Greetings from a somewhat grey Edinburgh – after our glorious 3 day “Indian Summer” (the forecasters said it would be 10) in mid-September when we basked in 28 degree warmth we seem to have skipped October and plunged straight into dark November mornings.
This newsletter has taken me a while to get round to writing, because I really wasn’t sure what I should say. It should have been a happy one – with mention of Dorothy’s 75th birthday – but the death of her husband Alastair a few days later has of course changed that completely.
To start with the birthday.
Dorothy celebrated her 75th birthday on the 25th August and, as those of you on the various discussion groups will already know, I sent her a card on behalf of all of you and those of us here at Thins, shortly before I went on holiday a few days before the big day. The card was a fairly elaborate gatefold design and given the difficulties in finding good messages in cards these days I was pleased to find one that was in some ways appropriate.
The verse was:
You’re thought about and spoken of so often through the year
It wouldn’t be a secret that you’re someone very dear
But your birthday is a perfect chance to specially tell you so
And to wish you much more happiness than words could ever show
When I got back to work after the holiday I found the following fax on my desk.
Dear Bill, Douglas, Jeanette, and all the Unalloyed Webbers out there in the ether…
A vast pink card stands on the shelf by my parrot (does everyone know about my parrot?) congratulating me on surviving past the allotted span by five years. This has come about solely by the preserving effects of constant praise (the bits of your communications that you permit me to read) and the bracing knowledge that there is a lot of sturdy criticism going on out there from which I am tenderly shielded. I have to say incidentally, never bother to pull punches. Anyone who has brought up two sons can take anything on the chin, and generally has the thick skin to prove it.
What has arrived however is not a critique but a very sweet message which I do take to heart. Come to think of it my mother lived to 92, so there is time even to answer all your questions about Lymond, and Nicholas, and Thorfinn, and JJ before taking off, in a hurry, for Mars. For you know you don’t really want them all answered – just some of them. The rest you will probably manage to sort out for yourselves; in fact many of you, I suspect, have sorted out the next book as well. I look forward to comparing notes when it comes out.
Meanwhile, my thanks and my blessings, and my warmest regards to every one of you.
I actually read this after I returned from Alastair’s funeral service on the Monday morning, so you can imagine I had a lump in my throat. I’d first read of his death in a copy of the Times on the flight home from Austria and was just back in time for the funeral service. I knew he’d been unwell for a couple of weeks but it had been expected that he’d recover. However it seems that his heart hadn’t been able to take the extra strain and simply gave out.
Some of you will have read a description of the funeral which I posted on one of the discussion groups. I found that rather hard to write so if you’ll forgive me I won’t attempt to repeat that here.
I know that some of you had met Alastair and found him a charming man with a ready wit. Some of you may not know what a remarkable life he had led and what he had achieved for his country. I can only touch on a fraction of it here but perhaps this will give you some idea of his range. Of course he had inspired the character of Francis Crawford which says more than anything else can about his intelligence and abilities, while any of you who have read “Among Friends” will have had an insight into his love of Scotland.
He had already achieved a lot in an administrative role as assistant to the famous Tom Johnstone at the Scottish Office before he went into journalism and rose through various posts and newspapers to become editor of The Scotsman. At that time it was languishing in a rather minor backwater, but he turned it around completely to put it back to it’s rightful place as the best quality newspaper in the country, and having done so made it the voice of the Scottish people in pushing for the sort of reforms which have at last given us some control of our own affairs with the Assembly due to open soon. Thankfully he lived to see it voted in, but it’s such a pity that he didn’t see it open. I knew of Alastair long before I ever heard of Dorothy – when, in my teens, I started to regularly read The Scotsman, a couple of years before he left it, he was a legend. In many ways he WAS The Scotsman, and it was a few years before they recovered from his departure. He was offered the editorship of The Times – at that time, much more than now, an enormously influential post – but he turned it down saying he could never leave Scotland. Instead he turned his talents to the oil industry which was vitally important to the country through the developments in the North Sea, and for many years the biggest names in the industry were regular visitors at his house. In the meantime he and Dorothy were constantly working behind the scenes in many areas of Scottish life – the Edinburgh Festival for instance – bringing their vision and energy to the benefit of the country. Somehow he also found time to continue writing and right up to the last couple of months his occasional articles for newspapers were always a delight to read. In a recent interview in the Edinburgh Evening News, Dorothy described him as the real writer in the family, which I think says a great deal.
His 89 years were extremely well spent and his knighthood was richly deserved.
