DDRA personnel changes

My holiday, mentiond briefly in the last entry, was much needed both by myself and my father (83) who went with me, and I’m glad to say that it went superbly well. The last few months had been a bit of a struggle and culminated in my being unwell at the time of the DDRA AGM and unable to attend. I was disappointed not to be able to see some of the overseas friends who had come over for both the AGM and the event at Saddle on the west coast of Scotland, and I hope we’ll get another chance to meet up at a future Dunnett event.

Despite my absence (or maybe because of it! 😉 ) I was appointed to be chairman of the association’s committee following Ann McMillan’s retirement. Ann has been made Honorary President and will continue to use her considerable experience to good effect in that new role.

It was all change on the committee with a new magazine editor, Sandra Hall, replacing Denise Gannon who has done such a sterling job producing Whispering Gallery for the last three years. There are also two other new faces in Jean Stringfellow and Anne Buchanan. In fact I find myself the only remaining member of the original committee, so I guess I must be getting old!

For the moment I’ll also continue my other role of membership administrator so enquiries on that score should still come to me.

Finally I’ve also been lumbered with the task of taking over from Ray Gannon’s humourous back page column in Whispering Gallery in a new feature called Ask Bill. It’s intended to be part serious, with advice on things like internet-related questions, and part humourous with some more flippant questions and answers. I hope those of you who are members will send in anything suitable.

Dunnett reader killed in Russia

Having just returned from my first holiday in two years I was horrified to read that a member of the Dunnett reading and discussion community – Pam Crane from New Zealand – had gone missing on a Dunnett locations trip in Russia after completing a Bejing to Moscow Silk Road trip, and that her body had been found later, presumed murdered. My sincere condolences to her family who must be deeply shocked.

It is a reminder that Dorothy travelled to some very out of the way places in pursuit of her researches and at a time when such travel was rarer and more difficult than it is now. Fortunately she always emerged from her trips unscathed – it is a tragedy that years later, and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Pam should be far less fortunate.

Please, all of you who are undertaking trips, take care of yourselves and be sure to be completely aware of your surroundings and any possible dangers.

Missed deadlines, re-reads and new developments

It’s been a busy winter, mostly work with a couple of illnesses thrown in, so I’ve had little time to blog or indeed to answer all of the emails I receive, so if yours has been one of those I didn’t get to then apologies.

This weekend particularly has been frustrating. I should have been at three events, one of which was the DDRA AGM, however a virus that I picked up some weeks ago reared its head again during the week in the forms of a hacking cough and headaches and by the time Friday came I was feeling worn out by it and in no condition to attend either an old friend’s 50th birthday that night or the AGM on the Saturday. As there were a number of old friends from the USA attending who I had looked forward to seeing this was galling to say the least. My regrets to those people – I hope we’ll have other chances to meet up – and to my colleagues on the DDRA committee.

The current Lymond re-read on the Game of Kings discussion group has continued to be of very high standard from what I’ve seen, although I’ve usually been so far behind in my own reading that any comment I might have had time to make would have been from memory – and we all know how fickle that can be with any Dunnett book. Indeed there have been a number of sections of Queens’ Play that have surprised me again with new insights and slants. For instance I’d forgotten quite how inept and hateful a character Robin Stewart was around the period of his time in the Tower of London, or of how sharp were the exchanges with Margaret Lennox when “Vervassal” retrieves Phelim from her house and the monkey is killed by her evilly thrown sewing box. How cleverly Dorothy shows us the essentially good nature of the hitherto somewhat apathetic O’Liam Roe around this time; despite him also resenting Lymond’s interference with Oonagh. And how convoluted the political machinations are – it’s not just for Phelim and Henrisson that Lymond’s explanations of the ever-shifting landscape are needed.

At last…

I’ve had few successes in converting new readers but I think I’ve finally earned my ‘toaster’ – my dear friend and assistant in the last couple of years on the Thins website has been reading Niccolo Rising and has asked for Spring of the Ram. I’ve recently been building her a website for her jewellery design business which had started life on eBay and I’d encourage any of you who enjoy wearing interesting designs to take a look at it – www.redscorpiondesign.co.uk
She’s interested to see if there are any inspirations for jewellery in the books and I’ve already mentioned Murano glass as one possible idea – if anyone has any other suggestions then please pass them on to me.

Books, always books…

Another current web project is for someone well known in Dunnett circles – Cindy Byrne who co-organised the events in Dublin and on Malta, moved to Campbeltown in the south-west of Scotland last year to take over The Old Bookshelf; a combined bricks-and-mortar and internet bookshop. The previous website proved to be unusable so I’ve been building a new one for her and recently snatched a few days in that delightfully peaceful area of the country in order to study the business and plan the further development of the site. It’s far from finished but I’m sure many of you will be interested in any Dunnett-friendly place to buy books so do drop by. Cindy is clearly right at home there and despite having to take time out for an eye operation is enjoying both the area and the ownership of a bookshop; an ambition of hers from an early age.


