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.

Newsletter – 3rd May 2000

Greetings from a surprisingly warm and sunny Edinburgh. Very odd weather patterns just now – we had three inches of rain in 24 hours a few days ago and there was a lot of flooding, then suddenly we’re into a heatwave. Apparently in Norway, just over the North Sea, it was 28 degrees C the other day as against a normal temperature of 8 at this time of year.

This newsletter should have been ready a few weeks ago, but as some of you are aware, my mum had a severe stroke at the beginning of April so my time has been rather restricted. I’d like to thank everyone who has been in touch offering advice or sympathy – this has been a great source of comfort at a difficult time. Please excuse me if I don’t manage to reply to everyone in person.
I’m glad to say that mum has been making some progress in the last few days and seems to understand more of what we say to her and tries to respond. Yesterday was her 75th birthday and she seemed to enjoy the flowers and presents dad and I took in.


Everything seems on course for Gemini to be published in the UK on the 1st June as planned. I haven’t yet had a definite date for when we can get our copies delivered for Dorothy to sign but hope to find out in the next week. We now have 775 advance orders!! Naturally this is going to take a while for Dorothy to sign and for us to package and process, but rest assured that as in previous years we’ll get through them as fast as possible.

The press launch won’t be till a couple of weeks later as there is likely to be a launch event here in Edinburgh to commemorate the achievement of completing such a mammoth series. As the head of Michael Joseph is going to be in the US on business at the date of publication, and wants to attend the event, the press launch is thus a little later than usual.

I don’t yet have details of the author talks and signings that will be taking place after Gemini is out – they haven’t been fixed yet but it’s likely that there will be one here with us in Edinburgh, and one each in Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. I’ll post details when they are available.

In case any of you haven’t yet seen it, I added the Gemini cover to the web site a few weeks ago. I’m not allowed to give you the blurb but I think I can tell you that the castle in the picture is Craigmillar Castle just south of Edinburgh.

Dorothy hasn’t told me anything about what’s in it as she doesn’t want to spoil it for me. I have spoken to someone who has read the manuscript and described it as absolutely wonderful. There are apparently lots of loose ends tied up but one or two left for us to argue about – but then you didn’t expect it any other way did you?

Dorothy’s Australian Visit

In March Dorothy spent some time in Australia visiting Adelaide for the Writer’s Week where she had both a solo talk and took part in a panel session with Melvyn Bragg, Roger McDonald and Hilary Mantel. This was followed by a number of promotional events in places such as the Mosman Library in New South Wales. All the appearances were a great success, frequently going well beyond their planned times, and quite a lot of our net connected Australian contingent were able to see and speak to her.

Events in the UK

Dorothy took part in a “Meet the Author” event at Duff House in Banff in February, hosted by Charles Burnett – Ross Herald who some readers will have heard speak on heraldry.

She also spoke to the Friends of Dunkeld Cathedral in that lovely Perthshire town on 12th April. She tells me that attendance was double the normal figure and she spoke on some of her King Hereafter research that was relevant to the Cathedral – specifically the detective work which was required to isolate King Duncan’s father, the Crinan Abbott of Dunkeld. A copy of her notes has been placed in the Cathedral archives.

She will once again be taking part in the Edinburgh Book Festival – on the 23rd August. More details as they appear.

On the 6th and 7th of September Dorothy will be speaking at Greywalls Hotel in Gullane – quite close to the famous Muirfield golf course, a venue she has appeared at on a number of occasions before. Greywalls House is a splendid building designed by the famous architect Sir Edward Lutyens at the beginning of the 20th century, and offers a more relaxed and informal atmosphere than can sometimes be the case at author events. Tickets are £30.00 including lunch. They have a website for further information, ( and suggest that readers who wish to meet up may find the 7th the best day for this though they will be welcome on either date.

