Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The wording on the cover of this book, showing a photo of the authors in their kilts, says ‘Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other’. On the back cover it also says ‘Two Men, One Country. And lots of whisky’. What more needs to be said?
Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the foreword for the book and whose books form the basis of the TV series Outlander in which the authors of this book star, also describes this book. She says it is four books in one. It is a buddy book where two friends banter and bicker their way across the Scottish Highlands. It is also a road book as they are making a TV series about several historical locations in the highlands. It becomes a twin memoir as the reader learns much about the lives of these two actors during their journey. And it is also a history of the ‘Clan Lands’.
As you have already seen, this is not a novel as such. There are sixteen chapters in this book, each with its own title, sketch and quotes from well-known poets, writers and songs. Notable people cited as the authors of these quotes are Robert Burns, Wilson and Chambers, Spike Milligan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, not forgetting Monty Python. Throughout the book, there are two sets of eight-page photos sandwiched between the text as well as maps, a Scottish Kings and Queens Timeline, and several double page open scrolls bearing information about The Grievances of Graham and Sam’s Scottish Slang.
It is obvious that, although these two actors from the Outlander series are nineteen years apart in age, they share a deep bond. Their friendship colours and illuminates every page. But it was not just the two of them on this brief tour of Scotland. They were accompanied by a team of eleven which included a producer and schedule guru, director of photography and drone genius, camera man, sound-wizard, make-up artist/groomer/chief morale officer, stylist team, driver, all-day-multi-tasker and photographer. Most of these were also involved with the Outlander series.
In an old Fiat campervan with various other modes of transport (tandem bike, kayak plus others) attached, they set out on their first day to arrive at a whisky-tasting venue at nine in the morning. Over the rest of the time, they visit castles, grave-yards and sites of famous, blood-thirsty battles between the clans in the past.
The two actors are the narrators and from them we learn much about whisky and Scottish history. We also learn about their acting careers and their personal beliefs. One of the reasons for the trip was for the authors to try to find out where their heritage came from and what being Scottish actually means (aside from being born liking whisky).
On the trip they talk, not only to each other but to the reader, revealing much about themselves. We learn that Graham McTavish, a family man, played the part of a dwarf in the Hobbit trilogy and has been involved in theatre probably more than in movies. It is revealed that he loves his latte and lots of food and is an amazing calligrapher and player of the lute. He is the history buff.
He often sees Sam Heughan as ‘a nine-year old boy masquerading in adult clothes’ (205) for whom consequences are just fun things that haven’t happened yet (207). Sam, we discover, is a great outdoors man who is not afraid to try something new and is a thoroughly kind-hearted bloke. He is very much a man’s man.
The journey depicted in these pages took place in the latter part of 2019 and these two actors were helped with bringing this book to fruition by co-writer Charlotte Rather, lifestyle journalist, humorous columnist, and comedy writer. The COVID-19 pandemic which followed this project was a time for reflection. Sam Heughan realised that he needed to slow down. He tells the reader ‘I tend to race ahead with projects, head down and charging at work like my determined star sign, Taurus the bull’ (283-4). He believes that his companion on this adventure through Scotland, Graham McTavish, has taught him that ‘it’s okay to sit in fourth gear (if you can find it) and enjoy the scenery’ (284).
Although there is a lot of joking and mock-theatrics around danger as well as teasing and banter, their friendship is strong. It is even supported by astrology (156-7). Sam appears to be quite the entrepreneur. It was his idea for this trip and his agenda, a lot of which comes as a surprise to Graham, who is expected to go along with each escapade. Both have been Grand Marshalls of the New York Tartan Day Parade.
There is much humour in this book, a lot of which they bring on themselves, like wedging their van in the gateway to the castle of Cawdor, becoming an obstacle for runners in a marathon; the runaway tractor and their escapades on the bicycle built for two and the old motorbike and side car. The text also includes many back stories beginning with phrases like, ‘In Season One or Two of Outlander’ (218).
As well as producing a funny blokey book, these two actors have managed to sell this project, at the beginning of 2020, to a major TV network. They now have their own TV show to be called, Men in Kilts. If the series remains true to this book, then the show will be something to look forward to.
It seems that this project, recorded for our benefit, has reaped many rewards on many fronts.
By Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish