Dunnett Newsletter – 13th Dec 2003

Winter Greetings from Edinburgh

I’d originally intended to get this out for last month but the stresses of job-hunting and a number of other personal matter (mum’s been in hospital for the last two weeks) have side-tracked me. I’ve also been having a lot of email problems – despite now having three different ISPs – and have been missing quite a few days incoming mail and a disturbing number of outgoing messages. I was thus reluctant to send out a newsletter until I was confident that it would go out without too many problems. I suspect that much of the difficulties have been caused by the massive number of worm-distributed fake Microsoft patches that were going around for a while as the failures mostly coincided with attempts to filter out those messages due to load they imposed on servers. One of the ISPs said that they were getting 4Gb of them a day at the height and before I found a suitable spam filter to run on my mailboxes I was getting around 40-50 of them a day. If any of you are having problems with spam and fake attachments then I can recommend Mailwasher as an excellent solution. Just as an added complication a couple of days ago AOL bounced a message I sent out via Freeserve (the largest UK ISP and part of the multinational Wanadoo group) and it looks as if they’ve blacklisted them so I’ll be using a different outgoing server and keeping fingers well and truely crossed. It’s maybe about time I set up my own mail server but that will have to wait until I have a permanent connection.

Orkney story and pictures

The principle feature of this newsletter is something I’ve had in half-finished form since last year – a description of the return trip I made to Orkney in August 2002. With the Claes group re-reading King Hereafter it seemed an appropriate time to finish it off and I’ve added some new Orkney photos to both the Dunnett web site, where I’ve rewritten and expanded the Orkney page, and my personal site, where I’ve added a second page for Orkney photos. (http://home.freeuk.net/billmarshall/bphoto.htm) Both Orkney trip descriptions have been put onto the Dunnett website and I’ll put some illustrations into them later.

Another site that you may want to check out is www.maeshowe.co.uk which is run by Orkney photographer Charles Tait. With the winter solstice coming up he’s set up three web cams which, weather permitting, will show the sun streaming down the low passageway and being reflected around the interior of Maes Howe. He has loads of pictures on that and his other associated sites including some very atmospheric shots of Brodgar in mist and one of the sites has some wonderful photos of the recent spectacular Auroras. I rather think I could die happy if I could see an aurora from the Ring of Brodgar!

Writers Museum Exhibition page

There is a new page just added (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duwritersmuseum.htm) with some pictures of the small exhibition about Dorothy in the Writers Museum in Edinburgh. Once again we’re indebted to Elspeth Morrison for putting that together. The two interior pictures aren’t the greatest as I wasn’t really supposed to be taking them and the person I needed to get permission from wasn’t available. One of them shows the Warming Apple and the Unicorn Collar in the display case and I knew everyone would like to see those. If I get a chance I’ll go back and try and get permission for proper photos with the serious camera gear. The museum is an interesting building dating originally from 1622 and known as Lady Stair’s House. Extensively restored by Lord Roseberry in 1897, it now houses full time exhibitions about three of Scotland’s most famous writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, with many artefacts and pictures which will fascinate all devotees of literature.
There are also additions to the pictures in the Edinburgh pages (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duvisitsedin.htm)

Venice Pictures and new Maps

Since the last newsletter I’ve added a new item to the Dunnett Places to Visit in Europe page – some photos of the eternally romantic city of Venice very kindly sent to me by Sharon Michalove. (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duvisits2venice.htm)
A Maps page has also been added with centralised links to the maps on the site, including a new map of Europe in Nicholas’ time and a redrawn and slightly clearer Orkney map. I hope to add further items when time allows. (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/dumaps.htm)

Forthcoming Events page

There is now a long overdue Forthcoming Events page with details of the various Spits and Gatherings (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duevents.htm).
A notable one for those living “down-under” is the Sydney Revel in Australia on Saturday 17th January 2004 being organised by Michael Sedin. There is a registration form you can download if you want to attend this, or contact him at msedin@exhibitorservices.com.au.

Along with the now well established UK dates such as Oxford there are also plans for a gathering in Malta in either Autumn 2004 or Spring 2005 and there is a Yahoo discussion group formed by Simon Hedges and Cindy Byrne to arrange this if you’re interested in seeing the home of the Knights.

DDRA AGM in April

Of course we also want to see as many of you as possible in Edinburgh in April for the 4th DDRA AGM. Alongside the AGM there will be a talk on the Unicorn Tapestry project by one of the weaving team from Stirling and Charles Burnett will give us more insight into Heraldry. Stirling – site of the Papingo Shoot in Game of Kings – is also the focus of the Sunday trip and we’ll take in the site of the Battle of Bannockburn on the way. A visit to the 16th century Argyll’s Lodging and lunch in Mar Place House will then leave the whole afternoon for exploration. Of course the E2000 Gathering Banquet was held in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle and it will be good to get a chance to explore the castle in more detail than was possible then. Cost is UKP 33 for the Saturday and UKP 27 for the Sunday trip.
Bookings or enquiries should be sent to The Editor, Whispering Gallery, 9 Gillespie Crescent, Edinburgh. Note that she’ll be away during February and during that time I’ll be taking enquiries instead.

At this point I should make an appeal to anyone whose subscription to the DDRA has lapsed – issue 81 has just come out and if you didn’t receive one it may be that you were one of the 37 people who were due to renew after issue 80 but didn’t. If you’re unsure please contact me as I now administer the membership database. We need as many members as possible to keep the Association going and keep Dorothy’s legacy of writing available to as wide a readership as possible.

Renaissance Band CD problems

A word about the Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD – I’ve been unable to get hold of my usual band contact Peter Jones since August, and his phone number has been out of service for some months, so I currently don’t have any copies of the CD. I’m trying to get hold of other band members at the moment. Will keep you posted.
I do still have signed copies of the Lymond Poetry for anyone who is looking for it.

Dunnett Readers in Spain

Earlier this year I received a message from Liza Cochrane in Spain who’s been running reading classes on Lymond! I asked if she could elaborate for us and she sent me the following delightful article.

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At various stressful times in my life, I’ve escaped into the 16th century. Reading the Lymond Chronicles again last summer, I realised just how much history I’d learned from them, and because of them! I live on Spain’s Costa del Sol where, for 4 years, I’d been giving a U3A course on Art History. Why not give Art a rest and offer a course on 16th century history? Being a Scot, I thought I might start with the How When and Why the United Kingdom became united. Why not, in fact, use Game of Kings as a starting point? The result was: 10 readers signed up for the course, all ex-pats like myself – a fellow Scot, three Americans, the rest English. To their own subsequent astonishment, none of them had even heard of Dorothy Dunnett! One lady commented, “I wondered how we were going to spend six sessions discussing one book. But then I started to read it; and it’s not just an ordinary book, is it?”
Indeed not!
“I found history boring at school,” said another.
“If only we’d had a book like this, making it so real!”

After Kings, I suggested we skip on to Disorderly Knights, but two members (hooked on Lymond) insisted they read Queens’ Play, so I asked them to give us all a résumé of it – which also allowed time for everyone to do the inevitable re-reading of Knights! During the Christmas break, two members went to Malta and returned with maps and books.

We studied the history of the Knights. We sidetracked into heraldry. Those of us with Internet researched Dragut Rais. I passed around my holiday photographs taken inside and outside a Scottish keep (Hunterston Castle, in fact) to explain the fight at Liddel Keep. I also encouraged those English members who’d never visited Scotland (!) to take a trip to the Borders on their next visit ‘home’ – and to look out for the keeps that belonged to the Kerrs. You can tell, I said, from the spiral stairs twisting the ‘other’ way, for defence by left-handed swordsmen.
“Fascinating!” said someone. “I know a Kerr. He’s left-handed.” (Corrie- or Kerrie?- fisted.)

By that time, we were all caught up in the Lymond story, so we’re about to start the new term and Pawn. Two members have bought all six books. One couldn’t stop, and has read the lot. Another “rationing myself”, she says, has deliberately left Checkmate in England for a Christmas treat.

She told me a funny story. At Easter, travelling back from England by train, there was a three-hour hold-up in France. She didn’t mind. She was engrossed in Pawn. Last week, travelling back from England by train, there was another delay. She didn’t mind. She was deep in Ringed Castle… But she’s wondering if bringing Checkmate back after Christmas might be tempting fate!

At least one of us (our computer guru) dips into several of the DD websites, but where our reading of the last three books will take us, who knows? Moscow? Istanbul? A search for Sevigny?

I did that very thing many years ago, and wrote to Dorothy about it. Her charming and lengthy reply (typed, with errors corrected in ink) has been with me through four ‘flittings’ – including the move to Spain. A treasure to treasure! My greatest pleasure has been in introducing Dorothy’s ‘box of delights’ to a group of brand new fans.
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Liza tells me she even negotiated a discount at her local English-language bookshop since they’ve been doing bulk sales of DD books! Long may she continue her excellent “missionary” work and many thanks for letting us know about it.

On to the main item. Many people wrote to me after I produced the Modern Orkney Saga to say how much they enjoyed it so I thought you might also appreciate a description of a second trip I made just over a year later.
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Return to Orkney

In the 16 months since my previous joyous visit to these haunting isles a great deal had happened in my life – much of it things that I would dearly wish undone. So it was with some hope of drawing a curtain on that unfortunate period that I ventured back to the north for another visit – to seek rest, renewal and refreshment. This time I was going for myself and for the wonders of Orkney rather than for the connections with the world of the writer in whose influence I’d spent so long basking, yet it is impossible to visit such a magical place where the landscape cries out to be described in those rich and evocative phrases, without thinking of the incomparable lady who we’d lost so suddenly.

Compared to the train trip which I’d enjoyed the previous year the drive north was comparatively uneventful – a number of heavy squalls breaking the journey and clearing the August air. The only stop was in the pretty little village of Alness. A recent winner of the Britain in Bloom award, it was bedecked with hanging baskets cascading with colour and its pavements sprouted trays and tubs which would have been at home in the Alpine regions I usually favour at this time of year.

Once again the noticeable change in the light as we gained the north-eastern coast but this time the route was to Wick rather than Thurso, and the land north of Helmsdale, where the railway line leaves the road and turns inland, was unfamiliar to me. The place-names of course were now reflecting the Norse influence and the road wound along the clifftops giving excellent views with occasional plunges into river cut ravines concealing villages nestling in their sheltering folds.

A stop at John O’ Groats gave a fine sunset though the wind was keen and fresh. The area is named after Jan de Groot, a Dane who was asked by James IV to set up a ferry service to Orkney to cement the island’s ties with Scotland and whose family continued to run the service for the next 200 years. A new ferry runs between Gills Bay a few miles along the coast and the village of St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay, providing a shorter and cheaper crossing than the more familiar one between Thurso and Stromness. Disappointingly the day dawned grey and cold but the trip was enlivened by the brief spotting of a porpoise heading in the opposite direction. A reminder that we don’t have the seas to ourselves and that the northern islands are far closer to nature than the cities of the south.

Taking the boat early in the morning gave plenty of time to drive up from these southernmost parts of the Orkneys, across the Churchill barriers and over the length of the Mainland (as the largest part of Orkney is known) to our accommodation in a converted barn near the village of Evie in the north-west section of the island. Having settled in we went for a drive along the coast to the Brough of Birsay, and were delighted to find the overcast conditions breaking to give a much more appealing light than had been the case on that windy wet visit of the previous year. Our timing was perfect – the tide was just going out and the walk across the causeway perfectly dry. No sheltering in the lee of the old settlement walls needed this time; instead the views along the dramatic coastline stood out clearly as the sun broke through to pick out the colours of the fields and rocks and reflect off the white froth of the waves churning against the cliffs. Still no Puffins though – too late in the season for them – but plenty of seals and the usual profusion of gulls and terns. The improvements to the lighthouse on the north of the island are now finished and it sports a large bank of solar panels, though the renovation work claimed the life of a helicopter pilot whose machine crashed in high winds while delivering supplies during last winter. Today the scene was peaceful, if such a description is ever apt in a place with views down the cliff edge to the blue and white foaming water which batters the rocks even on a calm day. But after the stressed and bustling conditions of festival Edinburgh this is indeed a haven of peace and after such a wet year it was a treat to be able to lie on the dry grass and listen to the distant cries of gulls and oystercatchers.

Monday – no showers today!

Monday morning brought a nasty shock as we discovered the shower didn’t work. Our barn is high on the hillside and the water has to be pumped up from the village below and is thus on the threshold of sufficient pressure for the system to operate. Fortunately this was the only morning when this applied but it was a gentle reminder of the differences of remote living compared to the taken-for-granted luxuries of the city.

A trip to Kirkwall to sort out the second week’s accommodation gave us time to take a stroll round St Magnus Cathedral and marvel anew at the astonishing stonemasonry that could be achieved at a time when the rest of the country was living under thatched roofs and earth floors. Returning to the warmth of bright sunlight prompted the thought of Orkney ice cream – there is none better and it was eagerly dispatched!

Our barn is only a short drive from the Broch of Gurness – one of the places that we hadn’t had time to visit the previous year – so the late afternoon sun made this an essential stop. It lies on a small promontory beyond a picturesque little beach and has a wonderful outlook across the bay to Eynhallow. Even having seen pictures of it beforehand one is still astonished by the size of the construction and the amount of effort that must have gone into assembling the thousands of stones – not just for the tower itself but also for the adjacent houses and everything contained within them. The old entrance point is a mass of upright stones and my photographers eyes struggled to cope with the myriad possibilities of angle and juxtaposition that present themselves. I longed to be able to spend time exploring the changing light over an entire season.

Brodgar, Stenness and Maes Howe

A cooler and cloudier day presented itself on the Tuesday but clear enough for us to persist with our intention of visiting the three ancient sites in the centre of the western arm of the island. The Ring of Brodgar comes first – visible from afar and drawing the eye like a magnet. Devoid of the masses of curlews whose plaintive cries had filled the air in the springtime, it seemed a different atmosphere this time but still a wondrous sight and a rare pleasure to feel again the warmth of the stones under my hand and gaze around the incomparable setting. It is a place that is hard to tear oneself away from, always one last look back, one more comparison of the angles and alignments, trying to commit the shapes and feelings to memory so that they can be recalled on a cold grey city afternoon when the heart longs for the peace and tranquility, the vast open skies and pearlescent light.

Just down the road, past the various outrider stones and across the narrow causeway that splits the two lochs, lie the even older Stones of Stenness. Far fewer in number but impressively taller, they had been off limits due to foot and mouth disease restrictions the previous year, so this was my first opportunity to get close to them. Their height makes it even more of a surprise just how thin the slabs of rock actually are – you wonder how on earth they stand up to the mighty blasts of Orkney’s winter winds. Visible over the fields is the third of the Neolithic set – Maes Howe. Once again the low stooping walk to the interior chamber, past the massive door stone which can be rocked into position far easier than its bulk suggests possible, past the thirty ton single slab of rock that makes up the left hand face. Once again to gaze on the distinctive Viking runes and then to marvel at the thought that they are but modern graffiti on an incomparably older structure whose purpose we can only guess at but whose winter solstice alignment can still infuse us with awe. Lucky indeed are those that have been inside this chamber when the winter sun shines directly up the passageway and fills the space with light. A webcam now records the event for the world, but to be there, oh to be there….

Our cultural appetites having been filled for the day, those of a more mundane type came back to the fore, and finding to our surprise that the fish and chip shop in Stromness didn’t open until 8pm we drove over to Kirkwall again for sustenance. Simple fare but fresh and hugely satisfying. The return trip once again brought us to the two lochs and we strolled the shores, squinting against the light on the water before returning to the Ring for the promise of a sunset. Though not the dramatic orange and red of the previous June it is still the time when the Brodgar stones seem at their most alive and magical, sounds carrying vast distances across the water on either side and leaving a deep serenity that is hard to imagine anywhere else.

Scara Brae and Yesnaby

High winds greeted us in the morning as we set off for Scara Brae. But at least they kept the clouds busy and allowed us clearer light. Finding the stone village busy with a bus party we took time to walk along the beach, seeing the first examples of the local children’s miniature reconstructions of the stone circles and brochs that surround their landscape. Well-built with a good eye for detail they seemed surprisingly durable and dotted the sands in echo of the ancient dwellings just behind the dunes. The village itself had lost none of its ability to captivate, and the better light allowed my photographs a better chance of recording the fascinating details of the sunken rooms. The snell wind still drove white waves against the beach and we were glad to retreat to the warmth of the old house.

Conditions brightened again by the time we moved down the coast to Yesnaby but a sudden soaking squall drove us back into the car for half an hour before we dared venture down the path to one of the most dramatic cliff scenes in the island. At times the wind threatened to reduce us to a crawl, while we were intrigued to see flecks of foam filling the air hundreds of yards from the rocky bay where it was being plucked from a seething mass. On my previous visit the rain had curtailed our walk and we hadn’t got as far as the much photographed stack, and I had begun to wonder if it had fallen, but this time the weather relented long enough for us to make the trip and we watched in awe as the waves battered and churned round the narrow slotted column of rock which holds the stack aloft. Photography was attempted but the camera vibrated uncontrollably in my hand even when lying as close to the ground as possible to escape the worst of the storm.
On the return walk to the car we were caught not 200 yards from our goal by another squall which quickly demonstrated that even the best of modern waterproof technology is worthless against the Atlantic elements. The car steamed for the rest of the trip back to the barn.

Rousay

A day that started with rain and midges became torrential rain and seals. We were booked on the ferry across to Rousay with the plan being to walk along the stretch of coastline that contains a remarkable number of archaeological sites including Midhowe Cairn and Broch. However by the time we had landed the rain had become sufficiently heavy to delay that plan so we decided to drive round the island in the hope that it might have abated a little by the time we’d finished. Although the crossing had been flat calm in the water around Wyre, the conditions were rather different around the point where the tidal race runs between Rousay and Eynhallow, and although much reduced from the previous day there was still a fair amount of white water on the Atlantic-facing side where there are some attractive cliffs. Continuing round to the north side we came across a small bay where a speckled object out in the water that at first seemed to be a conical buoy, was soon revealed be a resting seal with its head flung back, accompanied by about a dozen others who appeared out of the surf. It wasn’t clear whether we were watching them or they were watching us but we all seemed to be intrigued. As I strolled along the edge of the beach path to see if there were any others up on the sand further along, the seals swam along to see where I was going!

With the rain getting steadily heavier and water streaming across the road in a number of places we considered getting a much earlier ferry back but fortunately after a warming bowl of soup in the hotel bar we decided to take a quick trip back to Midhowe and see if we could take it in without getting too wet. Both the Chambered Cairn and the Broch are exceptional sites – the cairn is covered by a large protective building with an overhead walkway from which you can look down into the long narrow passageway that runs the length of the structure, while the broch stands on a number of slabs of rock that jut out into the sound. It’s impossible not to imagine longboats or coracles milling about in the water waiting to land. Perhaps the most amazing consideration is that despite the age of the broch the cairn predates it by around 3500 years.

Moving down to Deerness

Thursday’s high winds returned with a vengeance as we prepared to move out of the barn and down to our new base in Deerness. Eynhallow Sound again speckled with white horses glinting in the sharp northern light as we headed down the road. Since entry to the cottage was from 4pm onwards we had time to spare so on reaching the Stromness to Kirkwall road we diverted down to the south towards Orphir on a little used back road which we had to ourselves. The village of Orphir is a mile or so from the church and a trip up the back road above it provided a fantastic view over to Stromness and Hoy with the lighthouse standing out clean and white in the clear sunlight and the ships battling in and out of the Sound. Down to the Orkneyinga Saga visitor centre and enjoy again the local children’s choice of film and TV stars to represent the Norse heroes in the Genealogy table. There is an excellent unmanned film show in a mini-cinema there which gives an overview of the Sagas in relation to Orkney and Iceland and a storyteller narrates some well chosen examples. I’ve sat embarrassed through some dire examples of the genre but this one captures the Viking spirit perfectly and the photography of the two island groups, particularly the winter shots, is superb. By the time we’d watched the film the weather had changed again and our trip out to the remains of the round church and cemetery was soon cut short by the biting wind and squally showers. Our new accommodation, another converted farm building, proved to be extremely comfortable with lovely views over Deerness Sound and even had underfloor heating!

Mine Howe

Amongst the sites I hadn’t been able to get to on the previous visit was the remarkable Mine Howe, which descends steeply into the ground as a rock-built series of chambers. As it was only a few miles from the cottage it was high on our list so down we drove to discover an archaeological team excavating trenches around the area and an explanatory tour round the dig about to start. We were treated to an excellent talk by Nick Cant, the first archaeologist to descend into Mine Howe when it was rediscovered in 1999, and an interesting display of bones and artefacts described by other senior members of the island’s overworked but happy archaeological team. Nick, who some of you may have seen on the Time Team program which visited the site, is an assured speaker and gave us as detailed an understanding of the site as was possible in the available time. He certainly passes on his enthusiasm for the work and if it hadn’t been for the chilling wind I might have been reconsidering my career options! The decent into the “mine” itself was an eerie experience – I had a curious desire to somehow stand back and view it in perspective. The effort and workmanship involved in its creation must have been immense, and it appears that there is a large ditch – possibly a henge – surrounding the entire site and making it all the more impressive.

Gloop and Brough of Deerness

Just a few minutes down the road from our cottage was the path to the Brough of Deerness. Having been so captivated by it the previous year another visit was a must. Putting on our walking boots we were befriended by a local cat who was determined to inspect every inch of the car. Leaving it to its hunting we walked down to the Gloop and marvelled again at its depth and distance from the sea. It must have been an impressive cave before the roof fell in many centuries ago.
The walk to the Brough was much calmer than the storms of a few days earlier, and we were able to admire the coastline in peace, dropping down to the flat rocks by the coast to see the variety of birdlife. The view out to the northern isles was clearer today and we could pick out the different islands much more easily. Down to the little boulder-strewn cove and up the rock-cut steps to the flat top of the Brough itself. It’s a timeless place and as inspiring in its solitude as before. The view along the cliffs from the end beyond the little ruined chapel pulls you forward to watch the seals and birds far below, but you must be careful not to be drawn too far for the thick deep grass hides some precarious overhangs.

Tankerness

Superb sunny weather took us round to Tankerness and Renwick Head. Despite being strewn with old wartime lookout posts it’s a peaceful spot. We pottered amongst the rocky nooks and crannies observing the birds on the skerries a little way offshore. Later back at the cottage I walked down to the point and along the beach from where I could just make out the sandbanks with basking seals. On the way back I diverted down an overgrown lane to arrive at another beach from where I could access an intriguing broch mound nestling between the sea-loch and a small fresh-water pond busy with ducks and waterfowl, which we could see from the cottage. Anywhere else this mound would have been an important and much-investigated object – on Orkney it’s just part of the landscape and in a very long queue for the attentions of the archaeologists.

The Tomb of the Eagles

South to the furthest tip of South Ronaldsay – to St Margaret’s Hope and the Tomb of the Eagles. Some time ago, after trying for 20 years to interest the island’s over-stretched archaeologists in the tomb, the farmer was told that it wasn’t of sufficient interest to them and he was given permission to excavate it himself. The results were extraordinary and he and his family have made a popular attraction around describing it. The tomb yielded remains of around three-hundred and forty people, a number of animals, and at least ten white-tailed sea eagles.
In the purpose-built centre near their farmhouse, we listened to an excellent talk by one of his pretty grand-daughters, then out to another site on his land, a Bronze-Age house where the man himself gave us a short talk on it – breaking off in the middle to point out the owl that was hunting in the field behind us. Having heard his description of the water and heating systems which our ingenious ancestors had built into the house, we chatted to this wonderful old character before watching him climb on his motorcycle to head back to the farm for his lunch! Then out along the cliff path to the Tomb itself perched on the edge. You have to enter the Tomb, which has been roofed over with concrete to protect it, by lying on a wheeled bogey and pulling yourself through on a rope. While the interior is naturally no longer as interesting as it must have been when full of bones it retains an eerie atmosphere and the outlook from the front “door” over the weirdly layered rock of the cliff echoes that.

Orkney was hosting its Science Festival during our visit and that evening there was an event which connected to one of my other favourite places. A visiting scientist from Slovenia was giving a talk and wine tasting at the Kirkwall Hotel. As many of you will know I have visited the tiny alpine country on many occasions and am a great fan of its excellent wines, so this was too good to miss. Though his command of English was not as good as many of his compatriots he nevertheless gave an interesting account of the history of viticulture in the area and his selection of wines was a treat.

Seal Evening

The morning was spent shopping in Kirkwall and attending another festival event while the rain fell heavily, but later we had one of those sudden changes that are normal on Orkney and the late afternoon saw us down on the beach near the cottage again. After a splendid sunset we tarried in the evening twilight enjoying the profound silence and deepening blues of sea and sky and were rewarded with a seal popping up inquisitively in the water just a few yards from us. A magical moment to round off a memorable stay.

Dunnet Head and the return home

An early start saw us on the boat back to Scotland – Orkney has such a unique character that I can no longer consider it as anything other than a separate country – and a sunny but breezy voyage. Alas no porpoises this time. On landing we decided to drive along the coast towards Dunnet Head and down the narrow lanes out to the lighthouse perched on the high cliffs, where we gazed over to Hoy and watched ships ploughing through the Pentland Firth.

Reluctantly we turned South. Normally the trip through such scenery would be memorable on such a fine day but the sights and atmosphere of Orkney linger long in the mind’s eye and I find that I have little recollection of it. Only the timeless stones, the restless sea, and the vast endless skies.

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That’s all for now. Off to do some more job hunting.

A good New Year to you all when it comes

slainte

Bill

Dunnett Newsletter – 4th September 2003

Greetings from post-Festival Edinburgh where the heatwave seems to have finished at last. While never quite reaching the heights of temperature experienced further south or in Europe we were certainly sweltering in unaccustomed heat for the last few weeks.

I had planned to send this newsletter a week or so ago before the start of the King Hereafter read on the Game of Kings newsgroup for reasons that will become obvious later, but I’ve been down with a virus and sinus infection which seems to going around just now so things got delayed.

This time around we have amongst other things the new address of my Dunnett website, news of an exhibition here in Edinburgh featuring Dorothy’s work, and an unearthed article by her on Macbeth.

Website

First the website – as I suggested earlier I’ve moved the site to new webspace with more room, taking advantage of spare space alongside my new business site. The address is now

www.dorothydunnett.co.uk

I’ve added a link to it from the old Dunnett homepage on my personal site and will leave the old pages around until the search engines have spidered and indexed the new site, after which they’ll be removed to avoid diluting the search engine positioning.
Only a couple of additions to the site recently as I’ve been very busy setting up my web design business. A picture of Cortachy Castle, which unfortunately isn’t open to the public, has been added to the North Scotland section of the Places to Visit section. Secondly since the Game of Kings members have been reintroducing themselves and there are a number of new subscribers to the newsletter who weren’t around when I was first involved, I thought I’d join in and give an explanation of my own background, so I’ve added part of the text of my contribution to the commemorative book that Dorothy was given at E2000.

Writers Museum exhibition

Starting on 27th September there will be a small exhibition of Dorothy’s work at the Writers Museum in Lady Stair’s Close just off the High St in Edinburgh. Running until June 2004 it will feature items that the family donated to the museum including the Unicorn Chain and the Silver Apple.

An Article by Dorothy on Macbeth

I recently made a “discovery” of an old series called The Sunday Mail Story of Scotland, which was published in 1988 in 52 weekly parts. At that time the Sunday Mail was what might be called a “quality tabloid” and often contained interesting articles about the country, but I had no recollection of this series. The copies I’ve seen have been 32 page semi-glossy magazines priced at £1.

A look at the editorial board is revealing – there were three members:
Gordon Donaldson, the Historiographer Royal for Scotland and a prolific author.
Archie Duncan, who at the time had held the Chair of Scottish History and Literature at Glasgow University for 26 years.
And our own Dorothy Dunnett.

Contributors included Prof. Ian B Cowan of the Dept of History at Glasgow University, and G.W.S. Barrow, Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography at Edinburgh University.

Part 4 contains an article by Dorothy called The Real Macbeth, and although it is aimed at a general audience and makes no reference to her own theories regarding Thorfinn it makes interesting reading, particularly for any of you who haven’t yet read King Hereafter or are taking part in the Game of Kings group read.
I’ve made enquiries in an attempt to get permission to reproduce the article but the company that is quoted as the copyright holder in the magazine – The British Magazine Publishing Company – was part of the old Robert Maxwell group which collapsed after his death and is no longer in existence. If anyone knows if their assets have been transferred to another company then I’d be happy to hear from you so I can follow it up and perhaps include the article on the website.
In the meantime I feel that it is unlikely that any objection would be made to quoting an article written by the subject of this newsletter so I have included it below. However please do not include this in any archives until the situation is clarified.
—————-
The Real Macbeth by Dorothy Dunnett

Who was the real Macbeth? A power-crazy, murderous, yet weak man, as depicted by Shakespeare in his dramatisation, or a strong and able king, who ruled wisely and in peace for 17 years?

Ask most non-Scots to name a Scots king and they will eventually remember this fellow Macbeth, who murdered a kindly old man for his crown, egged on by his shrew of a wife who then went crazy and killed herself .

It is small wonder that this story has all but smothered the true one. Since Shakespeare wrote his famous play (more than 500 years after the real Macbeth ruled) brilliant actors from Burbage to Barrymore, Garrick to Gielgud have persuaded thousands in a range of accents from American to conscientiously-drilled urban Glasgow that this was indeed a slice of actual Scottish history.

Actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, Vivien Leigh, Diana Rigg and Judi Dench have brought their own ardour, ferocity and intensity to the role of Lady Macbeth on the stage.

This has all come into being because of Shakespeare’s play, not because of Macbeth himself. But because of the play, the real life of Macbeth has been obscured. The evil portrayed in the play has even come to represent a threat to those who act in it. Macbeth has long been considered an unlucky work with injury, fire and trouble falling in its wake. It is never named in the acting profession but referred to obliquely as ‘the Scottish Play’. When the superstition first arose is not known but some like to believe, even today, that the witches’ song still has the power of working evil. Investigation shows, none the less, that the witches’ song is an invention and that the true tale of Macbeth has nothing to do with witches or witchcraft at all.

The real Macbeth, who died in 1057, was not regarded as a villain in the bald monkish records that survive from his time. So far as one can tell, the legends surrounding his reign began between four and five hundred years after his death.

While Macbeth lived, his name as a warrior-prince must have carried some weight among the other rulers of the countries within reach of Alba, his Scotland. Because of its situation between Scandinavia, England, Ireland and the continent, Alba was a place of strategic importance. In Macbeth, it seemed to find a capable and imaginative king who held the throne in disturbed times for 17 years and was able, indeed, to leave his shores for a very long time without fear of upheavals behind him – something Edward the Confessor was never able to do.

In fact, Macbeth went to Rome – an event about which Shakespeare knew nothing. We know the date – 1050 – from the chronicle of an Irish monk writing in Germany; and we know that Macbeth was free with his gold when he got there, scattering his alms ‘like seed’ (as indeed was the custom in a ceremonial entry). He may have visited Rome as a pilgrim. His reasons were more likely to do with the benefits a Roman association might offer a country backward in development, which had hitherto relied on the care and protection of the Celtic pastoral Church.

Macbeth and his kingdom stood at the hub of a power struggle in which the Norse and the Danes, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Saxons of England, the Normans and Flemings and the Celts of Brittany, Cornwall, Wales and Ireland all played a part, with the pope in Rome courting them all. None of this could be guessed from the enclosed claustrophobic world Shakespeare created, for which he gutted a recent and unreliable history, ‘the Chronicle of England, Scotland and Ireland’, published in 1577 by Raphael Holinshead enhancing and twisting it, telescoping battles and years.

What did Shakespeare change? For a start King Duncan was not an old and wise man, even according to Holinshead. He was likely in fact to have been in his mid 30s or younger when he met his death on campaign, having spent the previous months in the disastrous attempt to capture the city of Durham in England. His grandfather had failed in this acquisition, and so did he. What drew him to travel from Durham to his death in North Scotland is not recorded, although it is most likely that his army went with him. Holinshead simply says that Macbeth, with the support of Banquo and others, slew Duncan at Inverness or another place which has never been fully identified. Shakespeare picked Inverness for the deathblow, but he was almost certainly wrong. John of Fordun, writing about 1385, says that Duncan was mortally wounded at Bothgofnane and was taken to Elgin, where he died. Bothgofnane – meaning ‘hut of the blacksmith’ in Gaelic – could be a number of places.

Macbeth’s wife is not linked with this killing. It was Shakespeare who introduced her as spur and fellow conspirator, and invented a murder that copied the killing of Duff an earlier King he had noticed in Holinshead.

King Duff, history stays, made his name at the castle of Forres. The killing was arranged by his host the captain, urged on by the lady, his host’s wife. Befuddled with drink, the royal chamberlains were blamed for it afterwards.

All this Shakespeare transferred to Macbeth’s time. Then he wrote a new role for Macbeth’s wife, his imagination fired by another reference in Holinshead. According to this, Macbeth’s wife ‘lay sore upon him’ to attempt to usurp the kingdom, ‘as she was very ambitious running in unquenchable desire to bear the name of a queen’. In fact, Holinshead lifted the reference himself from romantic history written about 50 years earlier by Hector Boece, who seems to have invented the lady’s fit of ambition, since previous writers say nothing of it.

Alas for Shakespeare, Macbeth’s wife appears to have been a loyal and blameless lady. From a previous marriage, she brought him a stepson, Lulach, who Macbeth seems to have cherished, and who was crowned king after Macbeth, before being killed in his turn. Nor was she ever called Lady Macbeth. Macbeth, meaning ‘Son of Life’ or ‘of the Elect’ is not a surname. The king’s wife would have been addressed as the lady Gruoch in Gaelic. The name is recorded in Fife where she and her husband are said to have gifted land to the Celtic monks of St Serf’s island, loch Leven.

And what about the witches? Holinshead had already written about three women ‘in strange and wild apparel’, who promised Macbeth the thanedoms of Cawdor and Glamis as well as the throne, and who informed Banquo that his heirs, and not Macbeth’s, would rule Scotland. The prophecies, according to Holinshead, drove Macbeth to think of taking the throne, and later to kill his friend Banquo. Developing this Shakespeare turned the women into the ‘secret black and midnight hags’ of the kind King James I, his patron, had written about in his volume ‘Daemonologie’ And so were created the chanting chrones with the cauldron who have become attached to the tale of Macbeth, adding to its superstitious horror and poignancy.

The earliest known Scottish history of Macbeth’s reign say nothing of witches. They only enter the story in a popular chronicle, ‘The Orygnale Cronykil of Scotland’. Written by Andrew of Wyntoun, Prior of St Serf’s, some 350 years after, this mentions ‘weird sisters’ who offer Macbeth the crown but quite different honours. Hence the present castles of Glamis and Cawdor have no connection at all with this part of Macbeth’s story – indeed, there were no stone castles in mid-11th century Scotland, only halls and fortifications of wood. Nor can the ‘blasted heath’ and the ‘witches stone’ beside Forres be anything but inventions provoked by the legend.

If there were no prophecies, and no evil Lady Macbeth, why did Macbeth killed Duncan and Banquo, if not to seize the throne and prevent Banquo from founding the royal line?

To begin with, Macbeth did not kill Banquo because Banquo did not exist. The invention of Banquo began, not with Shakespeare, but with Hector Boece, who produced Banquo and his son Fleance from nowhere. By linking Fleance with Wales and the ancestors of the Stewarts, Boece managed to eliminate the Stewarts connection with the Archbishop of Dol in Brittany – a tender point at the time when relations between the kings of France and Scotland were bad.

The creation of Banquo served another purpose. It disguised the fact that the line founded by Duncan sprang from an unorthodox marriage. Crinian, father of Duncan, was not only abbott of Dunkeld but very probably connected with the minting of money. It was even possible that he and Bethoc, Duncan’s mother, had had several partners in marriage. By the time Boece was writing, a much-married clergyman, who was also a professional moneyer, was the last person a king would want to claim as a forbear. (Indeed, so worried by this was one later historian, that he took the risk of proclaiming that Duncan’s son Malcolm was a bastard).

In Macbeth’s time, none of this would have mattered. Several hundred years later, however, both churches and Kings lived according to different standards. By the time of the Stewarts, no one wanted to remember that once, kingdoms had to be ruled by men who were war-leaders, and thrones fell to the strongest and most worthy, and not automatically to the first-born. In Macbeth’s time, when England was overturned by the Danes and later the Normans, bastardy had no importance at all in the choice of the royal succession, and order of birth hardly mattered. Many of the monarchs in Alba seem to have allotted a good deal of time to fighting and killing unwanted successors and rivals. If Duncan, as a weak king, challenged Macbeth on Macbeth’s own homeland and lost, the outcome was probably good for the kingdom. Only, by NOT killing his nephew Malcolm, Macbeth put his own future at risk. Duncan’s son fled to the English court, to be reared as combined hostage and puppet-king and to become, in time, the excuse for an English invasion.

That invasion, under Earl Siward of Northumbria, is the climax of the play, and again Shakespeare takes liberties with his source. According to Holinshead, Macbeth was defeated in battle at Dunsinane (in fact, a prehistoric hill fort on the Tay, seven miles north east of Perth), but fled to Lumphanan in north-eastern Scotland. There (says Holinshead) he was finally slain by the Scots lord Macduff, whose family Macbeth had caused to be murdered. It suited Shakespeare instead to have Macbeth beheaded at Dunsinane by the vengeful Macduff, thus bringing to fruition two other mysterious prophecies; that Macbeth would never die until Birnham Wood moved the 12 miles south-east to Dunsinane, or until he was faced by a man ‘never born of a woman’.

What was the truth? Holinshead and Shakespeare both got it wrong. There was no such lord as Macduff. In fact, Macbeth was killed three years after the battle at Dunsinane by Malcolm.

Contemporary writers thought of the battle of Dunsinane as being entirely the business of Earl Siward, backed by the English king Edward. Independent records (and the earliest historians) admit that Malcolm eventually slew King Macbeth, but later historians were more coy, and introduced the fictitious Macduff.