There a couple of events taking place during the Edinburgh Festival which might be of interest to early music fans. The first takes place at the beautiful Roslin Chapel (which is mentioned in the Dunnett Places to Visit page) on Monday 14th August and is devoted to the music of Bruno of Toul. Devotees of King Hereafter will know that Bruno of Toul was the name of Pope Leo IX who was visited in Rome by Macbeth There is a special bus from Edinburgh to the chapel. Tickets are likely to be in short supply as the chapel is quite small, and you will need to contact the Festival organisers.
The second takes place on the 18th August in Trinity Apse, which although now moved to the High Street and much smaller than it was previously, was featured in a number of the Niccolo series. The music being performed there is of the French court in the 13th century.

Additions to the web pages

I’ve added two new sections to the Dunnett pages:

Background Reading
contains a list of books that some of you may find useful for further reading on the history of the periods that Dorothy’s books are set in. It’s currently mostly Scottish books but I hope to add anything that is available on European history shortly. Any suggestions are very welcome.

Scottish Links
is a page derived from my own links pages (I have a series of interlinked pages that I use as my home page instead of going to someone else’s portal) and contains links that I hope will be of interest and some of which will be especially useful if you are coming to the Edinburgh Gathering.


More “Answers from Dorothy”

The Answers page was getting rather large so I’ve split it into five sections – New Answers, General, Lymond, Niccolo and King Hereafter.
Here are some new items.


Q. The Dossiers – Who wrote them?
Two extra “Dossiers” were produced with a series of Medici messages and a section written as if from “the Greek with the Wooden Leg”. Did
DD (a) write the “Dossiers” or (b) approve the material contained therein?

A. “Now there’s an ominous question. Both the Dossiers were written by me, at the suggestion of the publisher, who was concerned about the best way of introducing new readers to what was going to be a long series. I make sure, when I’m writing, that it is possible to pick up the threads of past books, but a summary can make it simpler, and I volunteered to write something that might seem a bit jollier than a straight resume. One Dossier was attributed to a mysterious outsider who was going to appear in most of the books, and the other derived from a superb pile of extant Medici correspondence from which I could fake an exchange of letters that would convey what I wanted. I haven’t looked at then since I wrote them but it sounds as if they have turned out to be non-se (or serially correct) in some instance? Do say!”

Dame de Doubtance

Q. I’ve never been comfortable with the thought of Lymond being a ‘believer’ in the Dame’s schemes and prophecies. Someone recently suggested that his identifying her with Camilla of the Volscians was a process of distancing himself from her – putting his free will against her playing ‘fate’.
(my comment): This question seems to come from the fact that some people interpret the final scene in Checkmate as Francis and Phillippa, kneeling on the prayer-stool, putting themselves in the hands of the D de D while others see them as having shaken off her influence and saying they are going to do things their own way. Those who think the former are often uneasy with the idea and look for things to suggest that it might not be so. The Camilla of the Volscians idea is one of these.

A. “The Dame (emphatically, by the way, not my alter ego. No wig and the only livestock I ever kept was a budgie) was called Camille, and the Volscian was no more than a baroque image that seemed to fit her grotesque/eccentric character, and lent itself to later associations. I don’t want to pre-empt the last book, but thinking people do hit on various ways of trying to shape the future for the better, and practical and spiritual influences both play a part. If it helps, the most important words spoken to the Dame de Doubtance on the last page of Checkmate are simply, ‘We are here’.”

Female Wanderings Without Chaperones

Q. There have been a couple of interesting threads about the unchaperoned and servantless travels of some of DD’s women – Kathi in Edinburgh and Gelis in Africa, to mention two. Can DD enlighten us about this? Like others, I thought that all women of good breeding were kept pretty close at hand.

