Before Outlander, for instance, I had never obsessed over anything—or at least not to the extent to which I obsess about this series and show I had also not been a member of anything you could even remotely suggest was a fandom since the days of the Monkees. That, um, has all changed. Just ask my family…or co-workers…or friends…or maybe even a random stranger I happen to begin chatting with while on line at Starbucks.
Before Outlander, I was also a book purist. Yes, electronic readers could be convenient for trips, but that’s it. And certainly no audiobooks! No, I want to hold the book in my hand, to feel its paper between my fingers and smell its musty odor.
That, too, changed thanks to Outlander. Having re-read the series three times (I’m leading a read-along of Voyager on our Facebook page if you’re interested), I was looking for a way to stay connected during the Longest-Droughtlander-Ever. My good friend who bullied me into watching the series (THANK YOU, SUSAN!!!) was an audiobook fan, and my sister-in-law and her partner only listen to the books because, as they said to me, the reader was THAT good.
And so, I took the leap to my first audiobook. And, like Claire’s leap through the stones, my life has never been the same. Davina Porter, the reader for all eight Outlander books so far, is beyond amazing. I decided we needed to talk. I tracked her down via the wonders of the web—she lives on Fraser Road!—and knew as soon as she picked up the phone I had found her. Here’s what she had to say about acting, recording books and, of course, our favorite subject, Outlander.
We can thank a three-line listing in Backstage, a trade magazine where auditions, casting information and other tidbits are noted, for Porter becoming the voice of Outlander. “I was skimming and right at the back I saw a listing for a native-born Scot to read Culloden,” she says. At that time, audiobooks were a fairly new concept.
She was intrigued, so she went in for the audition. “We like your voice. We think we will have future work for you, but we wanted a native-born Scotsman,” Porter says of the audition. “I thought nothing more of it.”
Three months later, she got a call and was asked if she was still interested. “What happened to the native-born Scotsman?” she asked. “’We had various tapes, they said — and all of them were incomprehensible.’”
That was in 1985 and she hasn’t looked back. While continuing to act on stage, Porter, one of the founding narrators of Recorded Books, to date has recorded well over 400 audiobooks. Besides the Outlander series, she has recorded Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. She’s recorded Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series, and Phillipa Gregory’s The Virgin’s Lover and The Boleyn Inheritance.
Porter is recognized by more than her fans, too. She’s won many awards over the years. Her recording of A Breath of Snow and Ashes earned her a second Audi, the Oscar of the audiobook industry, for Best Female Narrator of the Year. In 2015, her recording of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood earned her a Voice Arts Award for Best Voiceover in Fiction. She was also included in Audiofile Magazine’s 50 Best Voices of the Last Century.
Porter is direct about what she loves about recording books. “The control,” she says simple. “I love acting. (She’s semi-retired now.) But you are at the mercy of the person onstage who if they go off, you have to be on your toes to pull them back. With the book, it’s you. You’re totally in control.”
The key to good reading, Porter says, is staying out of the way. “The main thing is you don’t want to impose your voices on the books. You are the conduit. You do your best to do the author’s intent and make it very interesting for the listening.”
As with acting, good preparation is key. First step is reading the book. “It sounds daft,” she says. “I know someone who never reads the book. You can’t do that. You will find pitfalls.” She gives an example with Thornbirds. “On page 80, he replied in a soft Irish brogue he hadn’t lost since childhood. If you haven’t been doing that voice in a soft Irish brogue, you’ve got to go back to the beginning.”
After reading, she begins to work on the voices, including the narration voice. “That must be as interesting,” she says. “You don’t want people to turn off. You have to make the narration come alive as well.”
She talks a little about her Outlander voices. With Outlander Claire, I kept as I was. I have an affinity with Claire. I feel I am Claire. It was lovely to do her. She’s such a smart woman.”
For Jamie, “you can’t sound masculine. I tried to sound less feminine. I have a Scottish mother and I’m married to a Scot. I listened to his accent. That’s ingrained. I made Jamie more Scottish but less female.”
Porter is particularly proud of the voice she created for Roger after his, um, trauma. (You’re welcome, people who have not read ahead.) “He had such a beautiful voice,” she says. “That was a challenge.” Porter likes Geillis’ voice, too. “She’s so mysterious. You knew she was bad but you didn’t know why,” she says. “I didn’t want to give away how bad she was when you first meet her. That’s tough. You must let the story progress. You must also be careful not to let that first clue slip. You don’t lean on it. You have to have that wait a minute moment.”
