Newsletter – 20th Oct 2000

Didn’t expect to be doing another newsletter so soon but as there were a couple of pieces of news that quite a few people were waiting for I thought I’d best do a short one and also include a feature that I had some notes on that may be of interest.

Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD

Firstly the news – after a bit of a guddle because of changed phone numbers I’ve finally got hold of copies of the Edinburgh Renaissance Band’s new CD – The Musical Worlds of Niccolo and Lymond. It’s priced at UKP 11.50 and I’ve added it to the Dunnett Bibliography page at the bottom where the cassette used to be. Since it has a code reference (unlike the cassette) it can be ordered through the BookSearch system rather than sending order by email. There is also a link to a track listing for anyone who wants to know what’s on it before deciding if they want to buy it.

Dunnett Companion

The second piece of news will already be known to many of you and in fact is just a confirmation of what we have been hoping/expecting for some time. During her US tour following the Philadelphia Gathering, Dorothy announced that Vintage will be publishing a paperback edition of the Companion, probably around the summer of 2001. It is also hoped that a follow-up volume will be published, perhaps a further year on, which will contain references to the later Niccolos. No details are available yet so I don’t even know if the new paperback will be sold worldwide or just in the US, but as soon as we hear anything I’ll let you all know.

Game of Kings Audiobook

Following some discussion on the lists about this I’ve followed it up and spoken to the company concerned in the UK – W J Howes of Rothley in Leicestershire. They are chiefly involved in producing audiobooks for libraries and don’t normally sell to the book trade as their pricing has no built in margin for allowing discount. Although it’s not really a normal part of their business, they will sell to individuals and normally waive the postage on such transactions – the price is apparently £57.95 +VAT at 17.5% = £68.09 They are also part of the same company which runs the US website which some of you have seen. The US division rent out audiobooks – something which hasn’t been done here in the UK.

The chap I spoke to at Howes was interested in my description of the web site and our little community of Dunnett fans and suggested that if we were able to put together a reasonable number of orders it might be possible to do some sort of deal so that we could supply some of you with it without having to increase the price to cover our costs. It would also give him some useful feedback in order to decide whether to go ahead with the rest of the Lymonds in audiobook format too. It seems that because of the high cost, good sales for an unabridged audiobook are in the order of only 200-300 copies. If we can demonstrate enough demand then there’s got to be a good chance of them going ahead.

If you are definitely in the market for Game of Kings then do contact me and I can see what can be done about putting in an order. And if you can give an indication of whether you’d also be interested in any successive books I’ll pass it on next time I speak to them.

Scottish National Library – Exhibition of early books from their collection.

While this is only partly Dunnett related I thought it would probably be worth including for a group with such a strong interest in both early books and Scottish history.
Subscribers to Whispering Gallery will have seen a photo in the latest issue of Dorothy performing the opening a few months ago (Val got in before me on this one!) – as a trustee of the Library she was an obvious choice to do the honours.

I’d intended to go much earlier in the summer, but of course there were one of two other things going on at the time! About a week after returning from Switzerland my wife Fiona remembered that we hadn’t yet been to see it so since I had worked 6 days the week we got back I took the Monday off and we went up there.
The exhibition space was surprisingly small, but what a feast was packed into the space. These documents are absolutely fascinating for anyone with a love of books. The display was arranged chronologically with the oldest first so I’ll run through some of what was on show in that order.

The first item was a Kelso Charter dated 1159 which was superbly preserved and appeared at first glance as if it should be one of the more recent until you looked more closely and noticed the gold ornamentation.
The Iona Psalter (1180-1220) gave an indication of the importance of that lovely island in the Christian tradition, while next to it stood The Murthly Hours (1280) which is a prayer book which probably came from France and which was apparently a new and somewhat different form of home worship at the time.

Still rather stunned by the age of these pieces we now came to one cabinet we had three of the most important books in Scottish literature.
Barbour’s The Bruce (1489) is one of only two copies to survive, while Blind Harry’s The Wallace (1488), which of course was a crucial piece of propaganda in the time period of Gemini, is the only copy in existence. Alongside them was Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (1454), which our own Mercat Press have not long finished publishing in a 9 volume translation, and which is historically perhaps the most important of the three, covering a great deal of material which is little mentioned elsewhere. To see these three together was really quite breathtaking.

In the next cabinet was Robert Carver’s choir book of 1513 and 1520 – the only known source of his work. It was a surprise to see how clear and modern looking the musical notation was, and it I could hardly resist wondering if any of Dorothy’s characters, real or imaginary, might have looked at those pages.

These were all handwritten of course, but we now moved on to some printed material. Printing reached Scotland from France and the earliest dated Scottish book is 1508.
Monarchists and Feminists would probably be aghast at the display which included John Knox’ famous little book – First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), but after Margaret Wilkes’ excellent talk at E2000 it was a delight to see the first surviving printed map of Scotland from 1570. It was of Venetian origin possibly by Paolo Forlani.

Skeynes first medical book (1568) was of great interest to Fiona, though I couldn’t help but remember the dismay I felt at hearing the late historian Ian Grimble describe in a TV programme some years ago how the entire library of the Beaton family, who were the hereditary physicians of Gaeldom, had been completely lost. What a treasure of knowledge to have gone forever.

The National Covenant (1639) was a vital historical document which deserved study but the eye was immediately drawn past it to the massive King James Bible of 1611. Lecterns must have been strongly built in those days! By contrast the little book of Napier’s logarithms (1614) probably had as large an impact in the scientific community, and looked horribly familiar to one brought up on their use at school.
The Psalms of David in Gaelic (1659) was only the 3rd Gaelic book ever printed and was the first opportunity for the Gaels to read the bible in their own language.

Anyone of MacDonald descent would find it hard to look at the Order for the Massacre of Glencoe (1692) without feelings of anger or sorrow. Thankfully a hundred years later the scene was very different as we started to move into the period of the Enlightenment.
Robert Adam’s Book of Neo-classical designs (1786) would be familiar to any architect, while the book that launched a thousand salesmen – The Encyclopedia Britannica (1771) – was another important example of the way knowledge was suddenly being made available to a wider community. Boswell & Johnson naturally put in an appearance but were somewhat overshadowed by Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, a milestone in philosophy and still studied today, as is Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which is celebrated by economists as a model for their theories.

Literature now started to put in an appearance again and The Kilmarnock Burns (1786) could hardly be bettered for literary importance unless perhaps by Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), which of course set the pattern for historical fiction in a way that comes directly down to Dorothy’s writing.

Robert Louis Stevenson was another great Scottish writer but it was his equally famous engineering family’s construction drawings of the Bell Rock Lighthouse which appeared in the next cabinet. That such a structure could be completed on a wind and wave lashed island without the benefit of modern power tools give you a great respect for the builders of the day.

By this time we’re getting well away from “our” period but a quick mention of some of the other items will give a flavour of the rest of the exhibition. The First Statistical Account 1791-99, Robert Owen’s Plan for Relieving Public Distress, Robert Burns’ Glennriddell Manuscript which contains Holy Willie’s Prayer in Burns’ own hand. David Livingstone’s map of Lake Malawi (1863), and a rare example of a Gaelic Emigration poster (1822). Stevenson got his mention in a copy of Young Folks magazine containing the serialised Treasure Island (1883), while one that I would have loved to study in detail was Hill and Adamson’s original photographic album – one of the most important contributions to the early years of the new art form.
Altogether a wonderful little exhibition of quite priceless items.

New Page on the Site

Finally to return to directly related matters, I’ve started a new page on the website for Dunnett related places in Europe. This is a follow on to the page that covers Scottish sites of interest, but as I haven’t been to many European Dunnett sites myself I’d like to invite those of you who have made visits to contribute any descriptions, stories, hints or photographs to share with the others. To start the page off I’ve put up three photographs of Bruge which were very kindly provided by Ann MacMillan. (Thanks again Anne) There is also a link to my first attempt at a map of Europe with some of the main sites of interest marked. This one has the modern political boundaries but I may try and put together one with the Renaissance boundaries if there is sufficient interest. Do let me know if you think this would be worthwhile pursuing.

very best wishes

Newsletter – 8th Sept 2000

The Edinburgh Gathering

Before we knew that Niccolo 8 would be called Gemini, the mock title given by some inspired or perhaps psychic fans was Gemini Triumphant – the Edinburgh 2000 Gathering could well have been called Gathering Triumphant as it turned out to be a roaring success and greatly enjoyed by everyone who attended.

This newsletter is devoted to a report of the Gathering but before going into details I’d just like to send greetings to everyone I met and thank everyone who I had a chance to talk to for their kind words both about my own efforts and about my mum’s health (she’s improving but probably won’t regain her speech, although there is still hope that her paralysis may ease a little). There was little time available for much more than brief chats, and there were probably a lot of people who I didn’t manage to meet at all, but it was lovely to at last put faces to those I did and to share a few words.

I had originally hoped to write this newsletter while everything was fresh in my mind but in the event I hardly had time to draw breath before having to plunge into a major redesign of the website to incorporate both the new “Themed” style which we have introduced into the shops and also a broadening of subject matter to give a UK-wide appeal in addition to the Scottish focus. There was an unmissable deadline to coincide with publicity and with the launch of the arrangement with the Scotsman newspaper’s new site, ( for whom we are the official bookseller, so as a result I’ve been pretty inactive on the discussion groups recently and haven’t been able to keep up with my correspondence. The fruits of these labours have just gone live a few days ago so please take a look and let me know what you think – good and bad. There are new sections on History, Politics, Biography, Golf, Food & Drink, Gardening, Natural History, Travel, Photography and Bridge, and we’ll be adding lots of additional authors in the fiction section soon. The Science Fiction/Fantasy authors are gradually being updated too.

