Maes Howe site

As we approach the winter solstice it’s worth mentioning again the webcam pictures from Maes Howe on Orkney – which Dorothy used to great effect in King Hereafter. The site is and if the weather is kind then you can see the sun’s rays streaming down the access tunnel into the main chamber at sunset.

I also notice that Sigurd Towries’s excellent Orkneyjar site has a new feature about Thorfinn which I’ll be keeping an eye on.

A School of Literary Excellence

A couple of weeks ago we had a DDRA council meeting here in Edinburgh. The day before it Ann McMillan and I visited Dorothy’s old school – Gillespie’s High School – to visit the head teacher Alex Wallace, and to present the school library with a set of Dorothy’s books. We were warmly received and had some very fruitful discussions on ways in which the school and the DDRA can cooperate, a fuller report on which will appear in Whispering Gallery magazine.

Many readers will be aware that as well as Dorothy the school also nurtured the novelist Muriel Spark, who based her most famous book – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – on the school and one of its teachers. Mr Wallace is keen to encourage a love of literature in his students and is hoping to follow up the declaration of Edinburgh as the first International City of Literature by making Gillespie’s the first School of Literature. Hopefully we can collaborate to generate more interest in the subject and more awareness of both the school and Dorothy’s work.

Margaret Lennox and love

I’m just emerging from a bout of flu and in my disturbed sleep patterns have been trying to catch up with the Game of Kings discussion group on their Lymond re-read. One thing came up in the discussions that gave me pause for thought. Someone suggested that the reason that Margaret Lennox was so determined to wreak revenge on Lymond was that she had fallen in love with him during the period when she had seduced him as a teenager a few years prior to the point we come into the action. That she hadn’t been able to accept that he had held something back and hadn’t fallen for her undoubted charms.

It’s not unusual for Dunnett readers to interpret things completely differently, and this is the exact opposite of what I’d always assumed.

I’d always felt that his journey through life and love was in many ways a coming to terms with love. That he can’t learn to love completely until he’s sorted out his feelings on something that has scarred his emotional psyche. If we look at his relationships through the series there is always something in the way.

Did he love Christian Stewart? I think perhaps as much as he was able at the time. He was as careful as he could be for her safety – it was she who wanted to take risks on his behalf. Her tragic death wasn’t his fault but weighed heavily on him. He cared greatly – we tend to forget that his suicide attempt at the dell comes not just after his shooting but also after Christian’s death, and I suspect that it was partly as a result of it. But not love; he wasn’t really capable of love at that time.

Oonagh is a challenge as part of the plot against the young Queen, and becomes essentially a political conquest. He feels responsible for her and for her child and would have done everything he could to save her had not Jerott’s rock and Gabriel’s treachery prevented him. Her death causes an agonised reaction which demonstrates his anguish and suggests emotional involvement but again there is something lacking.

Guzel provides a political partnership and a cultured companion but when they eventually share a bed there is emotional detachment on both sides.

So what was the reason for all this inability to love? I always felt that it was what Margaret did to him when he was at his most vulnerable – both physically as a prisoner of war, and emotionally as a teenager with a wonderful brain but perhaps an immature and perfectionist outlook.

Margaret was highly attractive, highly articulate, highly cultured, highly placed…. and highly sexed! What would any teenager have done when faced with a woman of this kind seducing him? He’d have fallen in love.

And of course having used him for personal and political ends she then betrayed him and threw him to the galleys. He’d have been emotionally devastated as well as being in peril of his life. And with Lymond’s introspective character (and two years in the galleys to mull it over) it would eat away at his ability to trust anyone else enough to give himself to them. Look at his approach to sex through the series – he never sleeps in the bed or the company of anyone he’s had sex with. Maybe because inwardly he fears betrayal as he sleeps. Only with Philippa at the end can he sleep in security and trust.

And the reason for Margaret’s bitter wrath. Simple. Like any controlling egotist she can’t accept that he is now immune to her seducements. (Of course maybe she found his lovemaking pretty good too and would like to be able to experience it again!) It’s like a blow direct to her self esteem. That is why the small triumph that the ill and assaulted Lymond is able to inflict on her at the end of Checkmate – showing her as no longer beautiful and powerful – is so telling.

