Dunnett Newsletter – 16th April 2003

Greetings from Edinburgh where we’ve been having the brightest March and April for many years. Keeping my fingers crossed that it lasts till the DDRA AGM which is now less than two weeks away!

I’ve been mostly out of contact the last few months as I try to carve out a new career, and more recently have been juggling the problem of a couple of serious family illnesses. As a result I’ve been struggling to answer even some of the personal messages that I still receive and to send out back copies of the newsletters to new subscribers. My apologies to anyone affected by this and please be assured that if there had been any way of my answering earlier I’d have done so.
The old newsletters will shortly be archived on the website so anyone who wants to can download them from there.

When I started writing this I said – “Hopefully things will be a bit easier now and I may even get a little spare time to catch up with what’s being discussed on the email lists and contribute a bit more – something I’ve greatly missed.” – however in the last few days I’ve just been made redundant again so it looks like no peace for the wicked, and time to really make a determined try on the freelance route.

I’d originally hoped to send a newsletter on the 9th Nov but pressure of work, the aftermath of a bad roof leak, and my wife’s diagnosis of the need for intestinal surgery prevented it. I’d felt the need to mark the anniversary of Dorothy’s death in some way as I’m sure all of you will have been thinking of her as the date approached as I was. For a long time the passing of the year had seemed to make little impact on the sense of loss felt at the time, and I’d found the DDRA AGM and meeting in April last year particularly difficult, though perhaps other traumas including Thin’s demise kept the wound open for longer than might otherwise have been the case. When she died I implored everyone to celebrate her life rather than mourn her death but I always was lousy at taking my own advice. However not being able to make the anniversary deadline somehow put things in perspective and showed me that it is the living that must come first, and has allowed me time to stand back and remember her with happiness and thanks rather than sorrow. I’ve started to read the books again, starting with Disorderly Knights and now Pawn in Frankincense, which was something I couldn’t bring myself to do earlier, and after so long a gap I’m finding lots of little elements and echoes that I’d forgotten and have connected a few references that had remained tantalizingly out of grasp for a while.

Many of you will be aware of the events that followed my last newsletter about the auction, but for those of you who aren’t on the discussion groups perhaps I should reiterate them.

Following discussion with Ninian, the Rosebush was withdrawn from the auction of the last of Dorothy’s possesions and I was asked to decide on the best home for it. After consulting with a number of people I was confirmed in the belief that the DDRA was the only appropriate body to look after it. Subsequently however there was a further twist. It became apparent that Dorothy had said that she would like the Rosebush to go to her granddaughter, but that somehow the family hadn’t been aware of it. Once they realised this they were only too happy to follow her wishes.

The rest of the items and books that were in the auction were the subject of much debate, and a consortium of bidders was put together to avoid anyone inadvertently bidding against each other. This was organised with his usual energy and enthusiasm by Simon Hedges, with the considerable help of Cindy Byrne and Denise Gannon, who all attended the auction and made bids on everyone’s behalf. Cindy even managed to persuade the auctioneers to arrange the book lots in a more sensible order and Simon bid on most of the important ones and was wonderfully successful in keeping the working library with its forest of post-it notes together.

Many of the best items were bought by members of the online community and I’m happy to say that some others were bought by Elspeth Morrison. So the bulk of items of sentimental and literary research importance have found good homes, and what was a sad event for all of us who were there has been turned to a positive use.

As some people seem to have been unsure about it, it’s worth mentioning that all of these items had previousy been offered to various museums and libraries and that only items which they were not interested in or had no room for were included in the auction.

Simon initially put the large quantity of books, nearly a full van-load, in temporary storage until they could be collected and transported down to his home. Since then he has been periodically cataloguing them when time allows – a massive task and one in which I imagine it is all too easy to be sidetracked by an interesting find or an intriguing post-it note!

Edinburgh in the Spring – The 3rd Dorothy Dunnett Readers Association AGM

The next AGM is almost upon us – it takes place on the 26th of April – and will return to the same venue as previously, the Point Hotel, for the Saturday events. While there has been a small amount of criticism of the Point for its minimalist decor and more justifiably for the poor level of toilet facilities (we are assured that this will be remedied), the fact is that the excellent deal that Val Bierman has arranged with them is far better than any other we could possibly get in a city centre venue and costs would have to be considerably raised were we to go elsewhere. And where else would we get a view like the one from the rooftop conference room?

We are delighted to say that the guest speaker for the Saturday is our botanical expert extraordinaire Henk Beentje, who gave such a wonderful talk at the Edinburgh Gathering in 2000. How he will top the now legendary sheep in helmets slide I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to seeing him try.

Elspeth Morrison and Richenda Todd will be there again – this time to talk about the Lymond Poetry book which is mentioned below.

The Sunday trip will be to the village of Culross and the Palace of Falkland. The former is a village on the north shore of the Forth which has the closest remaining architecture to that of Lymond’s time, while the latter is of course closely connected to the books and was a favourite of Mary of Guise. The palace at Culross is a particular delight with its original panelling and painted ceilings and really gives a feel for how it must have felt in a substantial house of the period. Only the rushes on the floor are missing. Once again we’ll have Elspeth and Charles Burnett to help us interpret the history of the two areas.
In the Dunnett Places to Visit section on my website I’ve added some more pictures of Culross (in the North section) after a recent visit there, so those of you who can’t easily visit it can get a flavour of the place.

