Newsletter – 23rd April 99

Spring Greetings from Edinburgh where the longer clearer days have been frequently accompanied by cold snaps and the odd snow and hail shower in addition to the usual April showers.

The main purpose of this issue of the newsletter is to inform you about the changes to the Dunnett web pages which I’ve just uploaded. As the main page was getting a bit long and overloaded with graphics, I’ve split everything up into different sections which should make things easier to view, and the pages have a new look.

BOOK NEWS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, and the BOOK COVERS have all moved to separate pages which makes things a little quicker on the main page and allows me to introduce some more decoration. All have been updated of course and I’ve done fresh scans of the covers. The PAST NEWS items also now have a place of their own for people who want to review the older stuff or catch up with things.

There are quite a few new Answers on the QUESTIONS TO DOROTHY section after DD kindly took time out from her Niccolo 8 writing to catch up with the backlog of questions which has been accumulating over the last few months. These are the first of the batch – there are a number of others in the pipeline that I’ll add in over the next few weeks. That whole feature has now been divided into General, Lymond, and Niccolo sections, and as quite a lot of the new questions/answers are on King Hereafter I’ll be adding that section the next time round.

The DUNNETT PLACES TO VISIT feature has been improved with some expanded descriptions and a new section on the Orkney Isles. I’m gradually adding new photographs where possible too.

Another entirely new section is the page on SCOTS PRONUNCIATIONS AND MEANINGS which includes audio files for the most commonly disputed pronunciations and looks at the derivation of some of the standard Scots personal and place-names. I’m quite pleased to have unearthed some interesting stuff there – have a look at the entry for Semple for instance – and am looking forward to more digging.
Please let me know if I’ve missed any names that you want to hear or understand the origins of, and I’ll try to include them in subsequent revisions. For the moment I’m sticking to the Scottish names, as that is obviously the area I’m most familiar with, but if I can do enough research to be confident with the foreign names I may include them later. (Being an appallingly bad linguist I may need Dorothy’s help here! 😉 )

Yet another new section is the MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS page. It was inspired by the recent acquisition by our Mercat Press division of a number of books previously published by the Stationery Office including one very good one on Mary. It looks at Mary’s early life and her relations who we see in Queens’ Play and Checkmate. I plan to develop this further if there is sufficient interest.

Finally there’s a lighter note with a CASTING page for that film we all keep talking about! 😉

Book News

For those of you who aren’t yet aware of them, the new UK Penguin editions of Lymond are mostly now available, and the new US Vintage editions of Niccolo have started to appear with the first three now being available. Full details are on the web page bibliography.

Personal Appearances

For anyone who is likely to be in Edinburgh in August, Dorothy will once again be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and this time is bringing along her editor – Richenda Todd.
It’s on Saturday 14th August 5pm at the Post Office Theatre. They’ll be discussing the problems of writing a long historical series i.e. historical accuracy, overlapping of events, consistency of events and characters, and they’ll be covering both series of books. If anyone should know the difficulties inherent in that subject it must be her!!

Below is the text of the new Answers, but do have a look at the new layout of the web pages and let me have your opinions.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

New answers uploaded April 99

Where did you find your research material for King Hereafter?

Q. I would like to ask Mrs. Dunnett how long it took her to research and where did she find all of the wonderful history for King Hereafter.

A “A detailed answer would hold up Niccolo 8 for a month (my reading list alone was 700 books long).
1975, Day 1, contract to write the first properly researched historical novel on the real Macbeth, on which there is ample academic material. (younger son then aged 11).

Day 2 (virtually), discover the academic material is mostly ancient and full of gaps, the exception being the deconstruction of Shakespeare, which is popular and has been well and accurately tackled.

Day 3, sort out which few areas have been updated, mostly in monograph form, and verify from the universities that absolutely no historical department is currently re-examining this period.

Day 4, resign myself to collecting and analysing primary material, as soon as I have read through and noted the secondaries. This included sources (including foreign ones) for info on the Celts, the Picts, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, on current laws and customs on marriage, fostering, bastardy, kingship, on the detailed politics of surrounding countries, on biographies of individuals such as
Canute, Emma, PopeLeo, etc. etc. Also early charters, monastic annals, fragments of early poetry (plus linguistic studies), the Icelandic sagas, saints’ lives, early histories written under the Stewarts, and a lot about the Norman Conquest (plus Norman and Breton charters) to identify the Normans who fled to Macbeth. Also everything relevant in archaeology.

Lovely discoveries about the Archbishop of Dol. Travel, including visits to Rome, Goslar, Vienna, Brittany, Normandy, the Celtic Library at Harvard and all relevant places in the UK, including many visits to Orkney, collecting published material and looking at buildings and museums. Compilation incidentally of 145 interlocking European family trees, laid out in miniscule writing on a piece of
wallpaper 20 feet long.