A. “Happily, the system worked on about seven different levels so there’s a get-out clause from almost everything which is just as well, because I probably forgot or got fed up with chaperones more than once and just left them out of the scene The ideal, operated in the upper echelons of the most highly developed social enclaves (the Italian city-states and all wealthy courts) required unmarried maidens to be escorted by well-bred female companions. A lot of them would be in convents anyway, or being trained in superior households. In big working towns like Bruges and Edinburgh and York, they probably battled about quite cheerfully with members of their own household – a maidservant to carry things and a groom if required. Once you strayed into the unknown, like Africa, all bets were off because you had to be crazy to go anyway and any chaperone you dragged with you would likely desert or die. So it depended where you were, and also who you were. Poor little Portuguese demoiselle from a lower-middle drawer disappearing on her own for an afternoon might find her marriage hopes wrecked, but the rich and the powerful and the well-born could get away with bastards, lovers and murder, and frequently did.”

“Married ladies of a certain status were also expected to be accompanied, and you would find this with people like Alessandra Strozzi in Florence. But I doubt if the Duchess Eleanor in the Tyrol paid much attention to escorts for the sake or propriety, and in business settings, again, some of the wealthiest and most active merchants were married women and widows, who would use their household staff for practical purposes but would generally have the freedom of men. The 15th century is a long way off the 18th century, and it had its (rather endearing) rough side.”

Art Training

Q. I’d be interested to know if Dorothy attended art college and if so which one, or if she was self-taught in painting.

A. “Art was one of my Higher Leaving Certificate passes at school (Higher English, Latin, French, Maths, Art and – Lower History). Enrolled, with portfolio, at evening and book illustration classes at Edinburgh College of Art; transferred on marriage to Glasgow School of Art (wonderful Rennie Mackintosh building) for same evening subjects; signed on for new portrait-painting class which hit the button, and after one term’s tuition, had my portrait of my Father-in-law accepted for the annual exhibition of the MacLellan Galleries, where it was noticed and reported on in newspaper review by Dr Honeyman, the Director of Glasgow’s museums and galleries. Portrait painting career began at that point. Later, back in Edinburgh, l took some refresher day life classes after the birth of my family – and that’s it.”

Dragut’s Smile – What did it mean?

Q. While I have long been converted to the fact that Kuzum is Gabriel & Joleta’s offspring, there is a small part of my brain that continues to wonder why Dragut smiled when he returned Gabriel’s money and announced that the child was of no value to his parents or the Sultan and that he intended to sell him. This seems like a good time for the switch to have been made.

A. “Whatever happened later, I rather think that Dragut was simply amusing himself at that point with another variation in the mild game he was playing with Lymond and Gabriel. Of the two he rather preferred Lymond – he’d already offered to kill Gabriel for him, and warned him of Gabriel’s plans for Scotland. Lymond goes to save Scotland (contrast with anyone else we know?) but has failed so far to kill Gabriel, which Dragut was rather hoping for. All this while, the corsair has been harbouring the child, the pawn, whom he knows to be Gabriel’s lever against Lymond, and whom Dragut might therefore find useful. But if the child and the woman die soon, the game is off. Therefore Dragut alerts Gabriel that the child is going to die or be sold, to see what Gabriel will do. He probably anticipates what will actually happen – Gabriel will tell Lymond that he has a son, and the duel will transfer itself back to the Mediterranean, where Dragut can take a direct hand if he likes.”

Will be back in touch with news of Gemini as it comes out.

best wishes to you all


Newsletter – 12th January 2000

Greetings from a very windy Edinburgh. Hope the New Year celebrations were excellent (and have worn off now!!) and not too many of you are suffering from the flu which seems to be everywhere at the moment.

First piece of news is the imminent release of new versions of the Penguin Niccolos. They are appearing in slightly larger format with completely redesigned covers not unlike those used for the Vintage Lymonds. They all have attractive paintings on the front and are in a larger and much easier to read typeface. The first four are due out this month and the rest will appear in March. The price remains UKP 7.99 and rather surprisingly the ISBNs remain the same as before. I’ve added scans to the web site so you can take a look at them – go to the Book News page or straight to the Book Covers page.
Anyone wanting to place orders for any of them can do so from the Bibliography page hotlinks as usual – it might be best to mention in the comments box of the checkout that it’s the new cover editions that you want, particularly for the last three, just to be sure.