Both prophecies date from the chronicle written by Wyntoun, who probably got the idea from early Celtic and classical legends. It is more than lightly that the battle did take place at Dunsinane, a hill of some military importance, although there is no sign that it ever bore a stone castle.

It is known however that Earl Siward at once marched south to York, where he was to die the following year. In Macbeth moved back to his own land in the north east and lived for a further three years, until Malcolm raised a party in turn to kill him and his stepson.

There is still much to find out about Macbeth. Holinshead and others attribute to him the institution of an enlightened code of new laws. They may be right, but Macbeth’s Scotland was a place without towns or proper markets or roads. His administration was clearly good for its time, but it needed later Norman-trained rulers and the help of the Church to develop what he had started.

Shakespeare wrote his great play, and analysis of what he wrote will occupy scholars for ever. For good or ill the character of Macbeth has been firmly established throughout the world.

——————-

Scots Magazine article about Alastair Dunnett

The August issue of the Scots Magazine – a popular if slightly old-fashioned monthly magazine which has been going since 1739 and is produced by the same Dundee-based company which produces the Sunday Post as well as the legendary Dandy and Beano childrens comics – included an article about Sir Alastair Dunnett in their Great Scot series. Written by Rennie McOwan, well known as an outdoors writer and once employed by Alastair as a sub-editor on The Scotsman, it’s a five page tribute to “a man of total integrity”. While anyone who’s been fortunate enough to read Among Friends will know the story well, it’s a useful reminder to the wider Scottish-interest readership of the massive contribution he made to his native land.

News of mini-gatherings

Sydney, Australia – Jan 2004
A group of readers in Sydney are organising a one day event.
The Mini Gathering will be held in the Meeting Room at The Australian
Society of Genealogists, 24 Kent Street, The Rocks, Sydney on Saturday 17
January 2004 from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm.

Anyone interested in attending should contact Michael Sedin who will have full details available during September. His email address is msedin@exhibitorservices.com.au

Oxford Day – Sept 27th 2003

Anyone wanting to attend should get in touch with Olive Millward (omillward@aol.com) as soon as possible.

DDRA and Whispering Gallery

First of all can I appeal to people not to write to the Whispering Gallery editor Val Bierman except on editorial business – if you have any DDRA-related questions then you can contact me or any other member of the committee and we’ll be glad to help. If you do have letters, articles or photographs for inclusion in the magazine then Val will be very happy to hear from you – though preferably not immediately before a deadline! – but general DDRA business or enquiries about books or CDs are really not something she has time to deal with. Editing and laying out the magazine and arranging its printing and dispatch takes quite enough of her time!

Can I also make an appeal for anyone who is a member and whose subscription is about to (or has recently) expire(d), to renew their membership. At the last committee meeting I agreed to take on the membership database and have been looking at the membership profile while reorganising the data. We are totally dependent on continued subscriptions for the existence of the DDRA and at the moment the membership is dropping. From now on I hope to send reminders by email to those who are net connected, but in fact the majority of the current membership is not. If you haven’t been a member please consider taking out a subscription – overseas readers can do so using the PayPal option which Simon Hedges offers on his own site at www.simonhedges.com (I mistakenly gave a .co.uk address for him last time so please check that your bookmarks are correct).

Can I also ask the organisers of the various Dunnett days, weekends, and “spits” to consider advertising DDRA membership, and if at all possible to send reports on your activities for publication. The more people know about them the more chance of new attendees, so it benefits everyone.

It may be that if numbers continue to drop we will need to look closely at how the DDRA is set up and what its future role and direction will be. Most of our time up to now has been spent in setting it up and organising the Spring AGMs and mini-gatherings, but we need to try and give it a long-term future. It is after all only in its third year and that period has tragically seen Dorothy’s death. Naturally there will be some fall-off in interest with no new books to look forward to and some of the long-time Whispering Gallery readership heading towards old age, but if we hope to see the books remain in print so that new generations of readers discover the wonders that we have enjoyed then we need to keep the DDRA going in the same way that other associations do, such as the Neil Gunn Society or the John Buchan one.

I’d like to hear your views on this and so would the rest of the committee. How would you like to see it develop and what would make you consider joining? While debate could be conducted on the discussion groups not everyone has the time to follow those and sometimes enthusiasm takes over from considered analysis in such a forum, so I would prefer if ideas were sent to me by email and I’ll analyse them and discuss them with the committee. I won’t even begin to promise that I’ll reply to all of them as I know from experience that there will probably be a lot, but I will promise that they will be read and considered. Remember though that we have to consider everyone – for instance a wholly internet-based solution would disenfranchise a great many loyal WG readers – and it has to be financially viable in a way that will accord with our charitable status and aims. It also has to be practical with a volunteer workforce.
**Please use the subject line “DDRA Future” when emailing me on this subject to make it easier to sort the messages**

Lymond Poetry and Renaissance Band CDs

Last time I mentioned that I had signed copies of the Lymond Poetry available and in the following weeks was kept busy sending out lots of that and the Renaissance Band music CD. Unfortunately my mother-in-law’s health deteriorated while I was in the middle of this and she died not long after that. Between helping my wife cope with that and trying to get my business set up, things got pretty complicated and when I ran out of copies for a while I may have missed out on replying to two or three people who had enquired about them. (The advent of the Blaster virus which took down one of my ISPs for two days and the Sobig.F worm which flooded my mailbox and overloaded the other ISP didn’t help either!) If anyone was missing a reply from me please accept my apologies and if you still want a copy please get in touch again. I’m currently out of the CD but hope to have more copies shortly now that the band are finished with Festival appearances – but have plenty of the Poetry left if anyone wants one.

What’s in a Name

A little bit of trivia. One of the discussion groups were recently talking about names and whether they were still in use. That one revolved around Gelis but how about Khairredin? Well there is a BBC Scotland news and sports reporter working at the moment who is called Keredine Issidnissan. I’d heard his name spoken a few times (the shortened version sounds like Kirdy Nissan) and hadn’t made the association until I saw it written down and the connection clicked. I’ve seen it in collections of moslem names when I was researching for a page for Theresa Breslin’s book “Name Games”, but I wonder how common the name is in the moslem community these days?

A Question

I was recently talking to Jenny Renton, editor of Scottish Book Collector magazine – there’s a good chance that I’ll be writing an article for her about Dorothy – and we got to wondering about the likely interest for the mag overseas. It’s a literary magazine with a rather broader scope than its title suggests and knowing that there are a number of Scotophiles amongst you who may have connections to others of similar bent I’d be interested to hear if such a publication, either in paper or e-letter form, would find favour in your area.

A Late Entry about Viking Longboats

Just as I finished off this newsletter there was a TV programme shown on Channel 5 about the Vikings. Having just been reading the sea-battle scene in KH I was interested to hear that Viking longboats have been rebuilt and investigated at Roskilde sailing museum in Denmark. They were very light and flexible due to the clinker style of construction (overlapping boards) and the split rather than sawn timber used as the spine of the ship. Because of this they tended to aquaplane on top of the water rather than plough through it and could travel at up to 16 knots – a very respectable figure even today.

It was also mentioned that their sails were controlled closely by criss-crossing lines held by the crew, enabling them to get the best trim, and were made of a surprising material – wool. Apparently you can sail higher into the wind because of its elasticity but you would normally expect it to be unsuitable due to becoming waterlogged. However the wool they used was from an ancient breed of sheep called Spelsow (spelling may be wrong). These sheep had a double coat, the outer one of which was naturally water repellent. The two yarns were separated and then woven together on a special vertical loom which gave a denser cloth that was waterproof.

Finally a bit of shameless self-advertising – my new business site is now online at
www.spiderwriting.co.uk
If you know anyone who wants a website built please send ’em my way!

Best wishes to you all

slainte

Bill

Dunnett Newsletter 27th May 2003

Greetings from EdinburghThis time round we concentrate on the DDRA AGM but before we look at that I’ll bring you up to date on the changes I’ve made recently to the website. At the time of the last newsletter I’d just changed the menu system but in rushing to get it ready before the AGM I’d entirely forgotten that I hadn’t added the necessary alternative CSS files for older browsers like Netscape 4.X – most embarrassing for a web designer, particularly as we seem to have a higher proportion of Netscape users than in the wider world. Incidentally for anyone still using Netscape 4 I can highly recommend the Mozilla browser on which Netscape 7 is based.

When making the necessary changes I found I was still unhappy with the menu layout so I’ve gone right back to basics and stripped out a lot of old code that was left over from previous versions, and replaced it with fully revised style sheets. While it doesn’t look terribly pretty in Netscape 4 it should work correctly, while in the version 5+ browsers it should be a great improvement. If anyone finds any problems with it (for instance I don’t currently have access to a Mac to check it there) then please let me know what platform, operating system and browser you are using.

At the same time I’ve made a few additions. A photograph of Alastair has been added to the Biography page. This was sent to me a few years ago by a reader and I’ve temporarily lost track of who it was (it’ll be somewhere in my 800Mb email database!!), so if you recognise it as yours please tell me so I can credit you. A number of images of Dorothy’s paintings have been added to the Paintings page to go with the picture of Archie. If anyone has any other of Dorothy’s paintings or knows where there are any then I’d love to hear from you. Most of her best work is in private hands but it would be lovely to see if we can get permission to photograph any of it.

I’ve added more photos of Culross from two visits there, and Falkland from the AGM weekend visit, to the Places to Visit pages and added the contents of this newsletter to the AGM reports along with some photos of the event. I’ll be adding more details about both places in the near future.