Discovery that the story still didn’t make sense. Awful dawning realisation that it did make sense if Thorfinn and Macbeth were not half-brothers but the same person. Grinding of teeth (original research is not a good idea for a novelist). Decision (courtesy of my publishers) to continue researching, and in particular track to its source every accepted fact that contradicted this theory.

By the end of 1979, evident to me that the Thorfinn/Macbeth case was stronger than any other, and the investigation was now academically viable. Moment of truth; continue for ten years and exhaust all the lines of research? Take another year, and publish the case as it then stood as non-fiction? Or write, with the facts I then had, the novel I had been contracted to write in 1975? I chose to write the novel, beginning in January 1980 and finishing in March 1981 (younger son now aged nearly 17 and forgiving). The rest, as they say is history…..”

How is Gelis pronounced

Q. One thing I would like to ask Dorothy Dunnett is whether Gelis is pronounced JEALOUS…

A “I’ve never discovered. It’s short for Egidia. I usually try to avoid ‘Jealous’ and try for ‘Jailees’.”

Extra comment from Bill Marshall: I recently came across an entry in a listing of Scots names which gave Egidia as the feminine form of Giles (as in St. Giles). See the web site Pronunciation/Meaning section for further details.

What were your early readings and did they inspire you?

Q. Did she read Quentin Durward (Scott) and The White Company (Arthur Conan Doyle) when she was young? Did they in any way inspire, influence, or direct her imagination?

A “Can’t remember reading The White Company, but my school went in for Walter Scott in a really big way. I once amused Sir Walter’s charming g-g-many g’s-granddaughter by remarking brashly that the books were all right so long as you skipped the first forty pages. They weren’t in the forefront of my memory when I started to write, but everything one has read forms source material, I’m quite sure. I didn’t even realise until recently what a magnificent researcher he was.”

Any influence from Kristin Lavernsdatter

Q. After reading and re-reading King Hereafter I wondered if Dorothy Dunnett had been influenced by Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavernsdatter. Kristin appears to take place about two generations after King Hereafter. It is almost like the gap between Nicholas and Lymond. Naturally, Undset and Dunnett take a different tack in their books but they both present intricate characters.

A “They are wonderful books. I’d never heard of them, much to the shock of two readers – Judy Amory and her husband from Harvard – who promptly repaired my ignorance by sending me the whole trilogy. That probably pre-dated King Hereafter, but my work for that was so different that I don’t recall even thinking about Undset.”

King Hereafter

The first in a series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer

Q. In p 1, ch. 18, Lulach utters something strange. He says ‘One cold winter, the ink froze at Fulda.’ Thorfinn later remembers this when Archbishop Adalbert asks him ‘who interprets your dreams ?’ We couldn’t make head or tail of this, so could you please help ?

A My notes would take weeks to sort out, so this is simply from summaries or from memory and not to be trusted:

As you have probably worked out, Lulach, poor guy, is the many-tongued voice of History, which you can’t trust either. Everything he says directs attention to something uncommon relating to the history of Scotland. I wanted to show that – although the novel should be enjoyed as pure historical romance – there is a serious basis for the new theories about Scotland it posits, and that here, in the gap between the real events and the Shakespeare play, is a classic example of how and why history comes to be distorted. Failing academic footnotes and appendices, which would have been ridiculous, it seemed appropriate to put some of the evidence in the mouth of Lulach the Fool, who bore the name of the prophetic Wild Man of Irish and Welsh history. The Havamal quotation which prefaces the novel is black irony.

Part 1, chapter 18: everything that Lulach says on this page relates to evidence for Macbeth’s real story. There was a King of Alba went to Rome. This was Macbeth. How do we know? Because an Irish monk called Marianus Scotus (born 1028) sat in a monastery at Fulda in Germany and recorded it: 1050 – Rex Scottiae Macbethad Romae argentum pauperibus seminando distribuit. (in MGH). But how could Macbeth afford to scatter gold like seed to the poor? How could he afford to take a king’s escort from Scotland to Rome and back, with all the rich gifts he would have to donate? Answer (mine): Macbeth couldn’t, but Thorfinn with his tributes and shipping trade could.

The frozen ink reference (real) was a pointer to anyone interested that the writings of Marianus Scotus in Fulda would provide food for thought. (The second time, it crops up because Thorfinn is reflecting that Lulach is his dream – not to mention nightmare -interpreter). The monks incidentally were always mumping about the weather: 1047: Nix in occidente in tantum ut silvasfregisset. Another monastic record supplied the information about the six-day hurricane in December 1052 which I described in a scene with Thorfinn in Orkney.

Hope that’s enough to keep you all going for a while longer as you wait for Niccolo 8 😉
I’ll add some more answers in a few weeks.

Best wishes


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.