Newsletter – 3rd October 98

Greetings from a somewhat grey Edinburgh – after our glorious 3 day “Indian Summer” (the forecasters said it would be 10) in mid-September when we basked in 28 degree warmth we seem to have skipped October and plunged straight into dark November mornings.

This newsletter has taken me a while to get round to writing, because I really wasn’t sure what I should say. It should have been a happy one – with mention of Dorothy’s 75th birthday – but the death of her husband Alastair a few days later has of course changed that completely.

To start with the birthday.
Dorothy celebrated her 75th birthday on the 25th August and, as those of you on the various discussion groups will already know, I sent her a card on behalf of all of you and those of us here at Thins, shortly before I went on holiday a few days before the big day. The card was a fairly elaborate gatefold design and given the difficulties in finding good messages in cards these days I was pleased to find one that was in some ways appropriate.
The verse was:

You’re thought about and spoken of so often through the year
It wouldn’t be a secret that you’re someone very dear
But your birthday is a perfect chance to specially tell you so
And to wish you much more happiness than words could ever show

When I got back to work after the holiday I found the following fax on my desk.

====
Dear Bill, Douglas, Jeanette, and all the Unalloyed Webbers out there in the ether…

A vast pink card stands on the shelf by my parrot (does everyone know about my parrot?) congratulating me on surviving past the allotted span by five years. This has come about solely by the preserving effects of constant praise (the bits of your communications that you permit me to read) and the bracing knowledge that there is a lot of sturdy criticism going on out there from which I am tenderly shielded. I have to say incidentally, never bother to pull punches. Anyone who has brought up two sons can take anything on the chin, and generally has the thick skin to prove it.

What has arrived however is not a critique but a very sweet message which I do take to heart. Come to think of it my mother lived to 92, so there is time even to answer all your questions about Lymond, and Nicholas, and Thorfinn, and JJ before taking off, in a hurry, for Mars. For you know you don’t really want them all answered – just some of them. The rest you will probably manage to sort out for yourselves; in fact many of you, I suspect, have sorted out the next book as well. I look forward to comparing notes when it comes out.

Meanwhile, my thanks and my blessings, and my warmest regards to every one of you.

with affection

Dorothy
====

I actually read this after I returned from Alastair’s funeral service on the Monday morning, so you can imagine I had a lump in my throat. I’d first read of his death in a copy of the Times on the flight home from Austria and was just back in time for the funeral service. I knew he’d been unwell for a couple of weeks but it had been expected that he’d recover. However it seems that his heart hadn’t been able to take the extra strain and simply gave out.

Some of you will have read a description of the funeral which I posted on one of the discussion groups. I found that rather hard to write so if you’ll forgive me I won’t attempt to repeat that here.

I know that some of you had met Alastair and found him a charming man with a ready wit. Some of you may not know what a remarkable life he had led and what he had achieved for his country. I can only touch on a fraction of it here but perhaps this will give you some idea of his range. Of course he had inspired the character of Francis Crawford which says more than anything else can about his intelligence and abilities, while any of you who have read “Among Friends” will have had an insight into his love of Scotland.

He had already achieved a lot in an administrative role as assistant to the famous Tom Johnstone at the Scottish Office before he went into journalism and rose through various posts and newspapers to become editor of The Scotsman. At that time it was languishing in a rather minor backwater, but he turned it around completely to put it back to it’s rightful place as the best quality newspaper in the country, and having done so made it the voice of the Scottish people in pushing for the sort of reforms which have at last given us some control of our own affairs with the Assembly due to open soon. Thankfully he lived to see it voted in, but it’s such a pity that he didn’t see it open. I knew of Alastair long before I ever heard of Dorothy – when, in my teens, I started to regularly read The Scotsman, a couple of years before he left it, he was a legend. In many ways he WAS The Scotsman, and it was a few years before they recovered from his departure. He was offered the editorship of The Times – at that time, much more than now, an enormously influential post – but he turned it down saying he could never leave Scotland. Instead he turned his talents to the oil industry which was vitally important to the country through the developments in the North Sea, and for many years the biggest names in the industry were regular visitors at his house. In the meantime he and Dorothy were constantly working behind the scenes in many areas of Scottish life – the Edinburgh Festival for instance – bringing their vision and energy to the benefit of the country. Somehow he also found time to continue writing and right up to the last couple of months his occasional articles for newspapers were always a delight to read. In a recent interview in the Edinburgh Evening News, Dorothy described him as the real writer in the family, which I think says a great deal.
His 89 years were extremely well spent and his knighthood was richly deserved.

As you can probably imagine, the number of friends and wellwishers was vast, and it was felt by many of Dorothy’s fans that it would be best not to send hundreds of individual letters of condolence as she would almost certainly feel the need to reply to them all individually, and this was a burden we should avoid putting on her. I sent a card, and I know that another letter was sent, explaining this, and she has sent charming handwritten replies to both with thanks to everyone for their best wishes and consideration. I was pleased to hear from her that Alastair had expressed surprise and delight at the birthday card – he was always wonderfully proud of Dorothy’s achievements and the devotion she inspires amongst her readers.

A number of people had suggested making contributions to a trust that Alastair had been involved in setting up, but aside from the fact that the trust in question is not in a position to acept individual donations, the family felt that Alastair would not have wanted any memorial of this kind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

To return to current matters and to Dorothy’s books, the new US Vintage paperback edition of King Hereafter has now been released in America. I’m told the book has been done in the same style as their Lymond reissues. We don’t yet know whether we will be able to get copies here in the UK – that depends on whether one of the US import wholesalers decides to carry it. I suspect they will but it may be a little while before that is confirmed or copies can get here. It will not of course be published here since Michael Joseph own the rights in this country and they are planning to bring out a hardback edition next year.
For those wanting to order it in the USA the ISBN is 0375704035 and I believe the price is $US 16.00

It is rumoured that Vintage will be producing paperbacks of the first three Niccolos sometime next year, although there are no details as yet.

Confessions of a Dunnett Reader

While I was on holiday in Austria I finally got a chance to finish reading Niccolo Rising and even moved on to Spring of the Ram, although an overfull schedule since my return has meant I’m stalled about a third of the way through that just now.

So completely different from Lymond of course!! I wasn’t really sure that I would like it – how can you possibly follow the best hero and the perfect heroine with anything else? – but once I’d got past the first few chapters of scene-setting the now-familiar exquisite style of the writing carried me on until I began to empathise a bit more with our new “hero”. What a mass of contradictions he is. Unlike Francis who you are always quite sure has the best motives even when he doesn’t explain them (when does he ever 😉 ), Nicholas seems to be constantly in a maze of complex and shifting patterns and plans which no-one else can even guess at, although Tobie at least does a pretty good job of trying. One thing I’ve realised; I’d always rather suspected that business had certain hidden areas – that really successful business has more going on beneath the surface than those of us who are not natural entrepreneurs can guess at. Having read the machinations of the Alum deals I am now quite certain that that is this case!! I wonder which businesses Dorothy got the inspiration from? 😉

Of course I’ve read so much about Nicholas that it’s difficult to know how objectively I’m reading him and how much I’m influenced by foreknowledge, but he does seem to have hidden agendas that neither his fellow cast nor the reader are privy to. I’m reminded of something I heard Dorothy say at one of her talks here in the shop, when she remarked that he was a person of great abilities but no ambition – no clear idea of what he wanted to do – and that was what the series was about. (Of course she has also said completely different things in other talks!!) I will need to go a bit further into the series before I can say too much more but the complexities are already firmly established as a delightful conundrum which will require all my chess-player’s analytical abilities to even comprehend – let alone solve!! Perhaps if that other Edinburgh writer, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, had written multi-volume stories they would have been like this!

That’s enough for now. I need to do some more reading!

It’s strange how Dunnett themes start to crop up in everything you do. The in-flight magazine going to Munich had an article about Prague and how it is built to an astrological design. John Dee apparently visited the city and got a prominent mention. A visit to the castle at Kufstein also revealed a number of exhibits from the time period of our adventures. Although I didn’t get as far west in the Tyrol as the pass which Nicholas would have followed such glimpses still give a fascinating view of how people lived in those times.