The Book Covers Page has been split into the current book covers and the older book covers as I’ve added some more images of the older ones and the page was thus getting a bit slow. Additions include a couple of the Johnson Johnson series and three of the Cassell versions of Lymond. The Lymond Poetry cover is on the Book News page.

Since I’m beginning to run out of room on the webspace that I’ve been using I’ve reduced the sizes of some of the older photographs but I may soon have to move the site to commercial space in which case I’ll use the address www.dorothydunnett.co.uk which I registered a while back.

The Lymond Poetry

The book is due to be published in in the UK in June but it doesn’t look as if it will be published in the US. However we were able to get advance copies for the AGM direct from the printers warehouse and I have the remaining unsold copies which Elspeth signed for me. I’ve already sold a number of them by people sending me money via PayPal and if there is sufficient demand I’ll order some more when these run out. I also have copies of the Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD which can be bought the same way. I’ve upgraded my PayPal account to accept credit card payments as well as PayPal money transfers – it means a small percentage is taken off at my end but it makes it easier for anyone who doesn’t keep any money in their account. Use my billmarsh@bigfoot.com address for the PayPal payments.

Prices are as follows

The Lymond Poetry – UKP 10.99 (not the provisional 9.99 that I’d said last time)
postage and packing:
airmail to US – 3.50
surface mail within the UK – 1.60
airmail to Europe – 2.20

Renaissance Band CD – UKP 11.50
postage and packing:
airmail to US – 2.40
surface mail within the UK – 1.30
airmail to Europe – 2.00

Edinburgh in the Spring 2003 – The DDRA AGM and Mini-Gathering

Saturday Talks and AGM

The mini-gathering is always as much a lovely social occasion as it is a formal event and with Olive Millward’s usual prompting about 20 of us had gathered in a Chinese restaurant for a meal on the Friday evening to kick things off. The huge banquet we consumed left me feeling full for two days! Having had only one day of rain in the previous two months – very unusual for Scotland! – we were worried that the weather had broken as it poured down most of the evening but we needn’t have been concerned. The weekend proper started on the Saturday morning when we gathered as usual on the top floor of the Point Hotel, where the view was better than ever this year with the bright clear conditions making the castle appear almost in touching distance and giving us superb views over the city to the Forth.
There were around 55 of us in attendance with readers from Germany, France and the USA as well as from various parts of the UK.
On this occasion we started with two of the talks before holding the short formal AGM proceedings.

Elspeth and Richenda on the Lymond Poetry

The AGM day simply wouldn’t be the same without Elspeth Morrison and Richenda Todd who’ve become a lively and entertaining double act. This year they gave us an insight into the work they had done together in editing the manuscript that Dorothy had originally written in 1976 between finishing Game of Kings and starting King Hereafter.

The Lymond Poetry, copies of which we had obtained early especially for the event, contains 66 poems in various European languages with Dorothy’s own translations. She intended that this be a collection of the best love poetry and ballads from the period as well as giving extra insight to the Lymond Chronicles which contain fragments of around 200 poems. The original plan had been to publish them after Checkmate (in fact one suggestion was that it be published at the same time) but although her agents were enthusiastic the publishers seemed not to see the potential and for a while Dorothy intended to publish privately. However these plans had to be put aside when Alastair suffered a major heart attack and although a number of the poems were later reworked and added to the two Companions, the full original manuscript only came to light after her death. Elspeth set to work tracing the original sources with her usual mixture of diligent research, inspired thinking, and close understanding and affinity with Dorothy’s writing and research techniques, and with Richenda’s help they put together backgrounds and biographies which they placed on the facing pages to the poems.

Between them they gave us an glimpse of the choices and difficulties they faced in trying to adhere as closely as possible to Dorothy’s wishes and the original sources, while dealing with proofreaders and publishers. Proofreading was particularly difficult as the spellings were often different within poems – one poem switches from Spanish to Italian and has misspellings in it – while punctuation often varies from one source to another and they felt it was important to make sure that the choices Dorothy had made were accurately reflected, even if she herself had made the occasional mistake. Only very occasionally did a source prove impossible to find, but in three instances a poem was quoted which they were unable to find in any of the six Chronicles. Penguin are now offering a prize for anyone who can find the references to these three.

All this background was conveyed with the light touch and humour that we’ve come to expect from them, and everyone, whether or not familiar with the intricacies of research and publishing, was left with a sense of both the expertise required and the immense fun that they both had in working on the project.

Jenny Smith on Music

It’s obvious to anyone meeting her that music is Jenny’s passion – both it’s execution and history. Here she gave us an impression of the rich background that lurks within the musical references contained in the Lymond Chronicles.

Starting with an analysis of Joissance vous Donneray – the music which Francis played for Christian while she lay dying in Flaw Valleys – she traced the connections and inferences which can be gathered about his skill as a performer and the political and cultural clues that are apparent in those people he deals with. She touched on the Netherlands as a centre of musical excellence, their influence reaching the Italians, and what can be read into Marguerite asking Lymond if he can play Palestrina. She also discussed the academic and social place of music in the period – its connection to mathematics and the wide ranging availability of degree courses in universities.

Philippa’s musical abilities were mentioned and the contrast made between Flaws Valleys which had a music room and Midculter which, perhaps surprisingly, did not, but had instead the cold room containing Lymond’s books and broken lute.

These are just a few of the points covered but I’m told that Jenny is producing an article about her talk for Whispering Gallery which I very much look forward to reading.

Jenny finished her talk by leading a brave band of singers in a rendition of “It was the Frogge in the Well”, which plays a prominent part in the early chapters of Game of Kings. The performers doing an excellent job despite having had no real chance of rehearsal.

The AGM itself

The AGM was fairly short with two important aspects. The present committee was re-elected with the welcome addition of Simon Hedges to fill the one empty place. I’m particularly happy to see this as it means I’m no longer the only male committee member!
The second important item was the Treasurers report and subsequent discussion. This revealed that in the last year the subscription income had dropped by around UKP 1800 and it was therefore proposed to raise the subscriptions by UKP 3. It will be obvious that such a reduction in income cannot be sustained for long so it’s important that we try to regain as many of the international subscribers that we lost after the demise of Thins, and the facility they provided for Credit Card subscribing, as possible. Simon’s assistance in this area by acting as a go-between for overseas readers who would otherwise find it impossible or prohibitively expensive to convert their currency into Sterling has been invaluable.

If you’ve been considering subscribing but don’t have access to UK currency or bank accounts, then do visit his website at www.simonhedges.co.uk or follow the links to it from my site under the Whispering Gallery page.

Henk Beentje – From Blue Hands to Racing Camels

For the afternoon session Henk gave us a follow up to his legendary Flora and Fauna of Lymondshire at the Edinburgh 2000 Gathering, and once again had compiled an astonishing number of slides of animals and plants mentioned in the eight books of House. As he said, where would be be without natural history? – most of the book titles wouldn’t exist and there would be no “date stones”. And there would be no food – nothing to describe sticking to Fra Ludo’s clothes. No Ostrich for Nick to ride and he wouldn’t have the love of his life – Chennai the camel. No oysters in Gemini, sugar in Cyprus or apricots in Sinai.

I won’t even try to list a fraction of the items which Henk described, quoted, and illustrated – my attempts to record the highlights in my notes were overwhelmed by half way through and I just sat back and enjoyed them – but again look forward to seeing an article in Whispering Gallery in due course. Suffice it to say that it was a delight to be reminded of so many of the wonderful images that Dorothy filled her stories with, particularly with Henk’s mellifluous accent. It must have taken many hours of re-reading and preparation but it was certainly worth it.

The Sunday Coach Trip to Culross and Falkland

Sunday morning turned out to be far better than the meteorologists has predicted as we set off from the Point towards the Forth Bridge and Fife. As in previous years we were joined by Charles Burnett.

As we crossed the bridge the clear conditions allowed us to pick out Blackness, which we had visited last year on a windy, grey, and damp day. Once across the bridge we turned left and took the minor coastal road past Rosyth naval yards and through the villages of the area. It has to be said that this is not one of our more scenic areas with the view up the firth being dominated by Grangemouth oil refinery on one side and Kincardine Power Station on the other, but again the clear sunlight picked out the famous Abbey in Dunfermline which lies to the north of the road.

Through the village of Torryburn the houses became gradually older and more attractive, until we reached the outskirts of Culross, our first stop. As anyone who has read the entry on my website will know, the village, or to be more exact, the Royal Burgh, is a remarkably well preserved example of 17th and 18th century buildings which, because of the way in which the local industry declined, was not subjected to the demolition and improvement that occurred elsewhere. This gave the fledgling National Trust for Scotland an ideal opportunity when they were offered the “palace” for £700 in the 1930s, and they went on to purchase many more properties in the area, resulting in a uniquely preserved and renovated village which still manages to maintain a healthy living community.

After a refreshment of tea and scones in the Bessie Bar Hall, which was originally a malt house, our party was split into two and one started their tour of the palace while the other went up to the Study. The intention had been that Elspeth and Charles would take the groups round but in fact we were assigned local guides who clearly had their own ideas on what subjects the visitors would like to hear about. Under normal circumstances I would have enjoyed the eccentric character of the guide and there were certainly some snippets of information that I had not heard before, but knowing Elspeth’s vast store of knowledge and meticulous preparation I suspect we’d have heard a lot more of relevance to our favourite reading had she had the chance to impart it.

The Study is a fine building constructed around 1610 and is painted a brilliant white. It forms part of the small square which houses the Mercat Cross dating from 1588 and its facade is pierced by the typical windows of the period with half-wooden shutters and diagonal leaded glass upper sections. There is a crowstepped gable in traditional Scottish style and a corbelled outlook tower from which the occupant could look over the Forth and watch the ships as they entered and left. It is reputed to have been used by Bishop Leighton of Dunblane as his study room.