As you can probably imagine, the number of friends and wellwishers was vast, and it was felt by many of Dorothy’s fans that it would be best not to send hundreds of individual letters of condolence as she would almost certainly feel the need to reply to them all individually, and this was a burden we should avoid putting on her. I sent a card, and I know that another letter was sent, explaining this, and she has sent charming handwritten replies to both with thanks to everyone for their best wishes and consideration. I was pleased to hear from her that Alastair had expressed surprise and delight at the birthday card – he was always wonderfully proud of Dorothy’s achievements and the devotion she inspires amongst her readers.
A number of people had suggested making contributions to a trust that Alastair had been involved in setting up, but aside from the fact that the trust in question is not in a position to acept individual donations, the family felt that Alastair would not have wanted any memorial of this kind.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
To return to current matters and to Dorothy’s books, the new US Vintage paperback edition of King Hereafter has now been released in America. I’m told the book has been done in the same style as their Lymond reissues. We don’t yet know whether we will be able to get copies here in the UK – that depends on whether one of the US import wholesalers decides to carry it. I suspect they will but it may be a little while before that is confirmed or copies can get here. It will not of course be published here since Michael Joseph own the rights in this country and they are planning to bring out a hardback edition next year.
For those wanting to order it in the USA the ISBN is 0375704035 and I believe the price is $US 16.00
It is rumoured that Vintage will be producing paperbacks of the first three Niccolos sometime next year, although there are no details as yet.
Confessions of a Dunnett Reader
While I was on holiday in Austria I finally got a chance to finish reading Niccolo Rising and even moved on to Spring of the Ram, although an overfull schedule since my return has meant I’m stalled about a third of the way through that just now.
So completely different from Lymond of course!! I wasn’t really sure that I would like it – how can you possibly follow the best hero and the perfect heroine with anything else? – but once I’d got past the first few chapters of scene-setting the now-familiar exquisite style of the writing carried me on until I began to empathise a bit more with our new “hero”. What a mass of contradictions he is. Unlike Francis who you are always quite sure has the best motives even when he doesn’t explain them (when does he ever 😉 ), Nicholas seems to be constantly in a maze of complex and shifting patterns and plans which no-one else can even guess at, although Tobie at least does a pretty good job of trying. One thing I’ve realised; I’d always rather suspected that business had certain hidden areas – that really successful business has more going on beneath the surface than those of us who are not natural entrepreneurs can guess at. Having read the machinations of the Alum deals I am now quite certain that that is this case!! I wonder which businesses Dorothy got the inspiration from? 😉
Of course I’ve read so much about Nicholas that it’s difficult to know how objectively I’m reading him and how much I’m influenced by foreknowledge, but he does seem to have hidden agendas that neither his fellow cast nor the reader are privy to. I’m reminded of something I heard Dorothy say at one of her talks here in the shop, when she remarked that he was a person of great abilities but no ambition – no clear idea of what he wanted to do – and that was what the series was about. (Of course she has also said completely different things in other talks!!) I will need to go a bit further into the series before I can say too much more but the complexities are already firmly established as a delightful conundrum which will require all my chess-player’s analytical abilities to even comprehend – let alone solve!! Perhaps if that other Edinburgh writer, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, had written multi-volume stories they would have been like this!
That’s enough for now. I need to do some more reading!
It’s strange how Dunnett themes start to crop up in everything you do. The in-flight magazine going to Munich had an article about Prague and how it is built to an astrological design. John Dee apparently visited the city and got a prominent mention. A visit to the castle at Kufstein also revealed a number of exhibits from the time period of our adventures. Although I didn’t get as far west in the Tyrol as the pass which Nicholas would have followed such glimpses still give a fascinating view of how people lived in those times.
Can I just ask everyone something. I’ve been finding recently that one or two of you who have been on the list for a long time don’t seem to have been getting all the newsletters recently. I’m becoming a bit suspicious that there may be a limit somewhere in the distribution list software and so I’m going to send this out in smaller sections. There are over 500 of you receiving the newsletter directly so I’ll split the alphabet into three and send them separately. The most recent newsletters have been in July 98, May 98, March 98, Feb 98 and Jan 98. If you receive this but didn’t get some of the earlier ones please let me know. Also let me know if you would like me to send replacements for any missing ones.
If you know of anyone who would like to receive the newsletters please pass them on to me or get them to press the subscribe button on the main Dunnett web page, and I’ll add them in.
Best wishes to everyone