Can I just ask everyone something. I’ve been finding recently that one or two of you who have been on the list for a long time don’t seem to have been getting all the newsletters recently. I’m becoming a bit suspicious that there may be a limit somewhere in the distribution list software and so I’m going to send this out in smaller sections. There are over 500 of you receiving the newsletter directly so I’ll split the alphabet into three and send them separately. The most recent newsletters have been in July 98, May 98, March 98, Feb 98 and Jan 98. If you receive this but didn’t get some of the earlier ones please let me know. Also let me know if you would like me to send replacements for any missing ones.

If you know of anyone who would like to receive the newsletters please pass them on to me or get them to press the subscribe button on the main Dunnett web page, and I’ll add them in.

Best wishes to everyone

Newsletter – 20th July 98

Greetings from a rather soggy Edinburgh – torrential rain for the second weekend in a row.I’ve been a bit quiet on the Dunnett front recently but you’ll see why as you read further down. I’ve tried to keep up with as much mail as possible but if I’ve missed anyone out you’ll need to forgive me as I’ve been working well into the night (and sometimes the morning) trying to keep to deadlines on the new search system which we just turned on about 40 minutes ago. If you’re missing a reply please get back in touch with me.

Some new “Answers”

A few things to mention in this newsletter. Directly Dunnett related are some new “Answers” on the web page – I hope you’ll all visit the pages as there are quite a few new developments which I hope will be a great benefit to you whenever you’re researching or buying books, but just in case you don’t have time I’ve copied them into this newsletter. I’ve also started experimenting with a new look for the Answers page although I’ve had to cut the changes a bit short because of all the other things happening – let me know whether it looks ok on your browsers. Not so many answers this time as Dorothy is frantically trying to get back on track with Niccolo 8 after a period when everything else seemed to be interrupting. She was in Cyprus for a few days near the beginning of June, talking to journalists for the launch of the Italian edition of Scales of Gold, and seems to have had a great time – I’ve been promised a photograph for the pages when they’re sent over to her.

Edinburgh Guide

Many of you have remarked favourably on the Dunnett Places to Visit feature, so I hope you may be interested in another new section which went on the web site a few days ago – The James Thin Guide to Edinburgh – based on our Mercat Press Handbook to Edinburgh which is being revised and reissued this summer. It’s likely to be something that will grow and take on a life of its own if I get a chance to develop it as I hope, and it should give a flavour of the city and its history to those of you who haven’t had a chance to come here. Let me know what you think of it and any suggestions that you may have.

New Search and Ordering system – BookSearch

Now to something that while it’s not directly Dunnett related, should be of use to you all and is the most important news for us. We are just launching the new and greatly improved search engine and on-line ordering system. Having been fully immersed in its development for the last month or so, I’m pretty proud of it, but I know all too well that there are bound to be some residual bugs left in it. I can’t think of a more resourceful bunch of people to test it out than all of you, so if you get a chance please see if you can break it and/or spot any mistakes and tell me what extra facilities you’d like to see.
Our old system which has served well enough for the last couple of years just had our own stock on it, but the new one contains British Books in Print (about 1,000,000 titles) and the listings of Gardners, who are one of the largest wholesalers in the UK. This means that on-line customers can search for and order anything that is available in Britain (other than foreign imports), and of course the same secure credit card transfer system is in place as before. There is a new facility to store address and credit card details if requested, so you don’t have to go through a laborious process of inputting your details every time you use it, and there is also a currency conversion system so you don’t need to ask me what the exchange rates are 😉 It only gives US and French currency just now but we’ll have others in place shortly.
We’ve sunk quite a bit of money into this so we need to make sure it works well for our customers, so do let me know what you think.

One thing I should mention – if you search on “Dunnett” it will seem that the old Cassell UKP 5.95 paperbacks are still available. This is because they are still listed in Books in Print despite them being out of print for some years and Cassell not having the rights any more. We are instigating what we call a “zombie file” – a list of things that we know aren’t available but which still appear in BiP – so we can overcome this sort of problem, but it won’t be ready for about a week or two. Once we are sure the system is stable I’ll also be putting in “hot links” from the Dunnett page (and others) that will load titles straight into the ordering system without having to go through the search routines.

No “further adventures of a Dunnett reader” this time – I did start reading Niccolo Rising a while after I’d finished Checkmate, but the deadlines on the new system have meant I’ve been working most hours at home as well as here for the last month and haven’t got very far with it. Maybe when all this has quietened down I’ll get a holiday!