On the first floor is a fine room with wonderfully painted ceilings by a man who had studied the ceilings of the Palace while they were still clearly visible. The guide told us he had a visit from the painter’s nephew who was able to telephone his father to confirm that the work had been done while lying on his back! There was also a fine piece of 17th century panelling and a Witches Ball – a glass ball filled with Mercury which was supposed to protect the house from evil spirits.

The study itself is at the top of the tower up an extremely tight spiral staircase and is a small room with windows on three sides.

Although we didn’t have time to climb further up the hill to the Abbey and Church, it is well worth the walk up the narrow inclined street of brightly coloured houses with wooden steps up to their front doors. The Abbey was set up by the Cistercians in the early 13th century and was where the young St Mungo was taught by St Serf before moving to Glasgow to found his own community. It was said he was the son of a princess who was cast out of her home in the Lothians and whose boat landed at Culross.
It was the Cistercians who first made Culross a prosperous town by mining the “black stone that burns” – coal, and thus developing both its trade and the closely connected industry of the salt pans.

Near the Abbey is the Abbey House, an very advanced design which looks almost Georgian but in fact dates from as early as 1608. Later it was the home of the famous naval hero Admiral Thomas Cochrane – The Sea Wolf as Napoleon described him – whose life was the inspiration for many well known naval stories.

Returning to the palace we were first of all shown a video describing the history of the town and the Trust’s involvement before learning more about the man who created it. The palace was built by Sir George Bruce, a descendent of King Robert the Bruce, who had taken over the running of the colliery and brought in many engineering techniques from the continent that enabled deeper mines to be dug by improving drainage and ventilation. While the mines had previously been only 30 feet deep, his techniques, such as the horse-powered 36 bucket Egyptian Wheel, allowed a depth of 240 feet to be reached and the mine was probably one of the most advanced in the world at that time, eventually extending a mile under the Forth. The shaft even had an outlet in a substantial round stone building on a tidal island and James VI was taken there on a visit to the mine where he was apparently so surprised to find himself surrounded by water that he feared treachery and panicked.

We were taken up to the main hall, withdrawing room, guest rooms, and the painted chamber, with their panelling and painted barrel ceilings. In the hall we heard the origins of the word “threshold” and had a description of 16th century toilet facilities that was probably more information than some would have preferred! We were also told the reason behind the yellow ochre colouring of the outside walls – it was originally covered in sheep-dip!! This was often applied to houses at that time as there was nothing else that could be done with the liquid – you couldn’t put it in the river or on the land due to its poisonous effects – and since the roof would originally have been thatch it was useful for keeping down the insects which would otherwise live there. In fact the guide reckoned that the palace colour was too brown because as the richest house in the area it would have had fresh sheep dip which would have been a lighter yellow.

Sadly there was insufficient time to properly explore the restored gardens which lie on the slope behind the palace or to walk much more around the village before we were due in the Red Lion for lunch, though some people did manage a quick visit to the Town House and the Trust shop, where the attendant had heard of Dorothy and knew she’d been born in Dunfermline.

An excellent meal allowed time for interesting conversation before we headed for Falkland and the favourite palace of Mary de Guise. Though the weather briefly threatened to close in it had cleared again by the time we arrived and although the gardens were only just beginning to show glimpses of the rich and fragrant blossoms that it will have in a few weeks time it was still a lovely sight in the sunshine.

The guides happened to be in period costume that day, with one in each room available to answer questions. This time however we had Charles and Elspeth to describe the surroundings for us. There were a number of paintings of 16th and 17th monarchs including one of James V and Mary de Guise, an ornately carved and inlaid four-poster bed, and some fine panelled and painted ceilings. There is also a fine tapestry gallery which runs the length of one wing.

A quick trip down to the end of the garden and the royal tennis court gave mixed results – on this occasion there was no-one playing and the viewing angles didn’t really allow a good photograph, but I was delighted to find that there were newly arrived swallows in the viewing gallery – always a welcome sign of Spring. Diverting out through a side gate brings you to the tranquil adjoining meadow where pink blossom adorned the trees and bluebells shimmered in the grass. It’s a timeless view over to the turrets of the Palace gate and the roofs of the old inns on the main street and that feeling was compounded by the sight of a man in full armour and helmet on the main lawn next to the ruined north wing. However it proved to be a photoshoot rather than a time warp!

All too soon we had to head for home and maybe in retrospect we tried to fit too much into the day, but when people are coming to Scotland for what may be the only time you want to give them as broad an experience as possible. Incidentally we are always looking for suggestions for places to visit on the Spring weekends so if you have any ideas please send them to me. I think we’ve pretty much covered the accessible western and northern sides having been to Linlithgow, Torphichen, and Blackness, as well as Rosslyn in the south and St Mary’s Loch at the time of the 2000 Gathering. Within Edinburgh Elspeth has often taken guided walks down the Royal Mile but we haven’t done Edinburgh Castle itself – should we include this or would people prefer a coach trip further afield. Craigmillar Castle is fairly close and Haddington is interesting although there is nothing left to see of the nunnery where Kathi visited. Likewise North Berwick is a lovely town but the Dunnett sites are not accessible – the final scenes of Gemini are now within the grounds of an old people’s home. Traquair, which is the oldest house in Scotland, is on the site of the fictional St Mary’s and has its own brewery so it might be a good place to go, and there is a nearby printing museum which while much more recent than our time period would surely be in the spirit of Lymond’s interests. Let me know what you think.

Certainly everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy the day and hopefully many will have seen enough to encourage return visits. We certainly all enjoyed renewing friendships and making new ones, as is always the case at Dunnett gatherings. I hope we can continue them for many years to come.

A big round of thanks to all the committee for their work on the AGM weekend, and a special one for Val Bierman who puts in a tremendous effort in the organisation for this as well as all her work on the magazine, much of it way beyond anything that could be reasonably expected.

Finally I should mention a couple of recent deaths. The first is that of Seumas Adam, the other half of the Canoe Boys to Alastair Dunnett, who died in April at the age of 95. He was a lifelong friend of Alastair and Dorothy and like them was heavily involved in a great many projects in Scottish life. The year after his epic canoe trip up the West Highlands with Alastair he made the first solo canoe crossing of the Minch – the stretch of water between the Inner and Outer Hebrides. He worked in journalism for most of his life, having started with the Scottish Daily Express and then after war service as a staff captain was features editor with the Glasgow Evening News and Daily Record before become assistant editor of the Evening Times. Later he moved to Edinburgh and was General Manager of the Scotsman Publications before moving to the Chester Chronicle and Middlesborough Evening Gazette. After retiring and moving back to Edinburgh he was asked to organise the first International Gathering of the Clans. He continued to write books and poetry in Scots and Gaelic as well as English and was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, and the Institute of Directors. His interest in physical activity was reflected in his work on the Scottish Council of Physical Recreation and he was a natural choice as President of the Scottish Canoe Association.
I’m told he continued to drive until he was 90 and I recall seeing him at the Edinburgh New Club reception that Penguin organised for Dorothy following the publication of Gemini. At the age of 94 he and his wife had moved down to Wales to be near their daughter. A very remarkable man.

The second is somewhat more peripheral but may be of interest as it relates to a film that has often been discussed on the Dunnett internet groups. One of the great British actresses, Dame Wendy Hiller, died at the age of 90 recently. She first became a star in the 1930s in a play called Love on the Dole and was seen by George Bernard Shaw who invited her to play the lead roles in Pygmalion and St Joan. He later insisted that she also play the roles in the film adaptations and she was nominated for an Oscar for the part of Eliza opposite Leslie Howard. She was to win an Oscar for a film of Rattigan’s Separate Tables, and in 1966 she was again nominated for the part of Alice More in A Man for All Seasons. She continued to work in acclaimed stage productions for many years including seven visits to the Edinburgh Festival, and even appeared in the film Murder on the Orient Express.

Her connection to Dunnettworld came through starring in the wonderful Powell and Pressburger film, I Know Where I’m Going, with Roger Livesy. The filming on Mull was made possible by Alastair, then working in the Scottish Office, who was a friend of Michael Powell, and who promptly took a holiday in order to watch the filming. The yellow oil-skin jacket that she wore in the crucial Corryvreckan whirlpool storm scene was actually Alastair’s – her own didn’t show up well enough on the black and white film and Powell appropriated it.

Not sure what colour her eyes were or how she’d have looked as a blond, but looking at a photo of her I can see her as a perfect icy Sybilla – can’t think why that hadn’t occurred to me before!

That’s all for now

best wishes to you all

Bill

Dunnett Newsletter – 16th April 2003

Greetings from Edinburgh where we’ve been having the brightest March and April for many years. Keeping my fingers crossed that it lasts till the DDRA AGM which is now less than two weeks away!

I’ve been mostly out of contact the last few months as I try to carve out a new career, and more recently have been juggling the problem of a couple of serious family illnesses. As a result I’ve been struggling to answer even some of the personal messages that I still receive and to send out back copies of the newsletters to new subscribers. My apologies to anyone affected by this and please be assured that if there had been any way of my answering earlier I’d have done so.
The old newsletters will shortly be archived on the website so anyone who wants to can download them from there.

When I started writing this I said – “Hopefully things will be a bit easier now and I may even get a little spare time to catch up with what’s being discussed on the email lists and contribute a bit more – something I’ve greatly missed.” – however in the last few days I’ve just been made redundant again so it looks like no peace for the wicked, and time to really make a determined try on the freelance route.

