Greetings from Edinburgh – full of Festival tourists but suddenly a lot cooler after basking in the UK heatwave of July.
It’s been a long time since I last sent out a newsletter (Dec 2003 in fact) and most of you probably thought I’d abandoned them. In fact I’ve had a half-written one on my computer for many many months, but never any time to finish it. The last couple of years have been extremely involved, working in the daytime for a startup company in search engine optimisation and in the evenings on my own web design business. Throw in my chess administration duties and my membership role for the DDRA and there was little time left over. Having recently finished a particularly heavy spell and wanting to get back to some writing and discussion I reviewed the position with the website and the newsletters, and came to the conclusion that a blog might be a more suitable vehicle for providing information since it would be better for short pieces which take less time and it would get rid of the need to administer the email list.
Before going any further I should offer my apologies to those of you who have subscribed to the newsletter list over the last year or so but have never had a reply from me. In the past I always prided myself on replying to everyone individually, but this simply became impossible. Too often I was still working at 1 in the morning and some things just fell off the end of the priorities list.
So, to the blog. It’s reached quite easily at
or from a menu item under Questions on the site’s pages.
In it I’ve archived all the old newsletters so anyone interested can read them in a better formatted form than with the old text files. New items will appear in the main screen initially and then be archived under various categories such as news, book discussion, etc. Comments can be added by anyone registering on the site, but it might also be appropriate for more involved discussion to move to one of the Yahoo based discussion groups such as Marzipan if the list admins are happy that this be so.
One of the advantages of a blog is the ease with which it allows an RSS feed to be used. There is an explanation of this on the blog for those who have yet to embrace RSS, but basically it’s a way of automatically keeping up with developments without having to manually check sites for changes.
As for this newsletter I’ll use it to catch up with some of the things that have happened over the intervening period since the last one, at least up to the beginning of this year. I’ll then post all further items and articles as blogs. Hope you like the new format and look foward to re-establishing contact with you all.
Let’s catch up, what’s happened over the last couple of years or so? If you’ll forgive me I’ll mix in my own activities with the directly Dunnett ones so they make some sort of chronological sense.
January 2004 saw the death of a brilliant and very well known Scottish fiddle player who had moved to America some years before. This was Johnny Cunningham who had been a founder member of Silly Wizard, one of the key bands of the Scottish folk music revival. I had once worked with him, and was a great admirer of his music, and his death came a a great shock. I was astonished to learn later that he was a Dunnett reader and had expressed an interest in writing music inspired by Dorothy’s work and using it in a film if one were to be brought to fruition. That we had never made the connection and had a chance to discuss this made his death all the harder to take.
By early 2004 I had been out of work for about 8 months and things were getting a bit grim. However my old friend and flatmate for the previous year and a half, John Sampson, had a new show coming up with the Natural Theatre Company of Bath. Another dear friend is usually their technical wiz but he was unwell and they were looking for a sound engineer to take his place on the tour. I’d worked with them many years previously when I did that for a living so John suggested to them that I should do it.
I had always loved that job and jumped at the chance, so it was off down to Bath for reheasals of “Scarlatti in Paradise”, and then off to Germany for two months where we had a wonderful, if rather hectic, time dashing around most parts of what was previously West Germany from Hamburg and the northern coast towns down to Munich and Kempten in the south. The scenery was superb, the people almost invariable friendly and helpful, the show went perfectly and the audiences were wildly enthusiastic. As a bonus I was able to meet up with German Dunnett fan and King Hereafter expert Heike Meyer on one of our days off, and we spent a lovely afternoon exploring one of the nearby medieaval walled towns.
Incidentally while staying with John I noticed a large model ship in his collection of artefacts brought back from various overseas music tours. Closer inspection revealed it was none other than the Peter von Dansig!