Some of the most fun comes from the minor characters. “You can give them daft accents, comic accents,” she says, “because you’re not going to have the listener say, ‘oh it’s that irritating person again.’”
Porter also makes a list of characters. “I look for the clues. How old are they? Do they have education? Are they children? Are they young people with no education at all? Are they shy? Are they bruised by life? Are they timid?” All this sleuthing helps her decide what type of voice to use.
She keeps history in mind too. Later in the series, a smart Quaker girl becomes a key character. (Yes, it’s Rachel for those who’ve read the whole series.) “She is more modern for her time but never out of her time,” Porter says. “I never make the mistake of saying she’s really a 21st century girl. She’s not. She’s restricted by the mores and morals of her time.”
And, of course, Porter’s choices are informed by the story itself. Many of the characters are people who have never left their village. “Five miles down the road, he’s going into a strange country. That happened at that time. What I do with my characters to convey that?” she says, noting her books have lots of notes in the margins.
“Sometimes when you record, you realize characters have developed so you make more notes,” she says. “I have many scruffy notebooks.”
Given that the book is meant to reflect 18th century Scotland, for the most part, Porter must also think about the correct pronunciation of a word. Is it HAR-assment or ha_RASS-ment? “It’s little things. Do we want the American pronunciation of a word?” And then there’s the Gallic. “We had great fun chasing down a lovely man from Outer Hebrides who lives in New Hampshire,” she says. “He would send back a tape of the words to me. I had great fun parroting that and popping it in.”
All fine and good, but it’s time to ask THE question. What is it like reading Diana Gabaldon’s amazingly well-written, no-holds-barred sex scenes? “It’s not gratuitous sex, but oh boy it was hard to read. I came to the first scene and I thought, oh mercy I have never read a sex scene. How is one doing this?” she says. “If I do it over the top, it’ll be embarrassing. I read it to myself first. Fortunately, I had a female engineer at the time. I thought, just do it. At the end, she was silent and I thought, is she thinking it’s so bad? When I came out of the recording studio, she said, ‘Would you like a cigarette?’ I said, so it was okay? She said absolutely. After that it was fine. “
Recording is tiring work. “You must stop when you realize your voice is getting tired and all you’re thinking is just finish, just finish. You don’t want anyone listening to think well this chapter is a bit dull.”
While she can record five hours in a day, Porter does rest, stopping for drinks of water. Green apples, she says, are good to eat. “They give you fluid in your mouth and are not loud when digesting,” she says, adding tea with honey and lemon is a good staple. “It relaxes your throat.” Avoid coffee. “It makes you gurgle and dries your throat.” Clothes are important, too. “Clothes have a life of their own,” she says. “Silk whispers.”
At this point, it’s been decades since Porter first voiced Jamie and Claire. And, just as Jamie and Claire have aged, so has Porter—and her voice. “It has deepened,” she says. “It’s harder to do the young voices now, particularly children. I’m hoping it doesn’t change too badly. That’s when you have to hang up your tap shoes. I’m hoping I can continue to record.”
Porter has seen some of the Starz TV show, but for the most part is avoiding it. “I don’t want to see it. In my head, I have the characters. I have how they look, how they sound. I didn’t want to be distracted by the wonderful cast. I know how I want them to sound. I think I’m being true to Diana’s words. I want to have my own world with my own vision of these folks. Hopefully, I will be given the next book.”
From your lips to God’s ear, Davina. From your lips to God’s ears.
While reading this wonderful interview, I had the idea that STARZ should cast Divina as Jamie's aunt Jocasta! It felt perfect and would give an Easter Egg to her fans. But after reading the last paragraph, I doubt she would be interested. That casting choice will be crucial to seasons 4 through 6.
love that idea. If only Davina wasn't 79. I suspect it would be too much of a commitment as an acting gig.
I had forgotten her age. Whoever they cast has to be available for seasons 4-6 at least. I don't remember off-hand if Jocasta has a brief appearance in book 7, but I think she has left NC by then or could be referred to without being in a scene. But Jocasta and Steven Bonnet will be crucial casting decisions for season 4 and beyond.
I have been listening to audiobooks since they first started becoming popular (remember when book on tape meant cassettes?). For me Jim Dale, the voice of the Harry Potter series, was the gold standard – his voices for the characters were wonderful. Jim Dale was it…until I heard Davina! I'm only on my second read through of the Outlander series and the first time with the audiobooks (I'm currently on DOA). Davina is fabulous, helping me to "see" what's happening in a scene (especially "those" scenes!). I'm am thoroughly enjoying the journey this time with Davina at my side. I hope she'll stick around through at least book 10!