I’d originally hoped to send a newsletter on the 9th Nov but pressure of work, the aftermath of a bad roof leak, and my wife’s diagnosis of the need for intestinal surgery prevented it. I’d felt the need to mark the anniversary of Dorothy’s death in some way as I’m sure all of you will have been thinking of her as the date approached as I was. For a long time the passing of the year had seemed to make little impact on the sense of loss felt at the time, and I’d found the DDRA AGM and meeting in April last year particularly difficult, though perhaps other traumas including Thin’s demise kept the wound open for longer than might otherwise have been the case. When she died I implored everyone to celebrate her life rather than mourn her death but I always was lousy at taking my own advice. However not being able to make the anniversary deadline somehow put things in perspective and showed me that it is the living that must come first, and has allowed me time to stand back and remember her with happiness and thanks rather than sorrow. I’ve started to read the books again, starting with Disorderly Knights and now Pawn in Frankincense, which was something I couldn’t bring myself to do earlier, and after so long a gap I’m finding lots of little elements and echoes that I’d forgotten and have connected a few references that had remained tantalizingly out of grasp for a while.

Many of you will be aware of the events that followed my last newsletter about the auction, but for those of you who aren’t on the discussion groups perhaps I should reiterate them.

Following discussion with Ninian, the Rosebush was withdrawn from the auction of the last of Dorothy’s possesions and I was asked to decide on the best home for it. After consulting with a number of people I was confirmed in the belief that the DDRA was the only appropriate body to look after it. Subsequently however there was a further twist. It became apparent that Dorothy had said that she would like the Rosebush to go to her granddaughter, but that somehow the family hadn’t been aware of it. Once they realised this they were only too happy to follow her wishes.

The rest of the items and books that were in the auction were the subject of much debate, and a consortium of bidders was put together to avoid anyone inadvertently bidding against each other. This was organised with his usual energy and enthusiasm by Simon Hedges, with the considerable help of Cindy Byrne and Denise Gannon, who all attended the auction and made bids on everyone’s behalf. Cindy even managed to persuade the auctioneers to arrange the book lots in a more sensible order and Simon bid on most of the important ones and was wonderfully successful in keeping the working library with its forest of post-it notes together.

Many of the best items were bought by members of the online community and I’m happy to say that some others were bought by Elspeth Morrison. So the bulk of items of sentimental and literary research importance have found good homes, and what was a sad event for all of us who were there has been turned to a positive use.

As some people seem to have been unsure about it, it’s worth mentioning that all of these items had previousy been offered to various museums and libraries and that only items which they were not interested in or had no room for were included in the auction.

Simon initially put the large quantity of books, nearly a full van-load, in temporary storage until they could be collected and transported down to his home. Since then he has been periodically cataloguing them when time allows – a massive task and one in which I imagine it is all too easy to be sidetracked by an interesting find or an intriguing post-it note!

Edinburgh in the Spring – The 3rd Dorothy Dunnett Readers Association AGM

The next AGM is almost upon us – it takes place on the 26th of April – and will return to the same venue as previously, the Point Hotel, for the Saturday events. While there has been a small amount of criticism of the Point for its minimalist decor and more justifiably for the poor level of toilet facilities (we are assured that this will be remedied), the fact is that the excellent deal that Val Bierman has arranged with them is far better than any other we could possibly get in a city centre venue and costs would have to be considerably raised were we to go elsewhere. And where else would we get a view like the one from the rooftop conference room?

We are delighted to say that the guest speaker for the Saturday is our botanical expert extraordinaire Henk Beentje, who gave such a wonderful talk at the Edinburgh Gathering in 2000. How he will top the now legendary sheep in helmets slide I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to seeing him try.

Elspeth Morrison and Richenda Todd will be there again – this time to talk about the Lymond Poetry book which is mentioned below.

The Sunday trip will be to the village of Culross and the Palace of Falkland. The former is a village on the north shore of the Forth which has the closest remaining architecture to that of Lymond’s time, while the latter is of course closely connected to the books and was a favourite of Mary of Guise. The palace at Culross is a particular delight with its original panelling and painted ceilings and really gives a feel for how it must have felt in a substantial house of the period. Only the rushes on the floor are missing. Once again we’ll have Elspeth and Charles Burnett to help us interpret the history of the two areas.
In the Dunnett Places to Visit section on my website I’ve added some more pictures of Culross (in the North section) after a recent visit there, so those of you who can’t easily visit it can get a flavour of the place.

Falkland is of course a much more grand building as befits a royal palace, and there is plenty to see, both inside, and out in the lovely gardens, while the picturesque village is hardly any bigger than it was in the 16th century. Hopefully if the current light conditions continue I’ll have some new photos of it. If we’re very lucky there may be someone playing royal tennis on the courts at Falkland as was the case on my last visit and we can imagine Phelim playing King Henri!

I’ll do a report on the weekend for the next newsletter and add some pictures of it to the website.

A New Book!

A few of you have heard rumours of this but I’m happy to confirm that a book of Lymond poetry will be published this year. It was written by Dorothy and was discovered in her papers by Mungo. It has been completed by Elspeth in conjunction with Richenda and they’ve worked their usual research and editorial magic on it.
It’s due to be released in June, but I’m delighted to say that we should have advance copies in time for the DDRA AGM and they’ll be on sale there. Additionally I’m hoping that I may be able to get hold of copies myself and thus be able to sell them to anyone who wants them by using my PayPal account.
It will be a B format paperback and the cost is expected to be around £9.99

Dorothy’s Portrait of Archie

Many people have asked to see a picture of the only portrait Dorothy ever made of one of her characters and I’ve now been able to take photographs of it and have added it to my website. Strangely enough it looks different seeing it away from the house where I’d seen it before. I fancy that anyone who knew him may detect a slight element of Alastair in the facial features.

The Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD of Lymond and Niccolo Music

Many of you bought copies of this through Thins and a number of you have asked about where you can get it now. Since of course the CD was privately pressed it was never on general sale by any other means. I’ve now been in touch with them and they’ve sold me some copies which I can now offer for sale directly to anyone who doesn’t already have it. Again you can use my Paypal account if you are overseas.
They also tell me that they will shortly be releasing a new CD of early music which some of you may be interested in. As soon as they have details I’ll let you know.

DDRA News – A word about Whispering Gallery and subscriptions

As many of you will know it’s been difficult for many overseas subscribers to Whispering Gallery to continue their subscriptions in the year since Thins collapsed and the online payment system was lost (along with £600 pounds of the magazine’s money which was caught up in the crash). The magazine has no way of utilizing credit cards and although we did look at various other online payment methods none of them was felt to be suitable.
Recently Simon Hedges generously offered to act as a central point for people to send money to and then pass it to the DDRA, and a number of people have been able to take advantage of that. Please see
http://www.simonhedges.com/videos/wg.htm
for further details

I do hope that more of you will subscribe in the future – the continued existence of the DDRA very much depends on the solvency of the magazine and conditions are not easy at the moment. Many overseas subscribers were lost in the last year and if they drop too much the unit cost of printing will rise due to the smaller print run. It was perhaps always inevitable that there would be some contraction with no more books to look forward to, but Thins demise unfortunately accelerated that. However when you look at the various associations devoted to authors, the majority of their subjects are also no longer with us, so there is no reason why we can’t keep ours going and keep Dorothy’s work alive for future generations as she surely deserves.

My own prospects

While it really has little place here, many of you have asked for word on how I’ve been doing since Thins went down.
I’m been working for a company called Bigmouthmedia Ltd for the last year, doing web design, traffic analysis, and search engine optimisation, but unfortunately with the current economic conditions there hasn’t been enough of the work that I do coming in and they are refocusing on their search engine marketing strengths rather than the design and development side so my role is disappearing and I’ll be finishing with them at the beginning of May.

A couple of the sites I’ve been working on with Bigmouth can be seen at
http://www.imes-group.com
http://www.excel-sports.co.uk

While I’m now searching for another job I feel the time is now right to concentrate on the freelance work and see if I can make a real go of it. As I mentioned before I’m specialising in authors and also musicians. A good part of last summer and autumn was spent designing a site for the award winning children’s and teenager’s author Theresa Breslin
http://www.theresabreslin.co.uk
– her books are excellent and having read them all in preparation for the site design I can heartily recommend them. Theresa has been most enthusiastic about the site and a great encouragement for me.
Shortly after finishing that one I put together a new site for the Edinburgh Chess Club which I’d previously had some pages for on the Thins site.
http://www.edinburghchessclub.co.uk

The combination of my mother having a heart attack just before Xmas and my wife’s surgery and recuperation meant a bit of a break but lately I’ve been building a site for my good friend the musician and actor John Sampson who I’ve been staying with for the last few months
http://www.johnsampson.co.uk
His site went live last week, although there are a few pages that will be developed further when he comes back from his latest job with the Young Vic in London. Do take a look at it – he’s an expert in early music and has in fact guested with the Edinburgh Renaissance Band as well as playing with other early music orchestras in Scotland. Some of the German readers may have seen him perform in comic theatre with The Bath Natural Theatre Company and in cabaret, as he’s a frequent and popular visitor to that country.

It looks likely that I’ll be doing a new site for the Scottish Association of Writers shortly – I went over to their Annual conference near Glasgow recently and hope to give some talks to their members as well as building their site. Hopefully that will lead to more contacts and work. To that end I’m also working on a new site for my freelance company which I’m calling Spiderwriting – the site will be at
http:/www.spiderwriting.co.uk

My writing has largely taken a back seat but I did write a travel piece about the Ardnamurchan area which just needs a bit of polish so if anyone would like to read it I may put that on my personal website. There was also one of Mull which needs a slight re-write. Last September I went back to Orkney for another holiday and I must try to add some of the photos from there to the site too.

That’s all for now. Hope to be more in touch over the next few months but obviously that will depend in part on the employment situation. I’ll try and put together some of my reactions to my re-read of DK and PF for next time.

Very best wishes to you all

Bill