Anyway, to return to the week of the Gathering, my wife and I had already had a lovely dinner with Mickey Thies and her husband Jerry at the beginning of the week and later met a number or other early visitors (including Simon and Cindy who looked remarkably calm for a couple of impresarios on the brink of a first night(!), and Sarah Meier who presented me with a lovely t-shirt with humorous medieval illustrations) for a drink and a meal in the High Street area, so things were looking good.

However, the Gathering itself started in a rather worrying way for me, as when I arrived at our Heriot Watt campus shop on the Friday afternoon I discovered that the shop manager had come down with flu and it was doubtful if he would be able to attend during the weekend. His assistant had come in but was unable to cover the same extended hours as we’d arranged. Further I found that the Border Reivers maps which I’d ordered were unavailable. Oh dear, was it all going to go wrong at the last minute? It was therefore in a somewhat pensive mood that I lurked around the foyer as everyone started to pour in from the first of the bus-trips to register with Val and her team. It was interesting to try and guess who was who before the name-badges were collected and various delighted meetings ensued as people spotted each other and/or embraced old friends who in some cases they had never actually met before. The mood for the weekend was thus well set and was further enhanced at the dinner that evening. I wasn’t able to stay for it but I’m told that Dorothy immediately set everyone at ease with her welcoming speech, and later posed for photographs with everyone who wished it.

The following morning continued the glorious weather which had enveloped the country in the previous couple of weeks, and it was an expectant crowd who gathered in the main lecture hall. The first talk was from Pauline Brace, as delightful a speaker as she is knowledgeable about the books and the history surrounding them. Her talk on “Danger and Delight” set the day’s proceedings off to the perfect start.

During the break for coffee people began to pour into our little campus shop to buy fresh copies of the books and peruse the other items I had ordered in for the event. I was pleasantly surprised to see our manager had made it in although in truth he looked dreadful and did a stalwart job in just staying on his feet, nevermind managing the rush.

Next up was Dorothy herself, introduced by Richenda Todd, giving her talk on Gemini. I won’t go into detail here or the newsletter will be as long as the book(!) but will save it for the next one when I hope to have time to discuss the story a little. Suffice it to quote just a couple of things she said as a taster – “It was a stinker to write”. “It was one of the 3 most difficult – with problems comparable to Checkmate”. (Hmm, I don’t think she ever said which the third one was!) She wrote the epilogue first, then the story and then went back and changed the epilogue to Andreas’ view.

After lunch people started to head off to the seminar rooms which were mostly packed out. Amongst these were discussions on History by Elspeth Morrison (of which more later), Birds in DD’s books by Diana Crane, Judith Wilt on the Dunnett/Scott connection, and on the music of the period by a member of the Edinburgh Renaissance Band. I’m told that all were excellent but not wishing to deprive anyone of a place I stayed outside and chatted to Dorothy’s son Mungo and daughter-in-law Allison who had taken the photographs the previous night and was displaying them on the walls ready for everyone coming back.

Judith’s Wilt’s talk was next and she expounded a complex theory about “Twins and Doubles on the Road to Scotland” which linked not only Lymond and Nicholas but also Thorfinn and Johnson Johnson! She packs so much into her speaking that I found it impossible to take notes without losing track but it’s planned that the full text will appear in Whispering Gallery magazine and it may be possible to arrange an archive of it on the web site – I’ll keep you posted on that.

As the afternoon drew to a close we all went off to find places to change into our “posh clothes” before leaving on the buses for the undoubted highlight of the weekend – the dinner in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle. There was almost a disaster as one of the buses broke down on the way, but as it happened a number of members of the Nikado cast were on the bus and the delay was alleviated by an impromptu rehearsal at the side of the road, which must have mystified a few drivers on the motorway!! Fortunately a replacement bus was procured in time for everyone to join up again before dinner.

A great deal of money and skill has been spent on restoring the castle in general and the Great Hall in particular and it looked superb as the evening sun flooded the plains from which the castle rock rises and lit up the Ochil hills behind. The view, whether across to the Wallace Monument or down the hill to Stirling Bridge was clear and golden-bright, and was complimented by the light reflected from the gold and white lions and unicorns which decorated the top of the castle buildings. Everyone delighted in walking around the battlements and the bowling/croquet lawn, before climbing up to the main courtyard and the Chapel Royal to be served champagne and wine and to watch and listen to the display of Renaissance dancing and music.

Following a group photograph taken from the high battlements overlooking the square, we moved into the Great Hall which was laid out with large circular tables to seat the 300 guests. The only exception being the long top table which sat beneath a large and colourful crested banner which hung at the far end of the hall. People were still taking in the inspiring atmosphere enhanced by the lighting and the amber sun which streamed through the tall windows, when they realised that each chair bore a limited edition signed copy of King Hereafter. There is a picture of everyone seated in the Great Hall on the website.

The meal consisted of Courgette and Coriander soup, Baked Salmon, and Drambuie Parfait with Wild Tayberrys, and was accompanied throughout by the music of the Edinburgh Renaissance Band who played from the Minstrel’s Gallery. Later they moved to the head of the hall for further performances which included a rendition of their setting of Tant Que Je Vive – a very moving experience in such surroundings. It was easy to imagine oneself at Lymond’s party for Mary.

