynd (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell), Mercat Cross, House with Evil Eyes, Abbey and Abbey House, to the stunning views across the Forth, not to mention the great coffee shops, there’s something for everyone.






Outlander/Cross Stitch

outlanderI first read Outlander – or Cross Stitch as it was called in the UK – back in 1992. A wonderful mix of romance, adventure and history set in Scotland, I loved it and recommended it to friends and family. I even wrote to Diana Gabaldon asking for an interview for the writers’ group I belong to, The Alberta Romance Writers’ Association, and she was extremely generous with her time and answers.

So when I heard it was finally being adapted as a TV series by Starz, I was both excited and a little anxious. Would they do it justice? We’re now two episodes in, so what are my feelings so far?

Here’s what I like.

1) I’m so happy that a story set in Scotland has actually been filmed in Scotland – unlike some other famous ‘Scottish’ movies I could name. The scenery is stunning and I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out the locations. If you’re planning on visiting Scotland and would like to check out the Outlander sites, even Visit Scotland has got in on the act and created an Outlander map.

2) I think all three main characters, Clare, Jamie and Frank/Jack have been very well cast and are doing a great job. And I’m thrilled to see Gary Lewis, one of my favourite character actors, playing Colum.

3) The fact that they’re sticking to the book. It was interesting to hear the producer say that the series has been made for the book’s fans. Having dabbled in the world of screenwriting myself I understand the huge difference between writing for the page and writing for the screen, so I appreciate that the writers have stuck to the book as closely as they have. But then, they had good source material to start with, didn’t they!

As for the ‘Meh’?

1) The Scottish twee. Admittedly the major audience for this series will be the US and I feel what’s being presented is how they imagine Scotland, and Scottish people, to be. However, as a Scot, there have been places where I have squirmed uncomfortably. There was one scene in the first episode where it felt like Dougal and the Scottish Dwarves… all named Goofy. And as for some of the accents..! And lines. A patient not liking ‘being stuck with a needle’? That’s not an expression I ever heard until I moved to the western side of the pond. But again, the major audience will be American and they might not be familiar with the term ‘injection’ or ‘jag’, so I’m probably just being picky.

2) The nudity. I’m not talking about the sex scenes, but the ones with Clare dressing and Jamie’s sister being attacked in the second episode. I don’t like to think I’m a prude – although maybe I am. This series was advertised as Scotland’s Game of Thrones, and for that reason I know of 3 men in particular who tuned in.  One gave up half way through the first episode, the second at the end of the first hour, and the third has vowed to watch no more having persevered through the second episode. Now, there may be many men who continue to watch and love the series, but my feeling is that the main audience is and will continue to be female. Do women really want to see so much female nudity? Is it necessary to the scene(s) or is it exploiting the actresses? People might argue that I feel this way because, ‘You’re just jealous because you’re older and will never have a body like that again’. Fair enough if that’s what they believe, but because I’m older, and have been around the block a few times, I think I can recognize exploitation when I see it.

But as I said above, I’m being picky.

If you loved the books, there’s waaay more right with the series than is wrong – you can’t please all the people all the time –  so I’ll definitely keep watching. But my advice to anyone would be ‘Read the book first’! Always, read the book.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Outlander/Cross Stitch and the job of bringing it to the screen.




Island of Islay – Vivien Martin

I’ve known Vivien since – ahem – First Year at Jordanhill School in Glasgow back in the ‘olden days’ of the 20th Century. As well as running her own publishing company and being a regular contributor to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine, Vivien is  currently coaching actors in Gaelic for auditions for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series presently being filmed in Scotland.


According to Wikipedia, Scotland has a total of 790 offshore islands.  Although I’m Scottish by birth, I can – sadly – only admit to having visited four of them:  Arran, Bute, Skye and Mull.

The southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, The Island of Islay, lies 40 km north of the Irish coast. With a population of 3,000, the island’s main industries are agriculture, whisky and tourism and was featured in the film The Maggie which led to a long-running series on BBC TV, The Vital Spark.

In her latest article in this month’s edition of Scottish Islands Explorer, Vivien offers insights into the history of the Island of Islay: Celtic saints, marriage stones, naval strongholds, ancient ruins, plague villages and shipwrecks.  Please check it out, and if you plan to visit Scotland, consider visiting this beautiful island.

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Doctor Who

As a child growing up in Glasgow, late Saturday afternoon found me in front of the TV watching Doctor Who. I have to admit, I was one of those cliches – the kid hiding behind the sofa, terrified yet enthralled by these strange characters and even stranger worlds.  And don’t get me started on the Daleks.  As far as I’m concerned, they are the most frightening aliens ever invented!

I stopped watching the show around the time Jon Pertwee became the third doctor, but last weekend I plonked myself ON the sofa (rather than behind it) to enjoy the full day of celebrations for Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary.

And I had a blast. The special episode, broadcast live around the world to over 94 countries, was great, but I particularly enjoyed the interviews with cast members, past and present, as well as the drama An Adventure in Space and Time which documented the making of the show back in 1963.  Interesting that the Head Of Drama, who came up with the concept, the producer and director were all ‘outsiders’ –  a Canadian, the first female producer, and first Indian director, employed by the BBC.

Episode One – An Unearthly Child –  was broadcast the day after JFK’s assassination in Dallas. No-one expected the show to last more than one series, but here we are, 50 years later.

(An interesting tidbit for you Outlander fans out there –  Diana Gabaldon has said that Jamie Fraser was inspired by one of the Doctor’s early assistants.)

Watching that very first episode once again took me right back to my childhood.  Then, as now, the music still sends shivers up my spine.

Here are the opening scenes of that very first show.  Enjoy!


The first book in the Outlander series definitely ranks in my top ten list of favourite reads. If what you want is to lose yourself in a blockbuster story, it’s got it all; great characters, a love story, adventure, history and a little fantasy to boot. Best of all, it’s set in Scotland!

It’s taken a long time to get this to the screen. There was talk of a movie at one time, but it’s too big a story for a two-hour film. Now, probably partly due to the success of Game of Thrones, it’s just started filming in Scotland with a 2014 TV air date.

I’m excited yet nervous at the prospect, and can only hope the producers manage to realise Diana Gabaldon’s vision in the same way David Benioff and D.B. Weiss managed with G.R.R. Martin’s epic.

We’ll have to wait and see, but until then you might want to check out this website to keep up to date on the series’ progress.