Newsletter – 2nd February 98

Just to let everyone know that I uploaded the new “Questions for Dorothy” feature to the website last thing on Friday. Didn’t get time to do a notification at the same time and one or two of you have already spotted it. Here is the complete text of the new feature. Hope you like it.
(Of course it’d still be nice if you log onto the web site to see it, so the hits go up!! 😉 )

Questions Answered by Dorothy Dunnett

Dorothy’s talks and personal appearances are always popular, usually being composed of a reading from one of the books, a number of anecdotes from her research trips and a question and answer session, but with an ever growing army of fans all over the world there are many who may never get the chance to hear her speak or answer their questions. This page is an attempt to capture something of the atmosphere of one of these talks. By inviting questions from the visitors to this site and also providing some of the “standard” answers that often come up, I hope to be able to give readers something of the insight into Dorothy’s writing and ideas that they would have got from attending a talk in person.

As the number of questions and answers grow I’ll try to divide them into separate sections – perhaps one for each of the two series and another for the other books – but for the moment they are presented at they come in.

A Comparison of Lymond and Nicholas

One of the main topics of interest in many discussions is the contrast between these two central characters. I was about to say “of the two series” but Dorothy has let it be known that she considers it one series of 14 books. Here is her perspective on the two male leads.

“With Lymond, I wanted to show a very solitary man facing up to what was happening to him, and dealing with it, and changing under its impact. From the beginning, he appears as a courtier, a scholar, a wilful and charismatic leader of mercenaries, with formidable enemies. He also vulnerable because of something to do with his past and his parentage, which we can only guess at, for he himself doesn’t know the truth, and doesn’t want to. As his power and influence increase, these secrets are explored one by one, until he has to confront them in the end. And as this happens, we begin to understand what moulded the dazzling character whom we met at the beginning.”

“Nicholas had to be different. In the 15th century, you could climb out of your class if you were good at banking and merchandising and accountancy, and Nicholas as a young man does this. We met Lymond fully-fledged; we see Nicholas as young and (comparatively) inexperienced, but advancing with every adventure. There are mysteries too in his life, and enemies, but the real mystery is his nature. He is both hilariously outgoing, and obsessively private. We see him acting heroically; we see him deceiving his friends. We see him risking his life for someone else, but also initiating some crazy chain of events that will as surely bring about wanton ruin or death. The character of Nicholas is what this series is all about, rather than the unfolding of secrets. The central mystery was the key to Lymond’s whole life, but this is not true of Nicholas.”

St. Mary’s – Fact or Fiction?

Is there any historical basis for the mercenary troop at St. Mary’s in Disorderly Knights?

“No. But readers in the past, on their way to tour the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch’s house at Bowhill, have been able to stop by the side of this very beautiful lake and see where it might have been.”

This bring us to a subsidiary question that is often posed by non-Scots – How do you pronounce Buccleuch? The simple answer to this is Buckloo.

How much is preplanned?

The following question was submitted:

When Dorothy began each of the two series, how much of the plot was preplanned? There is so much foreshadowing that it seems a lot of planning was required, but in writing a series over the course of 12 – 16 years, it seems like it would be difficult to maintain the original focus. I have heard authors say that characters take on a life of their own as books develop. Does Dorothy feel that this occurs and if so, how does she balance this against the original plan?

“Each series was planned in detail from the beginning. Within a day-to-day historical framework like this, there is no leeway for major characters to make unplanned changes of direction, or you couldn’t be true to the history. It still leaves scope for them to display their given (and changing) characteristics in unexpected ways in the course of a scene.”

Original poetry in Checkmate

In Checkmate, what was the only original poetry by DD, later to be noted on the Rosebush Gift?

“Part IV, Chapter 1. Six lines, of which the second was charmingly engraved on the rose bush: Thy flying wit I braid with jewellry.”

What does “Caprice and Rondo” mean?

The following question was typical of a number of submissions.
I was wondering though, does anyone understand the book title? Lord knows it is full of capricious characters, but what does Rondo mean?

“Look up Caprice and then Rondo in the full Oxford English dictionary. The first word has to do with the tone at the start of the book. The second describes the shape of the story.”

Extra comment from Bill Marshall. Recognising them as musical terms I consulted a number of music dictionaries and found that they were described as follows.
Caprice as a term for a variety of compositions usually showing some freedom of expression. The Italian term A Capriccio – following one’s fancy.
Rondo is a round, a musical form in which the first or main section recurs, in a form such as ABACADA where A is the recurring section and the other letters are the subsidiary ones. We also know that Dorothy originally wanted to use the title Rondo Capriccioso but was talked out of it by her publishers on the grounds that some people wouldn’t be able to spell or pronounce it!

What order should I read the books in?

“The double series will form a single entity of 14 books. Order of reading: I’d say LC first, then (in chronological order) HN followed straight through by a re-reading of LC to pick up all the hidden links.”

General Points about the House of Niccolo series

The geneologies printed in the HN books are correct (except for
Esota’s death in the first four books).

Kathi’s marriage to Robin Berecrofts is historical fact

More answers soon!!

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