The speakers included Mats Hellstrom, the Swedish Ambassador to Germany, who is an enthusiastic fan and had flown from Berlin for the dinner and gave the welcoming address. Towards the end of the evening he also introduced Pauline Brace who made the presentation to Dorothy of a specially produced book of tributes, poems, drawings and other myriad contributions, by people who have been associated with or inspired by her during her writing career. Bound in Charetty blue leather and set in a superbly crafted wooden box inlaid with silver, the book had been kept a closely guarded secret and was a complete surprise to her. As Pauline said “we can keep secrets too”!! Clearly delighted, Dorothy responded with her usual apomb.
It was a happy and well satisfied group who boarded the buses for the return to Heriot Watt.

Sunday morning kicked off with Henk Beentje’s talk, introduced by Ann McMillan who surprised him by telling us of his first appearance as a Dunnett fan as the only male amongst a large collection of women. To his great amusement she then said he liked strong women ….. he was a Gelis fan! Word reached us later that despite being an experienced speaker Henke had been dreadfully nervous the previous evening because with such a discerning group he wanted everything to be perfect – there was certainly no need to worry as he delivered a wonderfully informative and amusing talk on “The Flora and Fauna of Lymondshire” with a light touch and an immediate natural rapport with his audience. He reeled off a fascinating and diverse list of the creatures and plants which help make up the details that we all love in the books and illustrated many of them with slides and samples, and in the process revealed the true mystery of the Lymond Chronicles – which is of course the colour of Lady Culter’s curtains(!), as well as bringing the house down with a picture of two helmeted sheep!!

The excellence continued with Elspeth Morrison’s second seminar which had been moved to the larger lecture theatre due to high demand. She gave a lucid and entertaining account of the background history of the Scottish Stewart monarchs and the political and economic pressures they were faced with. With her extensive knowledge I’m sure that everyone came away with a far better understanding of the period.

Charles Burnett – Ross Herald since 1988 and one of three heralds of the Scottish Court gave an fine explanation of what he called “Dorothy’s Secret Vice” – the principles of heraldry (including why the Scottish system is better than the English one!!) and how they have been applied within the books. There were slides of the Trinity College altar piece and of the Unicorn chain on the effigy of Adorne in the Jerusalemkirk, as well as a look at the Knights of St. John. He then discussed the arms that were created for Lymond – including the seven vine leaves which became the symbol of the Gathering – before showing how the system worked in practice for Alastair Dunnett’s arms and then later Dorothy’s own.

Margaret Wilkes gave an illustrated talk on maps, which was very enlightening in showing just how poor the available maps and charts were for anyone undertaking long voyages – Nicholas and Lymond were truly venturing into the unknown on many of their trips. Even the “road maps” of the time were pretty useless from the point of view of navigation and told you little more than which order towns and cities would appear in on the journey. Amongst many pictures which I would have liked to be able to inspect for far longer was the Fra Mauro map which Nicholas discovered at Murano. This was a land map. 6.5 feet across. To our eyes it seemed hardly worth the bother but to him it would be invaluable. There was also a slide of Nicholas de Nicolai’s map of Scotland which was good for the time – a 1584 edition of an Italian map of Scotland still has it as an island!

Dorothy’s second and final talk covered the whole combined series. (Again I’ll save the details for later). The similarities and differences between the two heroes, their respective strengths and weaknesses, their motivations and relationships, as well as the connections and correspondences and the family links. By the end it was getting quite emotional as we all realised – Dorothy included – that this really was the end of an era and the last of the historical series.

After a signing session in which many people produced some very old and often embellished and annotated copies which Dorothy was delighted to see, we all had dinner before the preparations began for the second “undoubted highlight of the weekend” – The Nikado.

Simon Hedges and Cindy Byrne had been preparing for months – coaching, cajoling, persuading; rehearsing people across the net and sending CDs of the music and songs to countless parts of the world. A variety of people who had mostly never met were going to put on a complex performance involving difficult songs based mostly on Gilbert and Sullivan. It was an audacious undertaking as there was only a very short period available for rehearsal in the crowded schedule of the weekend. Most professional companies would have considered it impossible and ridiculed anyone mad enough to try it. I was involved in taking care of the PA system and as a one-time professional sound engineer I’ve seen many a first night fall in a heap under far more favourable circumstances. The result was far beyond anything I could have expected and I think beyond even Simon’s hopes. All the principles not only sang superbly well but acted their parts with bravado, The chorus sang with gusto (and in unison!), all the stage directions came together perfectly and the comic timing was exactly right. The audience was spellbound and Dorothy loved it – delighting in Simon’s superbly crafted songs, the jokes and the affectionate fun poked at the characters and plot of the books. A triumph for all concerned, who put such enthusiasm and love into making it such a success. I doubt that anyone who was there will ever forget it – a perfect finish to the weekend. (You can see some photographs of the performance on Simon’s website at

The Philadelphia Gathering will be taking place not long after you receive this newsletter. I originally toyed with the idea of going over there but finally decided that I needed a restful holiday and some time with my wife, so we’re heading off to Switzerland at the end of this week. I’m sure Philadelphia will be a great success too, and wish everyone a great time. Perhaps I’ll manage to get over to America or Canada and meet some of you in later years. As you know, Dorothy is doing an author tour after Philly and you can find the details of that on the Random House website if you haven’t already.

