She secretly wrote the first of her time-travelling novels while her husband slept. Now she’s published the ninth in the smash hit series. She talks explosive sex scenes – and where George RR Martin went wrong

Writing a novel shouldn’t have been high on Diana Gabaldon’s list of priorities in the late 1980s. She already had two jobs, as a university professor at Arizona State, with an expertise in scientific computation, and as a software reviewer for the computer press. And she had three children under six. But she’d known since she was eight years old that she was “supposed to be a novelist”, so she decided it was time to give it a try.

With three degrees – a bachelor’s in zoology, a master’s in marine biology, and a PhD in quantitative behavioural ecology (her thesis was on “nest site selection in pinyon jays”) – Gabaldon says she “liked science, I was good at it. But I knew that was not my vocation, that’s not my calling. So when I turned 35, I said to myself, well, you know, Mozart was dead at 36. If you want to be a novelist, maybe you’d better start.”

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