IN CHILDHOOD days of yore, long summer holidays were brightened by the arrival of bumper editions of The Dandy and The Beano. Eager eyes devoured extra helpings of Desperate Dan, Dennis The Menace, cartoons, capers, colouring-in pages and competitions. The Outlandish Companion is a much more lavish, sophisticated cornucopia (and priced accordingly) but it isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that it might serve a similar purpose for the millions of devoted readers of Diana Gabaldon’s novels.

It is almost 25 years since the publication of Outlander, a time-travelling romantic adventure in which former army combat nurse Claire Randall touches an ancient circle of standing stones and is transported from the Scottish Highlands of 1946 back in time to 1743, where her heart is won by dashing Jamie Fraser (named in honour of 1960s Doctor Who companion Jamie McCrimmon).

Gabaldon has since shown the productivity of a Stakhanovite, producing seven sequels, a graphic novel and a spin-off collection of Lord John Grey historical mysteries. Outlander has also inspired a musical and a television series that has provided gainful employment for a who’s who of Scottish actors from Bill Paterson to Gary Lewis, John Sessions and Douglas Henshall.

Attractively presented and profusely illustrated, The Outlandish Companion promises to open “a door through the standing stones” and give us a “guided tour of what lies within”. Over the course of close to 600 pages, Gabaldon serves as a chatty guide to the world she has created. She confesses to a love of footnotes and digressions and you easily understand why this hefty tome is merely volume one. There are handy synopses of the first four Outlander novels, a cast of characters, a glossary of terms (from braw to lug), replies to frequently asked questions, an annotated bibliography that runs over

30 pages, a recipe, horoscope readings for her fictional characters and an eclectic “methadone list” of writers she would highly recommend that ranges from William McIlvanney to Dorothy L Sayers via Dorothy Dunnett and Iain Banks. Gabaldon also suggests further reading might include Irvine Welsh, but with the reservation that he “is not for the weak”.

THE Outlandish Companion is not a book you are going to read from cover to cover in a single sitting. It’s possibly not a book you are physically able to hold for that length of time. Unless you are an Outlander fan, it is not a book you are going to read under any circumstances. It is, however, a volume you might enjoy dipping into as you grow to admire Gabaldon’s utter dedication to her craft and infectious enthusiasm for the research and care that have gone into her creations. It is hard to resist any author who so relishes what she does and who delights in the response it attracts from millions around the world.

This is an updated version of a book first published in 1999 and therefore includes significant new material, especially on the Outlander television series. Gabaldon recalls the constant interest in making a film or a television adaptation of her work, noting: “We’ve accepted only four option proposals in the past 20 years. Fortunately, the first three of these lapsed without incident. The fourth option deal that we did was with a gentleman named Jim Kohlberg.” It was Kohlberg and Battlestar Galactica veteran Ron D Moore who eventually transformed Outlander into a 10-part series for Starz cable network. Gabaldon’s appreciation of their efforts can be measured by her cameo appearance in series one and the recent announcement that she has written one of the scripts for series two.

Nestled between the Guide To Scottish Speech Patterns (suspiciously reminiscent of Stanley Baxter’s Parliamo Glasgow) and the Poems And Quotations, the book contains biographical information on Gabaldon (a zoologist and marine biologist who “can reduce a full-grown gannet to its component parts in only three hours”) and a good deal of useful information for the aspiring writer on how to get started, acquire an agent, handle a publicity tour and much more. The wisest words of all might be her simple conclusion that “ the only real way of learning to write a novel was probably to write a novel”.

Gabaldon is an endearingly garrulous, thoughtful companion to the world of Outlander, although if she really wants to compete with hallowed memories of those Dandy and Beano specials she really needs to add a colouring-in-section and a spot-the-difference competition. There’s always volume two.