Some people have asked about whether I’ll keep producing these newsletters now that the historical series are finished. They’ll certainly continue, though they may not be as frequent as before depending on how much news there is. I already write most of them at home rather than at work so that isn’t a problem. There will doubtless be changes in all the Dunnett related activities; we already know that the US version of the discussion magazine – Marzipan & Kisses – will be closing in a year’s time, although the UK one – Whispering Gallery – is still getting plenty of contributions and will continue for the foreseeable future. The DD Foundation has been wound up but has been replaced by the DD Readers Association who kindly invited me to join their steering committee. We had the first meeting last weekend and there’ll be news of the developments in the next few months.

For now I’m off to get some more packing done for Switzerland!

very best wishes


Newsletter – 30th June 2000

The Gathering Approaches

We’re now getting pretty close to the Edinburgh Gathering so I’ve made some updates to the Dunnett Places to Visit page with some additional photographs of Linlithgow, Blackness, and Haddington and descriptions of some extra places which appear in Gemini.
We’ll be stocking quite a number of books out at Heriot Watt that are relevant to Dunnett history and geography as well as some other authors’ fiction that we hope you may like, and wherever possible these will be at a discount to attendees. The basic list of Dunnett related titles is the same as the one in the Dunnett Background Reading page but there will be some further additions to that anyway. Anyone who’s coming and would like a particular book to be stocked or who would like to suggest something that might be of interest to the others please contact me with your suggestions.

A Word About Edinburgh Weather

For those of you coming to Edinburgh a quick word about temperature and conditions in the area. We have a maritime climate with two very different seas on either side of the country, so unpredictable and fast changing weather is the norm. It has been a pretty poor summer so far and currently it’s rather cooler than would be expected for this time of year. Wednesday was positively cold (when we had to stand outside for an hour because of an electrical fire in the hairdressers shop next door) – mainly because of the chill and damp East wind off the North Sea which is often a feature of Spring, and quite a few fleece jackets suddenly made a reappearance. July is usually quite hot (in the 70s and 80s) but can also be wet. For this reason a small umbrella or a light wind and waterproof jacket is a good idea, while for those of you more accustomed to hot climates a spare pullover or similar may not go amiss. Of course we Scots will all be in shorts and tee-shirts complaining about the heat!!

Publishing News Article

When Gemini came out the UK trade magazine Publishing News asked me to write an article on Dorothy for them and I thought you might like to see it. I was a bit worried, as what they published was essentially a first draft (which I’d sent them to ask if that was the sort of thing they wanted) with four additional items added in and the whole thing rejigged to accommodate them in about 15 minutes flat when they were late getting back to me – but although it maybe isn’t as polished as I would have liked it came out looking not too bad. As published it took up about three quarters of the roughly A3 format and with a colour picture of the Gemini cover along with a b&w photo of Dorothy it makes a nice spread. Oh, and I didn’t choose the title for the piece!

Dunnett All
This week saw the publication of the concluding volume in Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series of historical novels. Bill Marshall of James Thin reflects on her remarkable life and work.

Forty years ago a book was published that changed the expectations of historical fiction readers forever and set a new standard for any writer venturing into this field. That book was Game of Kings and over the following years it became the six-volume Lymond Chronicles, introducing the world to Francis Crawford of Lymond, possibly the finest and most complex hero ever conceived in print and a character who has inspired a great many lookalikes. The author’s trademark was that his story was somehow seemlessly inserted into the landscape of 16th century Scottish and European history. Later, that series was followed by another, the House of Niccolo, set 100 years earlier and concerned with the rise of a humble dyeyard apprentice in Bruges, but gradually showing subtle connections to the first series. On the first of June this year, Gemini, the 8th and final volume of the House of Niccolo, completed the saga and brought us back to a point where we could follow the clues forward to the story that had been introduced back in 1961. “Prequels” have become popular in recent years following their use in TV and film but here was an entire series of them written years after the original – a fact made all the more remarkable when you consider that in between was five years of detailed and original research into Macbeth which produced the novel King Hereafter and a theory that is still being debated by historians today.

