Dunnett Newsletter – 7th May 2001

Greetings from a Scotland which seems to have skipped Spring and gone straight into Summer after a cold and wet April.This newsletter is mostly concerned with the recent first AGM of the Dorothy Dunnett Readers Association (DDRA) and associated mini-gathering. I had hoped to have some more “Answers from Dorothy” but she has been busily working away with Elspeth Morrison on the second volume of the Companion so those will have to wait for a while. They have to have the manuscript of Vol 2 ready for mid-summer although publication is not due until the following summer. Which brings me to the first news item.


Although world rights for the new paperback edition of the original Companion had been sold to Random House/Vintage, I had been having no success in discovering how (or indeed if) the Companion would be distributed in the UK. On turning to Dorothy’s agent for help I heard that Penguin/Michael Joseph were now regretting their sale of world rights and were trying to buy back the UK rights for it. Now this might be good news for UK, Commonwealth and European readers if only it had come sooner, however there are severe doubts as to whether a Penguin edition could be put together in time to match the US publication date – the estimates I’ve been given have suggested November and I’ve told them that if that were the earliest that could be done then most international (and probably most internet connected UK) readers would simply order from the US via Amazon or other US-based internet booksellers. This situation is liable to constant change so please understand the position and that we cannot take orders for it until we have a firm decision on what’s happening.


The second piece of news is that FW Howes are going ahead with the audiobook recording of Queens’ Play and are currently auditioning narrators, having taken on board the comments that I and others have given them regarding Game of Kings. We are probably looking at a date sometime in September/October for release but this is obviously open to change. As is my normal practice I won’t take any orders until I have an ISBN for it, but I will circulate a message both in a general newsletter and a special one to everyone who ordered or expressed interest in GK, so there should be no danger of missing the boat.



This took place at the Point Hotel in Edinburgh on the 21st April and although numbers were a little lower than expected (possibly due to the foot-and-mouth crisis) it was a worthwhile and enjoyable experience for all and we even had a couple of overseas visitors.
The venue itself was spectacular, as we were on the top floor of the hotel with glass on most sides allowing wonderful vistas over the city, with the castle in particular standing out only a stone’s throw away. The AGM itself took very little time as much of it was the formality of approving the constitution and accepting the nominees for council. Val Bierman gave a brief summary of the magazine and of the winding-up of the old Dunnett Trust after the Edinburgh 2000 Gathering. We were indebted to Pauline Brace for chairing the meeting during the handover from the steering committee to the new council.

Elspeth’s Talk

After a short break we were given a talk by Elspeth Morrison in which she described a little of her recent work on the second volume of the Dorothy Dunnett Companion, and how it has differed from the first volume where much of the task was in reconstructing the researches that DD had made. This time there has been much more collaboration possible whereas on the first volume Dorothy was busy writing the HN series.

Elspeth finds it hard to read the books for pleasure as she is constantly looking for things that she may need to research and reference. She acknowledges that there will inevitably be things that are left out that someone will want to know about. Particularly in the original volume there was a great deal of HN material which simply couldn’t be included because it risked giving away parts of the plot.

In many case the quotes that people wish to reference are actually just fragments – there is no more – it is the context that Dorothy puts them into that is important. It is also the case that there isn’t the 20 or 30 years available for research that Dorothy has accumulated, and there are the limitations of the publishing process to contend with, so there has to be some trimming down. Elspeth remarked that she had three criteria – is it relevant, is it fun, is it sexy!!

In doing research related to Scottish history it is important to be aware of who is married to whom. The is an oft-mentioned quote which says that everyone is related in Scotland and without church dispensation no-one would be able to marry anyone else. She mentioned that in many cases she found herself treading the same paths as Dorothy had and that many of the items that she was able to trace are in footnotes or in bibliographies in the secondary sources – which means a great deal of reading for often quite minor points. This time around she has been able to use Dorothy’s own library but of course there is far too much to go through everything and she found herself constantly having to resist being sidetracked by interesting volumes that happened to sit next to crucial books on the shelves. On occasion there would be delightful discoveries – one such was to find that a historical character in the HN was the source of a quote used by Lymond – “amiable as a fawn lively as a girl” (unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough in my note-taking to catch who this was – I shall have to ask Elspeth next time we speak).