Thank you for such an interesting and informative article. I have listened to all the Outlander books three times and have been wondering about Davina. I recently listened to Tess of the D'Ubervilles because she narrated it. Beautiful job!
Yes….and let's all cross all our fingers we get a season 5 and 6…..I hope the cast and showrunners aren't getting tired of Outlander!
I was amazed at how different the listening experience was and how it illuminated new ideas for me too. I had read the series three times already when I decided to listen and it was really new again!
Thank you. I'm curious about her other books too because she really is stellar. I'll check out Tess….after I finishe the Lord John Grey books on audio—not as good as Davina but entertaining and lots of important backstory information.
Janet, thanks so much taking us right there with you. What a rich and beautifully-written piece!
Love this piece you, Janet have written I feel as you do about Outlander and Davina. I have never been this way, obsessed about any series as I am OUTLANDER. My first obsession was Thornbirds on TV But Nothing like I am Now!!! Thank you for this interview with the first narrator and the only one I can listen to. I lucked out when I bought my Audio Books. Now I'm spoiled!! lol
Yes I'm now happy I have a long commute to work so I can listen to Davina and all the Outlander books 🙂 I may try some of her other audio books too. She is just so good!
You must read them all to us. YOU are as important as our beloved Diana and our characters. Outlander series would never be the same without you Davina <3 LOVE YOU!
This is so wonderful Janet! It's one thing to hear people talk about how much they love Davina's voice but quite another to be brought into a discussion about her craft. The extent of her preparation is simply amazing.
A big thank you to Davina! I have to work from home during lockdown/pandemic and it is so quiet at home. So started the Outlander Series on Audiobooks. She is like a friend keeping me company while stuck at home alone all day. Thank you very much Ms Porter!
She is the first audio book I listened to and I’ve now gone on to listen to other books she’s narrated just because she’s soooo good!
Great interview and blog post! I LOVE and ADORE Davina Porter's Claire, Jamie and all of the other characters! I prefer her "versions" of them over the actors in the show.
I am so with you. And I know Davina is too. Yet another reason Diana needs to get herself busy at that desk and finish up for goodness sake!
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Well you're the first to say you prefer Davina's renditions over the cast, but I agree she is amazing and a real treasure! Here's to her continued good health so she can read the rest of the books too!
I, too, refused to listen to Audiobooks, but I kept hearing over and over (and over!) just how great the Outlander audiobooks are. Then, on a drive down from San Francisco to LA my friend put the first one on, and the rest is history! I've been listening to them ever since. My commute every day is only about 20 minutes, but I listen to Davina faithfully. I was hoping listening to the entire series would use up all of Droughtlander, but as I'm halfway through with MOBY right now, I'll finish a bit too soon. Ah well…perhaps I shall start over again from the beginning!
I love Davina as the reader for the audiobooks. I have every one of them and listen to them all the time. Her range of character voices is amazing. Well done in getting the interview with her!
That's a good question about how long after publishing do recordings begin. I'll try to email her and ask what the norm has been in the past. Given her age, I hope the answer is that it starts quickly. I'm sure Bees will be long and even at 5 hours a day, that is going to take some time!
I'm another fan obsessed with Outlander and Davina's lush performance that brings Diana's characters to life! I am listening to the books for the third time and have had a hard time taking a break between books to 'read' anything else. Listening to a wonderful narrator like Davina is like watching a fine performance, and she amazes me with the variety of characters she voices, each one spot on! I have been anxiously awaiting "Bees" and hadn't considered that it would take some time before I could listen to it. The agony! Davina absolutely HAS to narrate that one, too!!! I would love to hear her re-record the LJG series; I gave up on the flat male narrator before finishing the books.
Great article and interview, Janet! I never listened to an audiobook until Outlander and didn't want to even then until I read comments in some of my Outlander groups about how good they were so decided to give it a try. I wasn't expecting to like them, but I LOVED them! Davina is wonderful. I love her interpretations of the characters – they are so true to the book. Also, when I listen, I pick up on so much more of the detail (and we know there's a lot of that!) than when I am reading. Thank you for tracking Davina down and sharing a little of her with us!
Amen to Seasons 5 & 6, Janet!
Oh My YES!