Amongst her legion of readers the creator of Lymond has become as legendary as her first hero; for the richness and wit of her writing, the astonishing depth and precision of her research, and not least for her readiness to respond to their many letters with charm and interest.
At 76, Dorothy Dunnett shows a vitality and brightness of eye that would be the envy of most people half her age and which provides a glimpse of the sharp erudite mind within, yet she manages to effortlessly put all-comers immediately at ease, whether speaking to 1800 Australians, as she did recently at the Adelaide Book Festival, American high-school students, or the highest people in the land. Tam Dalyell MP is a fan and friend as is the Duke of Buccleuch. Not that she always tells them what they want to know – her ability to provide interesting answers to questions on the labyrinthine plots of her stories while still managing to avoid giving away crucial aspects with as deft a touch as Lymond might employ deflecting a sword thrust, is a source of delight as well as frustration for anyone who has tried to predict the future course of the tale.

Surprisingly we might have been deprived of these classic books by the reticence of the early 1960s British publishing industry, as her first manuscript was repeatedly rejected as being too complex, and it was her late husband Alastair, then editor of The Scotsman newspaper, who saved the day by writing to Lois Cole, the American editor who had discovered Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind. Cole recognised Game of Kings as work of great importance straight away, and Dorothy was launched on her writing career. Curiously there are still far more US enthusiasts for her work than British.

Writing is only one of Dorothy’s careers; she was for a time a professional portrait painter and sculptress, and has been on the board of Scottish Television and the Scottish National Library amongst numerous business and public duties. In partnership with Alastair she has been a prime mover in many of the most important developments in Scottish culture and the Arts.

I first came across Dorothy’s writing in 1994 when I was setting up the first email account for James Thin, the 152 year old Edinburgh booksellers for whom I am now webmaster. Thins had been long involved in sending out the latest Dunnett volumes to a mailing list of mainly overseas readers who couldn’t wait for the later US publication dates and were happy to be able to order signed copies from her local bookshop. One customer included an email address on her letter and I answered it to speed up an urgent reply. Suddenly I found I was in touch with a network of internet connected fans who were delighted to find a new source of information. Soon I was spending lots of time answering questions about the books so when setting up our first web pages a few months later I naturally thought of including a page devoted to Dorothy and was bowled over by the response. That page grew into the largest and most popular section of our site and led me to meet Dorothy herself, and I was quickly persuaded that despite being a resolute non-fiction reader I must delve into her books myself and find out what the fuss was about – a decision I have never regretted

My Dunnett email newsletters which grew out of the web pages now reach around 800 people directly and many more indirectly, and that was echoed by the number of advance orders we had for the final book. The orders for Unicorn Hunt, the last one before my internet involvement, had been about 120, the next one (To Lie with Lions) rose to just over 200 while Caprice and Rondo was just over 400. May this year found Dorothy and I surrounded by 1000 copies of Gemini, which is over a ton of books (it’s a big book), checking, sorting and signing for three days prior to the big release. However any time spent in her company is never dull and we chatted about many aspects of her books as we worked, while she carefully made sure not to reveal any of the twists in Gemini lest she spoil it for me.

June 13th will see a reception and dinner in Edinburgh laid on by publisher Michael Joseph to celebrate the completion of what is in reality a 14 volume series, while July will see the Edinburgh Gathering taking place at Heriot Watt University. This is the latest in a series of conventions which have taken place over the years and will be attended by about 300 readers who will discuss a wide variety of topics relating to the books as well as hearing talks from Dorothy herself and from guest speakers. One of the highlights will be a grand dinner in the recently restored Great Hall of Stirling Castle, which is sure to provide an atmospheric background. One thing we can be sure of is that it will be a delightful evening with scintillating conversation, and that this remarkable woman will still be in fine form long after the rest of us have run out of energy.

What the future holds for her remains to be seen, but she intends to complete a series of mystery thrillers which she wrote some years ago as light relief from the historical novels, while it is also possible that she will return to the detailed research that makes the latter so convincing and this time give us as factual history of the periods in which she is so expert.


Dorothy’s Talk at the Shop

On Monday 12th June Dorothy gave a talk at our South Bridge shop in the same Events Room that we had filled with Gemini two weeks before. Despite making it an all ticket affair we still had about 20 extra people hoping to get in who mostly ended up peering round the door of the packed room.

I started things off with an entirely superfluous introduction which was broadly similar to my opening sentences of the Publishing News article. Dorothy recoiled in mock horror at the idea of it having been 40 years and I was able to hand over to her for the rest of the evening.
She started by paying tribute to everyone who had helped her over the years and kindly thanked the company for all their efforts in selling the books and corresponding with overseas customers – “without which the success of the books might not have happened”. She also described the three days that she and I spent with the “ton of Gemini” (a phrase that is now becoming legendary as it gets repeated by astonished Michael Joseph staff!) and the “danger” to the floor of the room that they were now seated in. She also made reference to the packet of “jube-jubes” which I’d purchased from a charity display in the staffroom, which was all we had to sustain us in our work! 😉

She then asked how many in the audience had read Gemini – there were very few, so she was very guarded about the contents to avoid spoiling their enjoyment.

There was a brief resume of basic plot ideas and there was the suggestion of Scottish Plan being real but against only the St Pols.
She mentioned that the sites of many of the Edinburgh scenes are still in existence and this was one of the great delights in the research and writing. The Floory Land is still there at Jeffrey St. and records still exist of the trades of the people living there. Leith property records still exist too.