Lymond re-reads and the writer as Dunnett fan

Reading Lymond en-mass

For anyone who doesn’t keep up to date with the various discussion groups but might like to follow along with a Lymond Chronicles group read, one has just started on the Game of Kings Yahoo group list. From what’s already been posted it looks like it’s going to be interesting!

I’ve made a couple of posts myself although I’ve been working 12 hours and more a day for the last 10 days and have only managed the posts when sleep was beyond my over-tired brain. I’m trying to recapture the feelings I had on that very first read, how unexpectedly but completely at home I felt as I was plunged headlong into DunnettWorld, and how I was soon being beguiled by the wordsmith’s sorcery.

I’ll quote a section of one of my posts because I feel the descriptions mentioned are worthy of wider viewing, since it’s all too easy to rush through the first few pages in our haste to get into the meat of the story. These refer to material early on page 2 (and page 1 was only half a page!) where Lymond is about to enter the water of the Nor’ Loch.

“Across four hundred feet of black lake, friezelike on their ridge, towered the houses of Edinburgh”.
“Friezelike”; what an evocative description. Anyone who has looked up at the high tenements of the Old Town from Princes St on a dark night will recognise this at once – the way the buildings seem 2-dimensional against the sky compared to the emphatically 3-dimensional bulk of the castle.

And the next sentence – “Tonight the Castle on its pinnacle was fully lit, laying constellations on the water;”
Note firstly the capitalisation of Castle; subtly giving it a greater sense of size and power (if you’ve seen it you’ll know that’s exactly what it has). But then that fabulous description – not the easy descriptive “reflecting on the water”, not even something flowery like “myriad scintillations”.

“Laying constellations” gives us in two words a complete picture of the scene in front of us. It is an early suggestion of the sort of wizardry that she will conjure up as the books progress. We are _in_ the scene in the most complete way and yet we are only a quarter of the way down page 2. We sometimes think of GK as a little over-decorated, yet here is the most elegant economy of words.

And remember this was the first book of a new author; still finding her literary feet. You can almost feel the assurance growing as you penetrate further into the story – in fact in the next paragraph she throws in “oriflamme” and you know for certain that you’re not in the company of any ordinary writer!

Then you start wishing you had a large dictionary to hand, and a French one, and maybe a Latin one….

Authors who read and admire Dunnett

When I wrote the last newsletter/first blog I stopped at the end of 2005. It was around that time that I’d been contacted by a fairly new author who wondered if I could build her a website. This was Linda Gillard, previously an actress, journalist and teacher, who now lives on the lovely Isle of Skye. She knew of me through the Dunnett website as she was a long-time reader and admirer of Dorothy. With a bit of a false start caused by flu and bronchitis on my part we soon forged an excellent rapport and the result was which was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying design jobs I’ve done.

Unlike Dorothy, Linda writes about modern times, but is already an accomplished author who isn’t afraid to tackle difficult and controversial themes. She sent me her first novel – Emotional Geology – prior to starting the site design and I read it in one go pausing only to eat. Based on South Uist in the Hebrides, it’s a complex story of a woman recovering from manic depression and concentrating on her work as a textile artist to blot out the unhappy end of a love affair. I highly recommend it, particularly for its sympathetic depiction of the male characters and the insight into the psychology of the female ones.

Her second novel – A Lifetime Burning – treads such difficult emotional territory that it is almost impossible to describe, set in the very different world of English village life, the local manse, and musical virtuosity, with a number of doomed relationships central to the story. It’s the sort of challenging read that Dunnett readers are likely to enjoy.

Linda’s website was completed without us having met, and we only got that opportunity during the Edinburgh Festival a couple of months ago. We spent a most enjoyable evening in a New Town hostelry talking at great length like old friends… about Dunnett!

Linda was recently asked by Norm Geras to write a piece about her favourite books for his blog, so naturally she chose Lymond. You can read a copy of her piece on her site at – an eloquent and heart-felt description which with any luck will bring Dorothy to the attention of some potential new readers when it appears on Norm’s pages.

I should also mention another author, Carla Nayland, whose blog is well worth a visit. I came across it while looking for Dunnett mentions due to her succinct but complimentary review of King Hereafter. Welcome Carla, and thanks for the comment on the previous blog entry.