I was not long back from the tour when the DDRA AGM was upon us, and it was a rather traumatic one as membership had been falling rapidly in the years after Dorothy’s death and there was a move to wind up the association before we found ourselves in an impossible position. I was deeply uneasy at this but with touring in Germany I wasn’t in a position to do much about it. I don’t want to rake over old ground so I’ll just say that it turned out that the motion was defeated, but in the process we lost Val Bierman who as editor and chief organiser had been the mainstay of Whispering Gallery magazine and in effect the DDRA and its forerunner the DDF for all the years they had been going. Val received a remuneration for her work but it has to be said that it didn’t remotely begin to cover the vast amount of work that she did. Losing her abilities was a grievous blow and it meant that the committee would have to completely change its functions and spread all the work over a wide range of people. We were fortunate that the new committee members were willing and able to take this on but I think everyone found out just how much work and time was involved. We began a thorough review of just about everything that the DDRA was involved in and email flew thick and fast for many months afterwards.
I should also mention the Sunday trip of that AGM weekend which was to Stirling. We had a glorious hot April day and were guided on our way round Stirling Castle by Doreen Grove of Historic Scotland who gave us some wonderful insights into the development and history of the castle, which was one of the most important pieces of royal architecture of its period. We also got to see the superb Unicorn Tapestrys being woven, which we had been given an excellent talk on the previous day by the artist who had not long previously finished the first of them – the Unicorn in the Garden – which was now on display in the Chapel Royal.
I added a Stirling page to the Dunnett Places to Visit section with photographs from that trip. Access it via the North page on the menu or see the photos directly at http://www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/dustirling.htm
I was back to looking for work and was just about to start up my own little web design business when a former colleague from a couple of years earlier asked me to join his new company and I started travelling out to Livingston every day. After 21 years of walking to work at Thins it was a shock to become a commuter, though at least I was always heading in the opposite direction to the bulk of the traffic!
During that summer I was invited to give a talk on Dorothy to a party of Americans who were visiting on a literary tour. I was happy to do so and this took place in the Royal Overseas League. The ladies had visited Orkney and Roslin amongst others and while they weren’t all Dunnett readers they seemed to enjoy the talk and I received a charming thank-you letter from the organiser.
Another addition to the website around this time was a new page on the book covers section dealing with non-English covers. This was prompted by the receipt of some messages and copies of four covers from Russia. My correspondent, a young lady by the name of Galyna, has become a firm fan and has been inspired to read more Scottish literature. It transpired that the first two books of Lymond have been translated into Russian but published as four books.
I also added the hilariously inappropriate German Dolly covers to that page, while on the Old Book Covers page I added some of the Sphere editions of Lymond which are also amongst the less realistic covers we’ve had inflicted on us over the years!
The Bibliography page had a long overdue revamp – split it into a number of sub-sections relating to the different series and made much clearer. I also updated all the entries for the Howes audiobooks having been back in touch with Paul Radford at Howes who was as always very helpful and sent me scans of the titles I didn’t have for inclusion in the new Audiobook Covers page.
Dictionary of National Biography
Dunnett reader Belinda Copson had been working on Dorothy’s entry for the Dictionary of National Biography. This is a huge reference project which was published later in 2004 and as such the memoir will be a definitive one for future researchers. Belinda asked me if I would cast an eye over her early drafts and I was able to offer a few small amendments.
Readers should be able to access the new DNB via academic libraries and possibly larger public county libraries (it’s appeared both in print and in an online subscription version).
New German Editions of Niccolo announced
Martine Dauwel, who runs the excellent German Dunnett site, had been busy making converts in the publishing world and was able to announce some good news. Klett Cotta, one of the oldest publishers in Germany had decided to produce new translations of the House of Niccolo beginning with Niccolo Rising in 2005. (In fact this was a little delayed and was published recently)
Congratulations to Martine. Excellent work! Lets hope the books are a great success there.
The artist and cartographer Peter McClure, who worked on the covers and maps for Dorothy’s books for many years, sadly died around this time. I’ve heard him described as a charming if slightly eccentric man who always insisted on delivering his finished works in person even though it must often have meant substantial travel costs. A talented artist who took great interest in producing images that reflected the books, his designs occasionally had to be rejected because they gave away important plot points – however he always took it in good grace and enjoyed the challenge. He had been due to speak at Jo Kirkham’s Dunnett day in Rye and would undoubtedly have been a big hit there.