Of the major historic events, Fotheringay records still exist but Lauder is more confused. She came to realise during her research that the people who recorded events in those times placed no importance on facts but wrote for the present and the effects that they might have. This makes the job of historians much more difficult that it might seem.

Her reading list was up to 739 books for House of Niccolo before she stopped counting. Primary sources were essential – Exchequer Records, Parliamentary Records, Great Seal of Scotland, etc.

She then gave a reading – the Kathi spying scene. The section beginning and ending with:
“Settling into her life as a spy…..
……. like a warmly comatose bear with a cub.”
And including that lovely piece of wry humour about the pigeons that were fed but also cooked.

We then moved onto a Questions & Answer session
The first one concerned the relationship between Nicholas and Umar – just a deep friendship.

What advice did she have to aspiring writers of historical fiction? – Read a lot of it but ignore styles. It’s not easy to find your own voice.

What will you write in the future? – “Depends when I go gaga”. She would like to do some pure history following up on her past researches. She also responded positively to the requests for a final JJ, which of course she has already said that she would like to do to finish off the series. (The final results of that depend on the publisher of course).

Why the time period of Niccolo? – because it was still in the Renaissance, and there were the fascinating aspects of numeracy, banking, double book-keeping, and people coming up from trading classes.

Where did you do the research for Timbuktu? – It was too dangerous to go there as everyone was being warned off. Ironically, after finishing SoG she met someone who’d just been there on package holiday! Fortunately there was a lot to be read on it.

What about the Companion? – there will be an announcement quite soon. Negotiations and arrangements are still under way and it’s not clear yet exactly what will happen.

When writing Lymond had she any ideas of Niccolo? – No, the idea only came up after writing KH.

There was some discussion of various internet related stuff such as the numbers of people and messages, and the Gathering, and she mentioned having to write different speeches for each appearance now because often the details of each one has appeared on the net by the time she gets to the next one.

Films? – Once there was a proposal for a 13 episode TV version of GK, but it fell through.

Were you sad to say goodbye to Nick? – Yes, she wrote the last words of Gemini on Guy Fawkes night. Richenda was bereft at finishing it.

What suggested James IIIs medical background? – Related to “the madness of King George III”. It has been traced back to Mary Queen of Scots, so it was quite possible that it went back further in the Stewarts. James II was “James of the fiery face”, and there is a portrait of him which shows this – most unusual for the time. This was held by historians to be a birthmark but Dorothy suspected that it might be porphyria as it would explain his often erratic behaviour. It’s possible that even Robert the Bruce’s “leprosy” may be down to that, as leprosy was a name attached to a great many skin complaints.

She mentioned that the period of James III was also the time of Blind Harry, which was a useful aspect. The poem worked very much like an early version of Braveheart in stoking up passions.

One member of the audience had visited Murano, and came across Eleanor of the Tyrol’s coat of arms. Dorothy mentioned that Eleanor had sent James a translation of a book. She went to visit the Earl of Crawford on a social engagement and there in his library was the book by Eleanor! Not only that but over each of the doorways there was a Delarobbia painting.

That being the end of the questions I finished by asking the last one – whether Richenda had guessed the ending. We resolved to ask her the following night.

After thanking Dorothy and wishing everyone the best of enjoyment in reading Gemini, I closed that section of the evening with a round of applause for her and we moved to the signing and chat which kept us going until 9.00pm.
(We took a couple of photographs during the evening which I’ll have on the website shortly)


Michael Joseph’s Champagne Reception

The following evening Michael Joseph held a champagne reception for Dorothy at the prestigious New Club in Princes Street, which has superb views over to the Castle. The Managing Director of Michael Joseph was there along with a number of their staff and editor Richenda Todd and agent Vivian Schuster. There was a good representation of the Edinburgh literary scene, including Magnus Linklater, who followed Alastair as Scotsman editor, and Jenny Brown who was the first administrator of the Book Festival, as well as lots of old friends and collaborators and a rare appearance by Mungo and Ninian. Amongst a number of interesting conversations I had was one with Dorothy’s next door neighbour who is a retired Professor of Mediaeval French who had supplied some invaluable material on Nicholas’ Play in particular. At the end of a couple of hours there was a presentation to Dorothy of a framed original picture of the Gemini cover and an affectionate tribute to which she replied in her inimitable style – finishing by suggesting that there might still be a few more book launches to come!

After that a small band of us made the short trip up to Castlehill for an excellent dinner at the atmospheric Witchery restaurant. With more wine and champagne things get a bit hazy at this point(!!) but our combined experience of many different facets of Dorothy’s work made sure that conversation never lapsed even when we temporarily ran out of other things to talk about. It was particularly nice to get a chance to speak to Richenda for a longer period and I’m sure that she has many more fascinating insights on the production of Niccolo.