As mentioned above, at around the time I post this the DDRA AGM and weekend will be taking place in Edinburgh and is being immediately followed by a Dunnett get-together based in Saddell, (which is a village in Kintyre not many miles from Cindy’s new home) organised by Diana Crane who is well known for the long-running Oxford Days. While the Kintyre area doesn’t feature in the historical novels it was certainly known to Johnson Johnson, and Dorothy and Alastair sailed in the area themselves – Dorothy’s introduction to the Crinan Canal may well have inspired Nicholas’ sinking of the cannon scene in Niccolo Rising. If the attendees get the sort of weather I had on the final day of my trip they’ll have marvellous views over to Arran as well as the usual convivial Dunnett atmosphere. I can’t be with them this time so very best wishes to them all for a great few days.


There is a new feature which has recently been added to Google Maps which allows you to add your own maps with annotations and lines of travel. This is something I’ve long wanted to add to the Dunnett site and have experimented with over the years but the lack of an easy facility to zoom in (and the usual difficulties of copyright) has always meant I was dissatisfied with the results. The Google system is exactly what I was looking for and I’m currently putting together the basics of maps for Queens’ Play and for Pawn in Frankincense. I’ll continue this over the next few weeks so if you’ve any suggestions once they’re complete I’d be glad to hear them. The only problem so far is that Google has the placenames in the local language – not much of a problem in France but rather more of one in North Africa and even more so in Greece!

Commemorative Sculpture includes Dorothy

Late last year I was contacted by Chris Turner of Dumbarton, one of 100 women who were chosen to take part in the subject of a sculpture commissioned by the Scottish Executive as a permanent reminder of Scottish Women’s contribution to advancing democracy and improving the lives of women in Scotland. The sculpture was being produced by an artist called Shauna McMullan, who decided that it should take the form of a series of handwritten pieces by these 100 women who would choose a role model as the subject of their piece of writing. Chris had chosen Dorothy Dunnett as her role model and wished to invite me to represent Dorothy with her at the reception at the Parliament to mark the completion of the sculpture. I was honoured to be asked and had hoped to attend but sadly pressure of work in the run up to Christmas eventually prevented me from doing so. However Chris has very kindly sent me a report on the reception, which follows here.


Early in 2006, the Scottish Executive decided to install a sculpture in the Parliament Building as a permanent reminder of the contribution made by Scottish Women to the advancement of democracy and the improvement of the lives of women in Scotland. On 8th March 2006, Malcolm Chisholm, Minister for Communities, announced that Shauna McMullan had successfully bid for the commission to produce a sculpture.

Shauna decided that such a sculpture should take the form of the personal handwriting of 100 women giving their thoughts in expression of their admiration of a Scottish Woman whom they viewed as having made a significant contribution towards Scottish Life/culture/democracy. A short sentence was to be part of the sculpture which would be in porcelain and affixed to the walls of the Scottish Parliament in three panels. The 100 women came from all sections of Scottish Life and each one was proposed by the previously named and so on.

The role models covered a large spectrum of Scottish Life and achievement, and the sentences written in conjunction with choice were in some instances very serious, and in others frivolous. I have derived a great deal of pleasure from the writing of Dorothy Dunnett (having read all of her works) and so it gave me pleasure to name her as my role model.

I decided on the words “The written word enhances the mind” as my sentence and I did wonder if I had chosen wisely as many sentences were much longer and more informative of the person to whom they referred. My uncertainty was somewhat assuaged on learning from the artist, Shauna, that Malcolm Chisholm had picked this one out on viewing the sculpture and remarked that ‘it was indeed a truth’.

The Evening Reception held on 14 December 2006 was a pleasant affair commencing with the customary glass of wine and a welcome from the Deputy Presiding Officer of the Parliament who spoke at length of the parliamentary achievements and the role of women. The guests then proceeded to view the sculpture and all were obviously thrilled to pick out the part in which they were involved. My sentence appears two-thirds down on the middle panel and I felt honoured to be part of this sculpture. After the viewing, Malcolm Chisholm spoke and then the artist, Shauna McMullen delighted the audience with her comments. She is a beautiful young Irish Girl of a delightful personality and a person whom it is a joy to know. She has a studio in Glasgow which she shares with her boyfriend; they plan to marry next year. Personally, I found the evening to be pleasant, especially sharing thoughts and experiences with other women and learning what they had written and why.

Shauna informed me that a book will be published sometime around March 2007 and this will detail the names of the roll models and the proposers.

My thanks to Chris for this description, for choosing Dorothy, and for the invitation. I would have been proud to have represented Dorothy, who with her own love of sculpture would undoubtedly have been interested in the piece and proud to have been included. I hope to visit the Parliament in the near future and take a photograph of the relevant section to show on this site. And yes, for once I agree with a politician, a very appropriate choice of words – well done!