Geography and Paintings
Two pieces of correspondence occurred which are interesting enough to be given separate articles in the new blog. The first was an enquiry about the geography around Midculter and the second was concerned with the painting used for one of the Niccolo titles. Look out for these articles appearing shortly.
April 2005 saw the DDRA AGM weekend move to a new venue. The Point Hotel, while having excellent rooftop views, was lacking in certain facilities and had put up its prices, so we were forced to look for an alternative home for Edinburgh in the Spring. We looked at a variety of options, most of them turning out to be way too expensive, before deciding on the Royal Overseas League on Princes St, which I’d suggested investigating following my earlier talk there. It has, if anything, even better views of the Castle, and has proved popular with the attendees.
There were plenty of highlights in the weekend. A talk on “Loving Sybilla” by Julia Hart was clearly extensively researched and delivered with great aplomb and conviction. I’m sure she will have won a few converts. Doreen Groves also gave a talk – one that can hardly be adequately summarised such was the breadth of its scope – putting Marie de Guise in the context of the political and dynastic landscape of Europe and based on some very new and as yet unpublished research which she decided at the last minute would be of interest to us.
However despite the excellence of these talks the undoubted highlight was the Sunday visit to the National Library of Scotland in George IV Bridge to see a selection of items from the Dunnett Archive. This was a specially arranged visit and as far as we know the only time in recent years that the Library has been opened on a Sunday. There were numerous items from various parts of the archive – some very early notes and card indexes from the time of Game of Kings. The famous roll of wallpaper which held the genealogy of the European rulers in the time of Thorfinn. Some items from Dorothy’s schooldays. There was far too much to take in and remember in the limited time available as we divided into two groups to make viewing easier, and we hope to return at a later date to see more of it. Our visit was followed by splitting into smaller groups for a walk down the Royal Mile – I had the pleasure of conducting one of these and pointing out various places of interest. Lunch was then taken in Jackson’s restaurant and followed by a tour around the new Scottish Parliament building. While many people found this interesting I’m afraid it merely confirmed to me that it had cost far too much money.
2005 also saw the publication of a list of the 100 Best Scottish Books. This was compiled to celebrate the launch of Edinburgh as the first European City of Literature – an ideal promotion for a city in which printing and publishing played such a prominent part, though sadly the days when it boasted the headquarters of many internationally important publishers have now gone. The 100 Best was a competition instigated by Prof Willy Malley of Glasgow University to encourage reading and discussion and he set it off with a list of his top 100 and invited people to vote for their favourite. Game of Kings achieved 2nd place, beaten only by Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. A wonderful achievement even if the votes were boosted a little by our strong organisation as Dunnett readers.
This wasn’t the only success in terms of national recognition. The venerable BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour asked their listeners to vote for their favourite romantic hero – the result was a clear win for our favourite blond Scots mercenary, Francis Crawford, an outcome that seems to have caught the show’s producers a little unprepared, as they were clearly expecting the winner to come from the likes of messers Darcy, Rochester and Heathcliffe. Just to confirm Dorothy’s prominence she also appeared in the same programme’s list of Books That Changed Your Life in the top ten.
Later in 2005 the Dunnett Siege of Malta took place, a gathering organised by Simon Hedges and Cindy Byrne. Sadly I was unable to attend so I can’t give any first hand descriptions, but it was very well attended with readers coming from all over the world. Anyone interested can see descriptions and photos on Simon’s site at http://www.simonhedges.com/ or may wish to take out membership of the DDRA and obtain copies of the relevant copies of Whispering Gallery which also contained a report and colour photos.
Many of you have enjoyed the CD Music for Lymond and Niccolo produced by the Edinburgh Renaissance Band who have played at a number of Gatherings. After being unavailable for a while they managed to get some more pressed towards the end of 2005. They also brought out a new CD – Music of Castle and Kirk, which while not as closely associated with Dorothy’s work as the first one, is of the same period and contains further examples of the sort of music that was around during our heroes’ time. Once again this is a private production and not available in shops, but they have asked me to continue to offer them for sale through the website and I’ve added the details of it next to the first one.
That takes us to the end of 2005 and we’ll leave it there with the catch ups and I’ll add the 2006 activities to the new blog.
best wishes to you all