Stop Press – King Hereafter

A last minute snippett. I’ve been getting reports this morning that Vintage are to release a US edition of King Herafter in October. This is right out of the blue and I haven’t yet been able to confirm it, but it comes from a reliable source. I’ve been in touch with Michael Joseph this morning and, although it wasn’t easy to get details as their chief editior is on holiday, it looks as if they will be releasing a hardback edition in the UK – but not until the middle of 1999. More details as I get them.

The new Answers

Guzel and her fate

Q. Guzel chose to fly in the face of the Dame de Doubtance’s prophecies, believing she could alter destiny or make her own. Did she in fact, as was posited by one character, choose Vishnevetsky as a form of suicide? Did she see no other avenue of advancement, or was she – the idea which puzzles me most – emotionally involved for the first time and unable to cope? I understand that this character, unlike her friend Roxelana Sultan, was not based on a historical personage; where did she come from as an idea?

“I imagine she entered open-eyed into the relationship with Vishnevetsky, and might have won through. But as you say, by that time her fate was no longer important to her. I was attracted to exploring the avenues open to the courtesan of differing ranks in these days, from Primaflora to Diane de Poitier. Everyone has, of course noticed Vishnevetsky’s ancestor in Caprice? “

Any chance of another series?

Q. After you finish the Niccolo series, do you have plans to write another series?

“A series would, I think, be expecting too much of the geriatric-care industry. Another Dolly book maybe. “

Films?

Q. Have you ever been approached to make movie(s) from your books? Would you consider a movie or two?

“Yes, with no results so far. And yes, no problem over films or TV. But one of my husband’s books on the sea may come first. “

Favourite authors?

Q. Who is your favorite author?

“Different authors for different moods. I’m always adding new ones. When I’m working myself, none at all. “

Did the Geomalers really exist?

Q. I am interested in the terms “Geomaler” and “Pilgrims of Love,” such as the character Mikel in PAWN. Obviously these terms are Ms. Dunnett’s creation but they seem so familiar to me. Can she relate the historical basis, if any, for pilgrims?
Also from another questioner
No one can seem to find anything on the “Pilgrims of love.” I have spoken to several people now and searching has been futile. Are/were they real? If not, where did the idea come from. If they were real; can we have a little background, research info, etc.

This answer is not from Dorothy directly but is from information I’ve received and which is also mentioned in the Dorothy Dunnett Companion.

The Geolmalers did indeed exist and are mentioned in Nicholas de Nicholay’s “Navigations into Turkie”. They were essentially a religious cult who called themselves “Pilgrims of Love”. The following is an extract from part of de Nicholay’s description.

“The life of the Geomalers (to beginne first with them) is not much different from that of the worldly sort, for that the most part of them are fayre young men and of ryche houses, whiche willinglye doe giue themselues to runne about the countrie, and to trauel through many and diuers regions & prouinces, as through Barbarie, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, the Indies, and the whole land of Turkie, for to see and vnderstand the world with great pleasure at other mens charges, vnder colour of their pilgrimage and religion: the most parte of these are good artificers, & the other giuen to reading, & to describe all their voyages, the lands and countries which they haue runne through and trauailed.”

best wishes to you all

Bill

Newsletter – 8th May ’98

Greetings from Edinburgh where we’re having our second Spring 😉 (Had a two week reprise of winter during April – guess which week I chose for my holiday!)

Just a few notes to bring you all up to date with additions to the web pages.

Dunnett Places to Visit

A few days ago I uploaded a new feature called “Dunnett Places to Visit” which is accessed by a link from the main Dunnett page. I’ve been getting increasing numbers of requests about which places related to the books people could go and see while visiting Scotland, so I’ve put together a few ideas that will hopefully provide enough detail for making outline plans. There is a rough map of central and southern Scotland with the main places of Dunnett interest marked, and some sketch graphics taken from our Mercat Press series on Castelleted Architecture to give an idea of some of the many castles that appear in the stories. I’ll add more details as the time to research them comes along, and if anyone has any suggestions for additions I’d be happy to hear from you.