Elspeth then went on to give a quick verbal tour of the Royal Mile, as an addition to the excellent notes she provided to the delegates for their own excursions. These are too detailed to repeat here but one interesting item that came up was in reference to the old Tolbooth building – where Kathi goes on various errands and overhears the plotting. The Tolbooth records are all documented – who paid what rent etc. – so we know exactly what business went on there and who was involved.

Following a break for an excellent (if rather cramped) lunch where there was much lively discussion, not to mention an impromptu demonstration of divining by Jo Kirkham who had featured a professional diviner at a recent Rye get-together, we settled down to listen to our second speaker – Pauline Brace. Pauline gave us a detailed talk on plurality in King Hereafter and compared and contrasted the story given us by Shakespeare with that given us by DD, with a look at the historical sources and inherent politics involved in the former’s depiction, and looking at why he extracted the elements he did for dramatic purposes. Later she went on to look at the historical character of Thorfinn and gave us some reasons behind Dorothy’s theory. Now I must confess that my note-taking was quite useless in the face of the stream of information, reasoning and theorising that Pauline presented us with – and her mellifluous speaking voice frequently had me lost in thought as I tried to consider her arguments, only to discover that while I’d been thinking she’d already moved well into the next point! All I can say is that you should take any chance to hear her speak and hope that she may present her own summary of this talk in Whispering Gallery.

Towards the end of the afternoon, just before Pauline finished her talk, a special visitor arrived – Dorothy herself of course! I know of at least two people who had never been to a Dunnett gathering of any sort who were almost speechless with pleasure to be introduced to her, and as always she managed to find time for everyone.
I should also mention that after all her hard work, Val Bierman was forced to dash away and indeed missed the Sunday trip altogether, as there came an urgent report that she was about to become a grandmother. As it turned out the baby didn’t arrive that weekend after all, though I hope by now everything has been safely and successfully resolved.


The original trip to Dean Castle having been cancelled because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, we instead had a two-part trip to Linlithgow Palace and Rosslyn Chapel. Unfortunately we were not favoured by the weather which was rather wet, but the worst of it seemed to occur while we had coffee and cakes at the Bridge Inn at Ratho (which is an centre for sailings on the Union Canal) on the way to Linlithgow. As we drove on, local enthusiast Val Dean was able to point out to us the area where the recent find was made of a complete iron age chariot, which is causing great excitement amongst archaeologists. Prior to entering the Palace we were grateful to the elders of St. Michael’s Church for allowing us to pay a quick visit to the plaque which commemorates Anselm Adorne.

Linlithgow is a magnificent building in a superb setting overlooking the loch, and yet for some reason is often underappreciated on the usual tourist trail. Mary de Guise rated it finer than all the palaces of France and to see it in it’s splendor before the fire which destroyed its roof and interior paneling and decorations must have been a great experience. My one disappointment on this trip was that the courtyard fountain was covered in boarding and scaffolding as it is being conserved at the moment. However there was plenty to explore and photograph, and it was a great pleasure to go round with others of a similar interest (and in particular Elspeth).
I’ve added some pictures to the Dunnett Places to Visit page on the website which I hope will give you a flavour of the place, even in the rain. (www.jamesthin.co.uk/duvisits.htm)