For those who like to know what the pictures are:

Niccolo Rising – View of a Market Place by Hendrik Steenwyck (1550-1603)

Spring of the Ram – detail from A Sultan Receiving tribute by Giovanni Antonio Guardi (1699-1760)

Race of Scorpions – detail from View of Naples depicting the Araganese fleet re-entering the port after the Battle os Ischia in 1442, attribited to Francesco Rosselli (1445-c1513)

Scales of Gold – detail from The Meeting of Etherius and Ursula and the Departure of the Pilgrims, from the St. Ursula Cycle, 1498 by Vittore Carpaccio

Unicorn Hunt – detail from The Book of Hours: May, c1540 by Simon Bening

To Lie with Lions – Gerrit deVeer Narrative of Barent’s last voyage, 1598. Ship of William Barent’s fleet caught in ice

Caprice and Rondo – details from Namadic Encampment from a ‘Khamsa’ by Nizami, Tabriz, East Azerbaijan, Persian, Safavid dynasty, 1539-43
Another page which I’ve updated on the website is the Dunnett Places to Visit page. I’ve been able to pinch some pictures from various of our new Mercat Press books and some that we took over from the Stationery Office last year. As I mentioned a few weeks ago to the members of the discussion groups the page was becoming a little slow to load as it grew larger, so I’ve taken the main pictures off the page and used thumbnail links instead which makes the load time much better. Since then I’ve also added some extra places and details into the lists. This is still very much an ongoing project so if you have a place you’d like to see added just let me know.


Dorothy’s Australian Visit

I’ve been trying to get the full details of this but there are still some things to be finalised. What we know about at the moment is as follows:

In Adelaide on the opening day of the Writer’s Week on Sunday 5th March she’s speaking in a solo session at 1pm.
On Wednesday 8th she’ll be in a Panel Session on historical fiction with Melvyn Bragg, Roger McDonald and Hilary Mantel from 2.30-3.45
In Sydney she’ll have a public event arranged by Penguin at a so-far unknown bookshop on either Monday 13th or Tuesday 14th before flying home on the Wednesday.
Anyone in Australia who subscribes to Whispering Gallery will receive details of the events from Penguin once they are settled.


Events in the UK

Dorothy will be speaking at a “Meet the Author” event in Banff on Saturday 5th Feb at 5pm at Duff House, hosted by Charles Burnett – Ross Herald who some readers will have heard speak on heraldry.

She will once again be taking part in the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, but the date has yet to be fixed.


Some Sad Non-Dunnett News

For those that haven’t already heard, two very well known historical fiction writers have died in the last week. Patrick O’Brian the nautical writer best known for his Aubrey-Maturin series died in Dublin at the age of 85.
Nigel Tranter the Scottish writer and historian and a friend of Dorothy’s, died of the flu on Sunday at the age of 90. He was so prolific that there are a number of his books still in the pipeline – he was usually about 3 or 4 books ahead of his publishers. He was largely responsible for putting many Scots back in touch with their history and was closely connected with the moves over many years to establish the Scottish Parliament.


More “Answers from Dorothy”

Q. Is Nicholas in any way inspired by a Flemish story about a character called Claus?
In the beginning of June I brought two books home from the library. One was Caprice and Rondo. The other was From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner. I read Caprice and Rondo until my eyes hurt and I had a devil of a time getting up from work. Then I started the more scholarly work on fairy tales. In Ms. Warner’s book there is a discussion of a Flemish collection of tales, c. 1475, called Les Evangiles des quenouilles. In it an old lady, Dame Abreye l’Enflee’ tells the story of her Uncle Claus from Bruges who travels to the monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai. There he meets a stork who speaks Flemish. The stork gives him a ring from his wife Mal Cenglee (Badly Beaten) on the condition that she will no longer be mistreated. Is this the character upon whom Nicholas de Fleury is based? Are there any more Claus tales from that book? What geographical, political, or commercial importance did St. Catherine’s have that travelers sought out the community? I have always been awed how Mrs. Dunnett has made economic history so vastly compelling. I have never met any practitioners of the dismal science who have ever come close.