I discovered outlander about 10 months ago and since then I have read the books 2-03 times each, listened to every Podcast available, and watched and re-watched the TV Series often (could not guess how many times I have watched the wedding). Listening to Davina's narration and brilliant interpretation of each and every character is yet another amazing, intriguing, captivating dimension of the world of Outlander. Even after reading this article it amazes me that no two voices are alike. Davina, looking forward to The Bees and book 10!!!! How long after publishing do the recordings begin?
Janet another great article. For me Davina is who I measure all other narrators. I pray she will finish the series … hurry up Diana and write!
I second that!
It's amazing how so many of us just have Outlander on repeat, whether it's the books or the audiobooks or both. 🙂
I'm listening to LJG now but I agree–it's substandard. I just want to know those books and am not that interested in reading them so I figure audio is the way to go. The backstory does inform the Outlander series in interesting ways.
I started reading the books and then towards the end of Outlander I switched over to Audible and never looked back! Davina pulls you into the story as if you were living it so there were many days I would listen for 7 hours or more without realizing! Thank you Diana and thank you Davina!
This was so interesting to hear from her! So much thought and intention. Thank you for putting this post together.
Yes! Every time Diana releases lines from another project I want to scream STOP WRITING OTHER THINGS! FINISH THE OUTLANDER SERIES!!! She's not getting any younger AND we want Davina to be able to read them too!
Davina P. Sounds so lovely&intelligent,I only listened to 1 audiobook so far,but I still like just the usual books,turning the pages love that!
She is lovely to talk to. I will never give up books for audiobooks, but having the audio option is a lovely way to have Outlander with you while you're driving or doing other things 🙂
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Thank you for this. I searched Davina on Audible and chose titles based on her narration. I am a big fan.
I am so like you with regard to books and audiobooks. I, too, was a book snob about electronic books and never ever thought I would like audiobooks. The narrator of an audiobook can make or break the book. In the beginning I would check out the CD's from my library, and if I couldn't stand the narrator after the first disc, back it went even if it was a wonderful book.
I have all Diana's books in hardback and paperback and also have all the audiobooks for driving in my car to and from work, etc. I started listening to Outlander after having read the books 1-5 twice through. (I started the series in 2003)Now my system is FIRST, READ THE BOOK! Then the second time I listen to Davina's wonderful narration. The third time through is the book again, and back and forth. I find I pick up so many more things with the audiobook because it makes you slow down. I always thought I would miss things listening because my mind would wander, but that's not the case. At least not with me. I listen to every word.
Davina is delightful. Let's pray her voice holds up through the last of the big books. Can't imagine anyone else voicing Claire and Jamie going forward.
I have only listened to Davina once but have read the whole series twice and the first three books three times….I am already planning, however, to listen to the series again. Right now I've been enjoying the Lord John series on tape (not as good but I'm really loving the back story information)…..next stop: a Davina re-listen!
I've listened to all of the Outlander series through The Firey Cross. I absolutely LOVE Davina and what she does with each of Diana's characters. Each is so distinct and personal. And she does it so smoothly and seamlessly that you forget it's all being read by the same person as you listen. She brings each character into a life of their own. I listen to many audio books, and it's extremely rare to find a narrator with this kind of diversity in her narration. Often, all the male parts sound the same and most of the female parts (if the narrator is female. Just the opposite if the narrator is male.). But Davina makes each one distinct. Enough so that even if the author didn't tell you who was talking at the time, it would be easily distinguished. Thank you Davina, for all the work you do ahead of time in developing the characters of the books you read. It makes the listen SOOOOOOO much more interesting. A Breath of Snow and Ashes is my next listen and I'm looking forward to it VERY much. 🙂
Davina brought these characters to life before the show ever did. When I struggled through some books, I would audiobook it. My children have grown up listening to her [sex scenes on pause, mind you] on their way to school. Much love to her and may her voice be the one in the next book. It wouldn't be the same without her.
Thank you Davina Porter, for your portrayal of the Outlander series. I listen to the whole series at least twice a year,and love them .You do a fantastic job. As the tv show started I was confused at first. I unconsciously expected your voice,I think.
My dr told me I needed more exercise. She asked me do you like to read ? My response was Is the pope Catholic? She responded “Audio books”. I have walked many miles listening to Ms Porter bring Outlander to life. Ms Porter is fantastic. Thank you for your wonderful talent
Love this article and interview because I’ve loved Davina Porter’s narration since I first tried the audio version not long after discovering Outlander. The article’s author must be my age because I identified with and laughed over “the Monkees” comment. The only other audio narration I’ve found as good is Jim Dale’s readings of the Harry Potter series.