After returning to the bus we headed off to Roslin where we met up with local Dunnett fan and Rosslyn Chapel expert Joy Madden, where we first had lunch at the local hotel before heading up to the chapel itself. I had not been inside the chapel for some years and I must confess I had forgotten just what a marvel it is. If the carvings were instead plasterwork it would still be magnificent – but you have to constantly remind yourself that this delicate tracery of foliage or that leering face or graceful angel is actually solid stone. The mind is continually overwhelmed by the layers of detail as you look at, for instance, an archway, then see the shaping of its columns, then the pointed decoration on them, then the fact that all those points have flat surfaces which are again decorated, and that there are figures and symbols and faces at all the intersections and in all the nooks and crannies. Then there is the Apprentice Pillar, which would be a substantial achievement if it were a computer projection with the machine available to work out the DNA-like geometry for you and layer the spiral decoration on top of a pre-existing fluted column – to imagine a mason actually carving it from stone almost defies belief.
Joy was a great help to us all in explaining aspects of the construction and renovation work, and also the Sinclair, Templar and Masonic signs and symbolism, and trying to divide fact from fiction in some of the more outlandish theories which abound in this unique building. Down in a lower section she was able to show us some of the mason’s geometrical workings inscribed on the stone and I would have dearly loved to have been on a one-to-one tour and to have discussed it all in more detail.

A trip up to the roof which is currently covered with an elaborate canopy to assist in drying out the damp stonework showed that the decoration continued even at the top of the building, while it was amazing to hear from Joy that the original foundations indicate that the chapel was to have been another 91 feet long.

Again I have added some interior picture of the chapel to the website – I was pleasantly surprised that nearly all the shots I took were sharp, as all those I’ve so far had back were taken at long shutter speeds of up to two seconds with only a monopod for support (tripods are frowned on in the chapel). I did take some others with flash later but have yet to get them developed.
All in all an excellent day despite the rain and I hope that all the visitors enjoyed themselves over the weekend.


Before moving on I must mention, for those of you who didn’t see the announcement on the discussion groups, that at the beginning of April I added to the new Dunnett Places to Visit in Europe page a large number of pictures of Malta and Gozo which were very kindly sent to me by Monica Murray, who also supplied the quotations which are included. As if this were not generous enough she also sent a picture of a chateau which she thinks may have been the inspiration for Sevigny and a description of a very Gaultier-ish sounding restaurant. Many thanks Monica, and also thanks to Kathleen Shaw who also sent in a description of the Loire area and a useful website address.


It’s quite a while since I last gave you “Confessions of a Dunnett Reader”, and perhaps it is in any case a rather different beast now than back in the days when I was a novice reader working my way through the LC and reviving everyone’s memories of their own first time.

A year ago I was on holiday on the island of Islay, and struck down with the flu, was reading the Icelandic scenes of TWLW – an interesting exercise when lapsing in and out of fever and dreaming some very strange dreams during which I was totally convinced that I had complete understanding of the entire series. For some reason I couldn’t quite remember the secrets when I returned to the land of the feverless!!

TLWL struck a number of chords with me, the most important being the relationship between Nicholas and Kathi. That they are spiritually close is by now a given, and this is of course continued through the rest of the series. Some people have problems with the fact that he seeks her out for some activities and that there are some areas that he and Gelis never share – music being the most obvious. Many of these readers find it difficult to allow him to have two “loves”. My own take on this is coloured by an unhappiness with a common social attitude that has been prevalent, at least in this country, until very recently, which says that it is impossible for married men to have a friendship with another woman without sex being involved. This is an attitude I have always disliked because I’ve often found myself having friendships with women and vehemently object when it is assumed that there is something else going on.