A. What a delightful discovery! No, I’ve never heard of these tales. Claes (not Claus) was simply a common abbreviation for Nicholas. The choice of Mt. Sinai is also pure coincidence – it fitted the plot and purpose of my story. Its importance is pretty well described I think in Unicorn hunt. For Greek orthodox monks, it was sacred because of Moses, the Burning Bush, the body of St. Catherine etc. Pilgrims desiring grace left wonderful gifts, hence the treasures preserved through the centuries. And in general of course it had strategic importance.

Q. Is Thorfinn descended from Einar?
I wish to ask a question about Thorfinn. Was he descended from Einar, Third Earl (Jarl) of Orkneys? Einar was the son of Rognvald the Wolf, who was cousin to King Harald Fairhair and mentioned in the Heimskringla quite a bit. Einar was called by the locals “Torf Einar” as he introduced the burning of peats to the locals. His half brother Rollo achieved fame as the first Duke of Normandy and ancestor of the Royals. This is part of my family’s 1100 year history. Thorfinn is my all time favorite character in literature and I’d love to find a connection no matter how feeble. Of course at this remove, they’re all feeble!

A. I’m so glad that you like Thorfinn. And how nice to be descended from Torf Einar! (What do you cook by?). According to the family trees you read in the Icelandic Sagas, Torf-Einar was the son of Rognvald of More the Mighty, and Einar was the father of Arnkel, Erlend and also of Thorfinn Skull-splitter, who married Grelaud, daughter of Duncan, Earl of Caithness by Groa, daughter of Thorstein the Red. Sons of this Thorfinn were Arnfinn, Havard, Ljot, Skuli and Hlodvir. Hlodvir married the daughter of an Irish King and became the father of Sigurd the Stout, who married twice. By his first wife, Sigurd had three sons, Somerled, Brusi and Einar Wrymouth. Sigurd’s second wife was the daughter of King Malcolm of Scotland. Their son, and King Malcolm’s grandson, was King Hereafter’s Earl Thorfinn the Mighty, who was therefore great-great-grandson of Torf-Einar. How’s that?

Q. How do you approach your quotations?
I would be very interested in exploring DD’s choice of quotations. Did she go looking for quotations to fit the bill, or use quotations from works she was already familiar with because they seemed to fit, or a bit of both? Were they a product of the store of information she already had, which presented themselves in the heat of creation, or part of her preparatory reading, or later inserts in a framework already written ? I’m imagining the scene written with ‘blank for quote’ and suitable quote later inserted. If the first, she really has a fabulous store of information in the memory cells.

This question (from Diana Crane) came out of a discussion about following up quotations to see if they illuminated the story they were included in, and in particular in the story of Sir Gowther. The following extract from one of the messages gives the background for those who aren’t familiar with the story.

I forget now who first pointed out the interest in reading on in poems and sources quoted by DD, which I consider one of the most exciting and fruitful insights I’ve received in five or so years of Dunnett sharing. Heike has been showing us how interesting it can be for KH.