Falkland is of course a much more grand building as befits a royal palace, and there is plenty to see, both inside, and out in the lovely gardens, while the picturesque village is hardly any bigger than it was in the 16th century. Hopefully if the current light conditions continue I’ll have some new photos of it. If we’re very lucky there may be someone playing royal tennis on the courts at Falkland as was the case on my last visit and we can imagine Phelim playing King Henri!

I’ll do a report on the weekend for the next newsletter and add some pictures of it to the website.

A New Book!

A few of you have heard rumours of this but I’m happy to confirm that a book of Lymond poetry will be published this year. It was written by Dorothy and was discovered in her papers by Mungo. It has been completed by Elspeth in conjunction with Richenda and they’ve worked their usual research and editorial magic on it.
It’s due to be released in June, but I’m delighted to say that we should have advance copies in time for the DDRA AGM and they’ll be on sale there. Additionally I’m hoping that I may be able to get hold of copies myself and thus be able to sell them to anyone who wants them by using my PayPal account.
It will be a B format paperback and the cost is expected to be around £9.99

Dorothy’s Portrait of Archie

Many people have asked to see a picture of the only portrait Dorothy ever made of one of her characters and I’ve now been able to take photographs of it and have added it to my website. Strangely enough it looks different seeing it away from the house where I’d seen it before. I fancy that anyone who knew him may detect a slight element of Alastair in the facial features.

The Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD of Lymond and Niccolo Music

Many of you bought copies of this through Thins and a number of you have asked about where you can get it now. Since of course the CD was privately pressed it was never on general sale by any other means. I’ve now been in touch with them and they’ve sold me some copies which I can now offer for sale directly to anyone who doesn’t already have it. Again you can use my Paypal account if you are overseas.
They also tell me that they will shortly be releasing a new CD of early music which some of you may be interested in. As soon as they have details I’ll let you know.

DDRA News – A word about Whispering Gallery and subscriptions

As many of you will know it’s been difficult for many overseas subscribers to Whispering Gallery to continue their subscriptions in the year since Thins collapsed and the online payment system was lost (along with £600 pounds of the magazine’s money which was caught up in the crash). The magazine has no way of utilizing credit cards and although we did look at various other online payment methods none of them was felt to be suitable.
Recently Simon Hedges generously offered to act as a central point for people to send money to and then pass it to the DDRA, and a number of people have been able to take advantage of that. Please see
for further details

I do hope that more of you will subscribe in the future – the continued existence of the DDRA very much depends on the solvency of the magazine and conditions are not easy at the moment. Many overseas subscribers were lost in the last year and if they drop too much the unit cost of printing will rise due to the smaller print run. It was perhaps always inevitable that there would be some contraction with no more books to look forward to, but Thins demise unfortunately accelerated that. However when you look at the various associations devoted to authors, the majority of their subjects are also no longer with us, so there is no reason why we can’t keep ours going and keep Dorothy’s work alive for future generations as she surely deserves.

My own prospects

While it really has little place here, many of you have asked for word on how I’ve been doing since Thins went down.
I’m been working for a company called Bigmouthmedia Ltd for the last year, doing web design, traffic analysis, and search engine optimisation, but unfortunately with the current economic conditions there hasn’t been enough of the work that I do coming in and they are refocusing on their search engine marketing strengths rather than the design and development side so my role is disappearing and I’ll be finishing with them at the beginning of May.

A couple of the sites I’ve been working on with Bigmouth can be seen at

While I’m now searching for another job I feel the time is now right to concentrate on the freelance work and see if I can make a real go of it. As I mentioned before I’m specialising in authors and also musicians. A good part of last summer and autumn was spent designing a site for the award winning children’s and teenager’s author Theresa Breslin
– her books are excellent and having read them all in preparation for the site design I can heartily recommend them. Theresa has been most enthusiastic about the site and a great encouragement for me.
Shortly after finishing that one I put together a new site for the Edinburgh Chess Club which I’d previously had some pages for on the Thins site.

The combination of my mother having a heart attack just before Xmas and my wife’s surgery and recuperation meant a bit of a break but lately I’ve been building a site for my good friend the musician and actor John Sampson who I’ve been staying with for the last few months
His site went live last week, although there are a few pages that will be developed further when he comes back from his latest job with the Young Vic in London. Do take a look at it – he’s an expert in early music and has in fact guested with the Edinburgh Renaissance Band as well as playing with other early music orchestras in Scotland. Some of the German readers may have seen him perform in comic theatre with The Bath Natural Theatre Company and in cabaret, as he’s a frequent and popular visitor to that country.

It looks likely that I’ll be doing a new site for the Scottish Association of Writers shortly – I went over to their Annual conference near Glasgow recently and hope to give some talks to their members as well as building their site. Hopefully that will lead to more contacts and work. To that end I’m also working on a new site for my freelance company which I’m calling Spiderwriting – the site will be at

My writing has largely taken a back seat but I did write a travel piece about the Ardnamurchan area which just needs a bit of polish so if anyone would like to read it I may put that on my personal website. There was also one of Mull which needs a slight re-write. Last September I went back to Orkney for another holiday and I must try to add some of the photos from there to the site too.

That’s all for now. Hope to be more in touch over the next few months but obviously that will depend in part on the employment situation. I’ll try and put together some of my reactions to my re-read of DK and PF for next time.

Very best wishes to you all


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