Several years ago I purchased all of the Outlander books on kindle and was able to get the audio books for just a few extra dollars each. All but Snow and Ashes. The audio is finally available but it is $28.00 Or I have to sign up for an audible subscription. I do not understand why Amazon did this. I called and called for the first couple years and they gave me excuses that were not true (I know this because DG said so herself) Anyway. I am looking forward to hearing Ms. Porter read me the books over and over again.
I have never read the books – but I’ve immersed myself in Davina Porter’s narration of them twice – all of them. For me, her incredible talent and skill eclipses the written word, amazing and wonderful as the books are. Give me the Audible versions! Again!
Shari I’m absolutely going to listen to them all again as well. It was a total delight.
I first listened to Davina Porter read The Mists Of Avalon. I thought she was wonderful. When a friend started to describe the narrator for Outlander, I interrupted her and asked if it was Mrs. Porter. I immediately started listening to the Audible versions since I had already read the books. I’ve become very particular about who I listen to. I had trouble with some of the Lord John Grey books because of the voice being different and just read them.
I just heard that she will be reading book 9. I hope this is true. And yes, Davina, you are Claire to me!
I have never read the Outlander books. I don’t own even one. But I’m on my third time listening to Davina’s narration of all the books. She and Diana totally immerse me in the stories. And yes, I have listened to all the John Grey books too. And I’ve listened to many other books by other authors. But Davina is the best. Now is the perfect time to revisit the Outlander world with her.
I, too, am a fan of Davina’s! My last (Nth) re-read of this precious series was what I call “full immersion”, ie. reading the books _while_listening to the Audible recordings.
Her reasons for avoiding the show are similar to mine. I have my Outlander folk firmly in my mind, along with Diana’s rich storylines, anything that detracts or changes them tends to put me off. I know how that makes me sound but it can’t be helped, funnily enough.
I’m waiting with bated breath for book #9 and I’m keeping my hopes up that Davina will be adding her wonderful voice to its cast of contributors.
I listen to them every night when trying to fall asleep. I find them extremely relaxing. Can’t do it with other audiobooks, so I have a feeling it has something to do with Davina!
I read the first three books, then when there was a time lag before the next, I started listening to them on CDs. All 36 of them!! And I started again at the beginning. I finally was able to hear how some of the Scottish names were pronounced. Ms. Porter is a dream, I hope she’ll be able to do however many more of these. I no longer have a commute so I may actually have to go back to reading the paper copies — so far I haven’t been able to find them on Overdrive.
Thank you for recirculating this article. I did not become an Outlander fan until June of 2018 so I would have probably missed this information on Davina. I have never listened to audiobooks but your endorsement has encouraged me to do just that. I am looking forward to “hearing” Outlander read for the first time. Thank you for a wonderful article and for spotlighting Davina Porter!
I sooooo hope Davina does the last book. It will break my heart to hear otherwise. Her voice aged is fine with me. The audio books have been my saving during 14 months of pandemic isolation. Thank you, thank you for your talent and brilliance and for bringing the book home to us. Yes, please do the last book!
So no one is bothered by how bad she is at American accents? Every time Brianna speaks, her American accent is so awful, it pulls me out of the story. Half the time, Roger doesn’t even have a Scottish accent.
Being a Scotsman in Australia, it was curiosity more than any artistic reason that had me show an interest “Outlander”.
Since then I have been I have been an enthusiastic viewer of the Starz series, owner of the DVD’s to date and lastly an owner of the full series of Audio books narrated by Davina. Porter.
I am disappointed at the negative comments regards her performance in the books and as a Scotsman from Edinburgh Scotland, even I had difficulty understanding the Glaswegian (Glasgow) or Highland accents(Aberdeen).
To cover the accents as well as she has, deserves the professional accolades that she has been given.
A story that I can tell:
My American sister-in law who was being host to my two sisters (25 Years in America), my Brother (10 years in America) and me 15 Years in Australia and my Mother direct from Scotland, for the first time in 30 Years under the same roof.
She pulled me aside the next morning to ask me if I realised what had happened last night, my puzzled expression had her explain that within an hour the family were all talking like my mother in her broad Scots.
So to conclude : Davina is doing an excellent, but difficult job, and I look forward to reading all her audio books