To recap the story briefly, Gowther’s mother is barren and about to be put aside by her husband when she meets a fiend in the orchard in the shape of her husband and lies with him. At the end he resumes fiendly shape and tells her she will conceive, so she hastens to make love to her husband the same night. The fiendish offspring is born and shows his qualities immediately, killing numbers of wetnurses and tearing his mother’s nipple, having been born with teeth. He grows fast and wreaks all sorts of mayhem, fighting and killing. His worst crime is to burn a convent of nuns, having first raped them ( the rape is omitted in one version ). Eventually an elderly count remonstrates with him and suggests he is the child of a fiend. Gowther goes to his mother to demand the truth of her : at first she says he is the child of his putative father, then tells him the truth. Gowther is devastated, goes to seek pardon of the Pope, performs a severe penance and is forgiven eventually, meets his truelove, marries and inherits his father-in-law’s dukedom. Afterwards he lives a blameless and happy life and puts up a new convent on the site of the one he burned.
There is a footnote on the ‘Devil’s contract’ theme in folklore. ‘The child is subject to diabolic influence from whose dominion it is freed by its own ingenuity or the intervention of Providence. Stith Thompson remarks . . . Gowther . . . was not to blame for his demonic association, since the fault lay entirely with his mother.’

I thought there were quite a few things of interest, which at the very least could explain why that particular quote came to Lymond’s mind. For example, the birth secret, the child demanding the truth about his birth from his mother, the responsibility of the mother’s sin for the disorder of the child, the child’s responsibility or possible responsibility for the death by burning of a convent of nuns, with a suspicion of sexual misconduct with one of them thrown in. In the printed version of Gowther the motive for setting the convent to the torch seems to be at least partly to hide the evidence of the sexual misconduct and I think there are insinuations in GoK ( which of course I don’t believe 😉 ) that Lymond might have wanted to silence Eloise because of possible incest between them. All in all, fascinating stuff.

A. For the Lymond series, I began reading in the late 1950’s every poem or song I could find of the 16th century or earlier. Some of it I didn’t note down, but (fortunately, forty years later) I did make a note of striking passages that were relevant to the story I knew I was going to tell. I repeated the process before and during the Niccolo series.

Before I write a chapter, I scan and memorise all the material I am going to use -place, people, clothes, climate, plot requirements, language and quotes. Then I put all my notes aside, let it simmer, and sit down and write the complete chapter straight through, inventing on the basis of what I’ve assimilated. Sometimes I’ll kick myself because I’ve forgotten a brilliant quotation, but it never looks right when it’s stuck in afterwards.

Stemming from this: sometimes a whole poem/song is significant, like the ones Lymond chose for his Hotel d’Hercules banquet, and I’m so pleased that someone has thought of hunting out the full references. At other times, the quotation enters the character’s mind because of a single appropriate word or phrase, and the subsequent verses have no special significance. I don’t know how to help you distinguish one type from the other, except by saying that references to whole poems generally occur at moments of high emotion – mill, what hast thou ground – or those instances where Lymond cannot bear to listen.

I’m mortified that I can’t remember where I quoted Gowther, and you’ve probably been cleverer than I have in noticing the parallels. Writing the book, I wasn’t particularly concerned to make much of Eloise, and I’m not sure that I’d intentionally add to the poignancy by attaching a meaningful poem. But again, I may just have forgotten. The opportunist accusations about Eloise were meant to obscure and delay the correct reading of Lymond’s character, but to be wholly discounted later on. Even Lymond’s unwitting responsibility for his sister’s death was of less importance to the chronicle, or even to him, than other things that were to happen to people he loved as an adult.

Another of Heike’s King Hereafter Questions

Q. In p.4, ch.14, Sulien and Thorfinn discuss the Threefold Death prophecy. T. says: ‘A German historian and a French poet told such a story of Alexander the Great, and because of another poet called John, a prophecy came to rest against my name.’ Is he speaking about Otto von Freising, Walter of Chatillon and John Maior?

A. Again, without my notes, the following is a series of half-recollections. This particular pronouncement of Lulach’s refers to the trick of the Walking Wood, which becomes attached to the Macbeth legend, 400 years after his time, in the form of the doom-story about Birnam Wood marching to Dunsinane. It is lifted from classic folk lore, and the nearest example of that, for Scots poets and ballad-makers, is in the Buik ofAlexander, based on the French Les Voeux du Paon. The John I was thinking of is probably John Barbour, whose work on The Bruce inspired Wyntoun, who dreamed up the Birnam story. I can’t now remember who the German historian was – his name might not be known – but you might be able to trace his work if you follow back the Alexander the Great/Walking Wood references in early literature.