Lymond Chart

Another new item is accessed from the “Questions for Dorothy” page. Dorothy passed me a copy of a horoscope for Lymond which she had had drawn up by a professional astrologer a few years ago. I’ve translated that into a web graphic and added the astrologer’s interpretation. Hope the astrologers amongst you find it interesting. Hopefully I’ve got it correct – it was hand written and not very easy to decipher but I think most of it is now right.

News of the books

The Michael Joseph edition of Checkmate has finally been released. Unfortunately the edition of Ringed Castle which only came out 6 months ago has now been declared unavailable. It looks pretty certain that they aren’t going to reprint it but they may be producing a small format Penguin edition instead. If that is the case then I would imagine they will do that to the whole Lymond Chronicles series, but details are in short supply at the moment and it’s taken over a week to get this much.
Since the last newsletter we’ve had our 150th anniversary celebrations, and Dorothy was amongst the many authors whom we invited to visit us on the big day. I suspect that is about the only engagement she has taken part in recently as she plunges ever deeper into Niccolo 8. Last I saw she and Alastair were happily chatting away to Nigel Tranter (who was looking very sprightly considering he’s now 89) and Ian Rankin (who had come along despite having made a sleepless seven hour train journey overnight to join us).

My own readings

For those of you who have been following my own readings of Lymond, I can now tell you that I’ve finished Checkmate!! Having been very short of spare time for a while I saved the last section for my birthday which happily fell on a Sunday and spent a few happy hours totally immersed in the story. The verdict…..absolutely fabulous, loved it from start to finish. Only trouble is, how on earth do you read anything else after it (apart from Niccolo of course).

Looking back to Ringed Castle (which now seems ages ago 😉 ) I know some of you have some slight reservations about it – not liking the Lymond we see in Russia. I didn’t feel that at all; to me his state was quite natural considering what he had gone through in PF, and I was fascinated to see how he gradually recovered his ability to feel emotions again – playing music for the first time with technical skill but no emotion was a telling link for me, and of course having to play chess with the Tsar must have been agony at first. I could also see why he wanted to return there so much – the freedom that Chancellor noticed in the wonderfully described travels over the frozen rivers, combined with the freedom from the political and emotional baggage which had built up at home. Cold distant and hard he may have been but it was a very necessary stage in his recovery.

Seeing Philippa’s further development at the English court was a wonderful bonus for those of us completely smitten by her, and the introduction of John Dee was the sort of thing (like the later Nostradamus) that only Dorothy could have pulled off successfully. The shipwreck was agonising of course – Chancellor was perhaps the closest thing to a real friend Francis had made for a very long time. The negotiations and machinations in London were wonderfully insightful. And of course the House of Revels and afterwards were a delight. Once again the ending was a totally unexpected twist – how does she manage that? 😉

What can I say about Checkmate? There is so much in it; I kept looking to see how many pages were left because I was sure that it couldn’t possibly be all resolved in such a short number. So many wonderful scenes: F and P escaping through the back streets, the Heroes Banquet that goes hilariously wrong, that achingly beautiful moment when P realizes that he loves her and not Kate, but still wants them to part, the library, Danny taking Sybilla to see Marthe, Adam watching F & P from his window at Sevigny. All of it leading to that incredible ending and the sheer joy of the love scene. The image that will stay with me is of F & P going to see Sybilla afterwards dressed almost like children – after all they’ve been through it’s a delightfully innocent vision. I was simply stunned by the time I’d finished, in the way that people must have felt when Beethoven premiered the 5th symphony.

Well, I must admit there were occasions before starting to read the books when I wondered why on earth you were all *so* devoted to them. Now I know – there really is no other reaction possible is there.

I’m off on holiday in a few days time so if I don’t reply to your messages straight way that’s why. When I get back I’ll also be heavily involved in the final stages of preparation for our new search engine for the web pages. We’ll have Books in Print on line as well as our own stock and there’ll be a major relaunch of the site. I’ll let you know when it’s going live and you can maybe tell me what you think of it.

All good wishes.

Bill

Newsletter – 16th March ’98

Greetings from an Edinburgh which is enjoying a very early spring – trees and flowers are weeks ahead of normal and we’ve had some lovely bright days.