One fellow diner who came over to see us from the other side of the restaurant turned out to be an old friend of Dorothy’s – Michael Shea, who was for many years the Queen’s Press Secretary. Even those of us who know that she seems to know everyone felt our jaws dropping a little at this point! The friend with whom he was eating turned out to have also met her many years ago and he reminded her that he had been an expert in the dyeing industry and that she had asked him back then – what would an old dyeyard be like…… and what would it be like if one went on fire? !!!!!

The following morning would see Dorothy off doing a whistlestop signing round of nine Scottish bookshops and at the end of that week she would be off round the rest of the UK for two weeks – finishing the book is just the beginning for a popular author, the hard work comes afterwards! However despite that it was still after midnight before we started to head for home.


Finally, a couple of weeks ago an article appeared in The Scotsman that had immediate resonance for a Lymond fan. One of their former columnists, Peter Clarke, has been restoring Kirkhope Tower, which he bought from the Duke of Buccleuch seven years ago. Kirkhope was the fortified home of Wat Scott, and Clarke has come across a cache of 16 silver and gold coins which were apparently hidden by him in the 16th century during a siege. The coins apparently amount to about a years wages for a tradesman of the time and include one minted in Brandenburg in Germany in 1560, which was probably traded at Berwick.

Look forward to seeing some of you at the Edinburgh Gathering.

Best wishes.

Mini-Newsletter – A Ton of Gemini – 26th May 2000

Greetings everyone. This is just a quick note to tell you how the deliveries of Gemini are coming along.

They arrived late last week, a few days later than I’d hoped, and the first shock was just how heavy they really were – 1.1kg each. We had 816 advance orders at that time (more than double Caprice and Rondo) and took delivery of 1000 copies so that is 1.1 metric tonnes of Gemini. (as my muscles will testify since I had to open them all myself!!) I took a couple of pictures of the sea of books as we sorted them – they filled our events room – and will put them on the website once they’re developed. People were coming up just to look at the spectacle and wonder if the floor would hold up!

Dorothy and I went in on Saturday and again on Monday (which was a UK holiday) and were there until 8pm, me opening the packets, inserting the order details and passing them to Dorothy for her to sign and where possible personalise the copies. Then me sorting them into countries. At that point there were about 500 for the US, 147 for the UK, about 35 each for Canada and Australia, as well as substantial amounts for New Zealand and Germany, plus all the smaller amounts for Japan, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Eire, France, etc. etc. though more orders are coming in all the time.

We managed to get 860 of the 1000 copies signed which gave us a few spare but the additional orders have exhausted those and Dorothy is coming in this afternoon to sign the final 120. Since Monday we’ve been frantically packing the books and checking credit card details for charging. With so many copies it is a long long job. We’ve already sent out the books for Australia, New Zealand and other far flung places like South Africa on Wednesday and Thursday, Canada went out Thursday and this morning. For the US copies there are so many of them that after looking into the various options we decided that the best and fairest method was to send them all at once by a bulk airmail carrier who have promised that they will deliver door-to-door in “a few days”. This should mean far more consistency than using the normal postal system. We are about half way through the packing and charging of these and the despatch staff are coming in over the weekend to work extra hours on it. We hope to send them off on Tuesday or Wednesday (Monday is another public holiday and the carrier is closed then). There are a few that we’ve found have either invalid or expired card details or seem to have duplicated orders and we are attempting to contact everyone affected at the moment. The UK copies will go out as soon as they are packaged up.

So now we all cross our fingers and hope that there are no postal service strikes, no airmail planes falling out of the sky and no hurricanes or tornadoes!

It’s probably worth mentioning to those that were worried by the cost of the book and the strength of the pound, that in the last few weeks the pound/dollar exchange rate has fallen from 1.65 to the current 1.48. Not sure exactly how the other currencies have been doing but I think they are better than they were. I should also say that the real costs of airmail postage have turned out to be considerably higher than expected because the book is so large and because of recent postage increases. In effect you are getting a discount of about 3-4 pounds on the price.

Oh yes, by the way, I’ve been reading my copy in the early hours of the morning and so far it’s superb!

Personal Appearances

Three dates have so far been fixed for promotional appearances where Dorothy will give a short reading and then answer questions and sign books.

Monday 12th June
Edinburgh – James Thin South Bridge, 7.00pm
Tel: 0131 6228278

Monday 26th June
Manchester – Waterstone’s Deansgate 6.30pm
Tel: 0161 837 3080

Tuesday 27th June
Leeds – Waterstone’s 93/97 Albion Street, 7pm
Tel: 0113 244 4588

US Tour

There is also good news for the US readers. There will be a promotional tour in September around the same time as the Philadelphia Gathering. Dorothy will probably be in the US for about 2-3 weeks altogether. No details of the individual appearances as yet, but as soon as she hears anything I’ll pass them on.

Ahh, as I write this I’ve just been told that Penguin have duplicated the 1000 copies of Gemini and our Goods Inward Dept are going crazy. Who’d be a bookseller? I think I need to lie down in a darkened room.

Best wishes and fast postal deliveries.