Confessions of a Dunnett Reader

It’s a long time since I gave you any of my own impressions – in fact it was away back when I first started Niccolo Rising. Partly due to lack of space and partly due to my inconsistent reading patterns I’ve never really had a chance to follow up on this, but there is also the fact that in many ways it’s harder to talk about the individual Niccolos in isolation because there is much less separation in the volumes and more inter-relation between different scenes spread right across the series. I am now part way through To Lie with Lions and in some ways I feel I’m only now beginning to see the threads develop in a way that can be understood and theorised about. Whether they are being understood correctly of course is another matter entirely!!

General impressions – I liked Katelina in many ways but she wasn’t the highly intelligent heroine that she would have needed to be to be the star of the story – or even to survive. She seemed to be rather born out of her time as well, and wanted a level of romance in her life which maybe wasn’t possible in that time. She sadly didn’t have the foresight to accept a marriage to a much older man which would then later release her to a position of more independence. In as much as he could at the time I rather think Nick did love her or at least was very fond of her, but he is lacking part of the character makeup that would allow him to really commit to her even if she hadn’t been married to Simon by then. I’m sure he was able to love Marion – but it was partly a mother substitute feeling rather than a well-rounded love. I know some people criticise Nick and Katelina for the waterfall scene, but I have more sympathy for them. Quite apart from the aftermath of the rescue from a phobic death I think that Katelina was on an emotional roller-coaster caused by living with Simon and FFJ and thinking alternately that she loved/hated/loved Nick. It’s an intensly emotional moment and the sort of reaction that real human beings would have.

Like, I’m sure, many others, I didn’t like Gelis as a youngster and then came to like her a lot in the African sections of Scales of Gold. The manner of the betrayal, and the realisation that it all must have been planned for a long time and carried through with Oscar-winning acting ability was a stunning shock. I’ve been noting the times in the later books when we (often unexpectedly) get her point of view and it seems confused and frightened underneath the iron composure. Where has she received these ideas about Nicholas, and whose viewpoint has influenced her? – it seems to me that there is more going on than just revenge for her sister and that someone has been feeding her a very biased view for their own ends, but who? It would surely have to be someone who goes back a long way, so is it an enemy or could it be someone we think is a friend?

Which brings us to Anselm Adorne – hero or villain, is he part of the Vatachino from the beginning or does he merely join in an alliance with them after the Cairo/Sinai events. At the moment I’m inclined to believe him basically honourable and sometimes causing harm in the midst of business ventures as happens sometimes.

Kathi is a delight – a real breath of fresh air – and I can see why some people would like her to be The One as the similarities with Phillippa are striking. A bright intellect and a very sensitive nature – maybe even a touch of psychic ability too – she seems one of the very few to have any real understanding of Nicholas. Though of course no-one really knows him because he doesn’t yet know himself.
Has he even yet recovered from Umar’s death and the later revelations about the manner of it I wonder. It’s hard to overstate just how much his world must have fallen apart with the combined effects of the news on the wedding night after having been so happy beforehand. Obviously Simon bore much of the brunt of his anger at the Salt Pans and it was in some ways surprising that he didn’t kill him – but then that never seems to be his aim.

Of the others, Tobie seems to vary alarmingly in regards to when he’s sympathetic and when he isn’t, while Julius seems to be a complete airhead!! How can he run a bank and be so lacking in awareness? I do however like John’s typically Scots engineer’s logic and attitude, and he occasionally has some great lines.

Well I could go on like this for pages and pages but I’d better stop for now. Once I finish TLWL and C&R I’ll see if I can come to any more profound (?) views about what going to happen next and where the connections are…. and then they’ll no doubt be demolished completely by Gemini 😉 For any real insight I’m sure a number of re-reads are mandatory – what a pity we can’t read in our sleep!

best wishes to you all