This is a short newsletter to keep you up to date with the latest answers that I’ve just added to the Questions for Dorothy section of the web page. I’d hoped to include my reactions to Checkmate but I’ve been so busy recently that I’m only just over half way through. With so many secrets about to be revealed I’d better wait till I’ve finished and then cover Ringed Castle – which I loved – and Checkmate together.

I spoke briefly to Dorothy by phone the other day, although I’ve been trying to avoid disturbing her, and she is completely submerged in Niccolo 8 and expects to be for the rest of the year. She did say how pleased she was at the positive reaction to the first set of “Answers” and has promised to find time for the next batch which I’ll send her shortly.

Did DD downplay the divining in C&R?

Q. I feel that Nicholas’s divining skills appear suddenly & with no warning — and also that they tend to act as a kind of “deus ex machina” at times. That is, they make Nicholas too invincible and serve to rescue him from situations he couldn’t otherwise escape. In C&R his divining is downplayed — with great effect, I think. Did you also feel that this divining skill – or ability, if you will – was interfering with the development of N’s character and story? Did you make a conscious effort to downplay it?

“The divining isn’t a chance element in the story, nor is it a plot tool , or it would have rescued its possessor from a few more dire situations than it did. Its entry is not so arbitrary, either, as you might think. Its first appearance is closely identified with one those flashes of perception we have already seen, linking Nicholas to the future. Its other importance – apart from its actual industrial history – lies in what its handling tells you progressively about Nicholas. And initially, of course, it demonstrates how he is capable of using the power selflessly, sometimes, to save and protect.”

What was the Relationship between Lymond and Wenceslas in Ringed Castle?

Q. My question is about the relationship between Lymond and Venceslas in “The Ringed Castle.” What’s going on? It isn’t just a homosexual relationship is it, because at the time, Lymond is sleeping with Guzel. And also, in previous books, Lymond’s homosexual relationships always seem to be a form of manipulation rather than simple pleasure.

Extra comment from Bill Marshall. I mentioned to the person that asked this question that I’d found the scenes with the Aga Morat difficult to interpret, and that seemed to me a more important case, so I put both parts in to Dorothy. I was particularly intrigued to know what was behind the scene where Jerott is called see to the Aga Morat and finds him and Lymond arguing, and Lymond sends him away. Is this a simple case of Lymond protecting Jerott from the Aga’s advances or is there more going on? I’m assuming that Lymond had agreed to advances to himself to protect the others after the ambush.

“Read it all through again and see if you can fathom what Guzel is doing. Of course Lymond isn’t interested in Venceslas (or anybody). As with Jerott and the Aga, all you have to do is remember that, like Nicholas, Lymond sometimes protects people, and understands that he must pay for it.”

Lymond and Eloise

A common question concerns the relationship between Lymond and Eloise, and whether, as Richard seems to think sometimes, there was any incestuous element or not? Elaine Thompson kindly supplied me with Dorothy’s answer from an event in 1982 which also matches well with what she said at her 97 California signing:

“From what I remember about Eloise, the point was that, by being responsible, in a way, for the presence of the gunpowder at the convent, Lymond unwittingly gave his sister a means of finding death, or at least of not avoiding it. The relationship, misunderstood by others, was made tortuous by the fact that Eloise had discovered half the truth about Lymond’s birth and, knowing his feeling for Sybilla, didn’t know what to do about it, while of course suffering in the knowledge herself. As time went on, and his suspicions grew, she grew more and more afraid of what might happen, and of being the accidental cause of a revelation.”

To which she has now added this further response:

“The Lymond-Eloise answer is exactly right. I hoped it was obvious that Eloise was wholly untouched, and her death a tragic accident, for which Lymond blamed himself.”

Just the three this time then; but I think you’ll agree they’re quite important ones for a clear understanding of what’s going on. Keep the questions coming!!

Just a quick reminder that the trade paperback of Caprice and Rondo is still on schedule for the 28th May, and the UK edition of Checkmate is still on for April. If anyone hasn’t yet bought the hardback of Caprice and Rondo I would advise ordering it very soon.
The 5th reprint was cancelled by Michael Joseph as the orders coming in from bookshops had tailed off and the paperback was so close. That means that the only copies left are those in the pipeline at the wholesalers or already on the shelves. Once those are gone the hardback will be out of print.

best wishes to you all

Bill