I have long believed that in the HN Dorothy was giving us a story that was much more like real life than the obviously heroic story of Lymond. In the LC it was natural that L & P would turn out to be soul-mates and compliment each other in every way – the perfect match. Though for the most part hardly romantic at all, the LC was in its later stages the ultimate in heroic romance. She’d done that and HN was always going to be very different. To me Nick’s relationship with Gelis is much more like a real marriage – if you ignore for the moment the years of conflict over Jodi; and therefore his other relationship with Kathi needs to be seen in the same light. In real life men and women often relate fine on one level but not at all on another – how many wives completely fail to understand what it means to their husbands to play golf, or climb mountains, or play music or chess or even just go out with the lads every now and again. Naturally it works the other way too and husbands totally miss the point over some aspect of their wives’ activities that means nothing to them. Yet these are often perfectly stable and fulfilling marriages. This is what we see in the Nick, Gelis, Kathie triangle (though as always with Dorothy there is more going on as well) – Nick and Gelis have a great shared interest in the mechanics of trade and business and she is his equal in this area. There is also their wonderful sexual compatibility which is illustrated so well later on in C&R and Gemini. However she doesn’t have music in her skill set and this becomes an area which is essential to Nick’s existence – without someone to share this with he isn’t whole. I don’t see this as some people do as meaning that he needs two loves, in fact Kathi could just have easily have been male in this respect, merely that in real life we find different elements of contact in different people. Admittedly we see far less of Gelis’ side of the story, which is perhaps a shame but then the series would have ended up being another couple of volumes long and practical considerations always have to be born in mind. The thought occurs that there is an amusing contrast in things that Nicholas and Lymond have to learn in their respective journeys – Nick has to learn that you can love someone without sex being involved; Lymond took a long time to realise that you could have sex and that love *could* also be involved!

However, to return to TLWL, one of the things I most enjoyed about it was seeing Nicholas put back into a more basic and unrefined arena than the high-politics one in which he usually operates. Seeing how he wins over a native population who have no reason to side with him other than what they see of his character. He is also nicely contrasted with Pauel Beneke, who is first his opponent and then an essential part of his small party who have to work together to survive in a hostile environment. Their later relationship in Poland is perhaps the ultimate expression of the sort of male friendship that is seen in football or rugby team-mates who play hard , fight hard and drink hard – who would come close to killing each other in a fight but would as certainly defend each other to the death if required. The very opposite of the platonic man-woman relationship that exists between Nick and Kathi.

This is of necessity a short summary of reactions which omits a great deal of importance to the series and is coloured by the continued readings of the later books, and the discussions on the various internet groups, which even when I can’t keep up enough to contribute in I try to keep up with reading. I moved on to Caprice and Rondo in that same April of last year – desperate to finish it before Gemini appeared so I could approach that with the required perspective along with everyone else. Just as I never entirely subscribed to the “Lymond as Ice-Man” approach to RC, seeing instead the re-emergence from an isolated period that was the inevitable result of the trauma of PiF, I didn’t feel the same horror at the Nick descending to the depths of depravity interpretation which many see in C&R’s early chapters. Yes he was close to giving it all up and going off with Beneke to a pirate’s live, yes he was careless of his own and other lives in a way that was unlike him, but to me it was always going to be an episode that was a relief from the tangled life and only-hinted-at complex responsibility of his extended family. I had no doubt that he would revert to his normal self, if such a thing can be said of a man who is gradually learning a broader perspective that someone of his station in life should normally have had as part of their upbringing We are of course continually kept guessing at his true morality – his gallant offering of his bow to Adorne to avoid the other’s humiliation despite their apparent position as enemies is immediately contrasted with his wounding of Julius in mysterious circumstances. And what on earth is going on between him and Anna during the trip south to Caffa and beyond? And yet by then one has the feeling that he is back in command of a basically moral attitude which we have to contrast with some other dubious episodes such as the “Scottish Plan”. Then of course we have the reappearance of Ludovico de Bologna who has been cast as the annoying interfering religious bigot for much of the series, but is gradually being seen in a rather more positive light. If I was a genius or a charlatan I would now claim to have immediately spotted the required reassessment of the early denouncement of Julius by this same curious churchman. Alas I can claim no such flash of inspiration but only a gradual and growing awareness that things may not be what they seem in all the old relationships.
More later.


Dorothy will be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival on the 15th August at 11.30am. Tickets will be available via the Festival organisers –
please check their site at http://www.edbookfest.co.uk for booking details.

Best wishes to you all.


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