Newsletter – 13th Sept 99

Greetings from a bright autumnal Edinburgh.
I’ve not long returned from my summer holiday prior to which the Festival was going on here in the city. This of course included the Edinburgh Book Festival at which Dorothy was one of the opening day speakers along with her editor Richenda Todd. The bulk of this newsletter is taken up with a report of that event, taken from the notes I made on my palmtop computer at the time. Since I didn’t really have time to work on it until I was in the middle of the second week of the holiday, they may be a little disjointed, but I am well aware that it’s all too easy to fill in the gaps with what you think happened or with stuff you’ve heard before, rather than what was actually said so I’ve tried to resist the temptation to smooth it out too much and rather present it as my immediate if somewhat summarised impressions.

Dorothy and Richenda Todd at the Edinburgh Book Festival

The event took place in one of the many Book Festival marquees set up in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town. It probably held about 200 or so people for the talk and although not totally full was not far off it.
The purpose of the talk was to give some idea of the relationship between the author and editor on a long multi-volume series. They started by looking at what type of books they were trying to produce, and said that they were trying to avoid the Hornblower type of story which has no overall plan but was a series of individual stories. Richenda felt historical fiction is the most difficult type to produce. Dorothy also felt that publishers were easier to sell to at beginning of her career.
She reiterated that Lymond was all planned out but that the sources were often not recorded (which is of course where Elspeth Morrison came in.)

Lymond was edited first in US, by Lois Cole and Bob Godfried. Richenda came in during the House of Niccolo on Race of Scorpions and had the manuscript dropped on her desk when she arrived – which must have been a pretty intimidating start. She had to quickly read the previous books to ascertain the style used before she could do any editing.

As we know, Dorothy was initially turned down by various UK publishers and was first published in the US. It was Alastair who suggested it be a series – Dorothy said “he was a newspaper editor ….and she was used to obeying” πŸ™‚

Lymond was marketed in US as the next “Gone with the Wind” and amongst other promotional events 10 salesmen walked down the street in “Crawford tartan” ties advertising it. It was subbed to Cassell in the UK, which she was very happy with as all her school dictionaries were done by them so she felt they had a certain authority!
Cassell published Lymond then unfortunately in a change of direction ditched their fiction list altogether. While Dorothy was looking for another publisher Rosemary Cheetham of Century phoned her. She had read Lymond at the age of 12(!!) having been given the books by her mother and had grown up with the ambition of publishing them.

The US publisher wanted another series but Dorothy wanted to do individual books instead (like the JJs). She decided to go down that route but that first book turned out to be King Hereafter which then needed 5 years research. Having decided that continuing in that direction would mean only ever writing about another 3 books, she decided to go back to a series with Niccolo.

Returning to the Author/Editor relationship they said that publishers frequently change direction and have different ideas on marketing so it’s difficult to maintain a consistent style. Richenda was happy that they’d managed to keep the same jacket artist for all the Niccolos, and also the same proofreader and copy editor. (This is quite an achievement as there have been changes in Michael Joseph and Richenda herself is now freelance rather than working for them directly.)

During this section Dorothy mentioned that 3/4 hour earlier, before having to leave for the talk, she was in the middle of writing possibly the most dramatic section of the entire series. So if it didn’t turn out right it would all be our fault! πŸ˜‰
They next discussed secrets and how to keep them. To avoid giving the plot away before people have read the book you need to look at things like maps, genealogical tables, ends of chapters, news of places that Dorothy has visited prior to writing each book, etc.

One book had a 15th Century “Cod War”. The artist produced a superb exploding volcano but that was not allowed on the cover as it would have given the game away. They came up with a cover in which it was hard to tell the difference between sand and snow! The map also had to be doctored to hide Iceland under the flap and it was skewed to accomplish that – despite the mapmaker’s protests that you had to have north pointing straight upwards.
Blurbs which gave too much away were often problems with a new publisher.

On the Scales of Gold shock ending – Richenda confessed to being poleaxed and said she sometimes feels dim. πŸ˜‰
The main thing an editor does is checking on the shape, pacing and clues to the development in the story. Dorothy never discusses the story as she writes but once it is sent to the editors the first phone call in response is very important. For instance Bob Gottlieb contacted her about the Marion/Nicholas marriage, saying that for the first time he felt she had cheated him of a scene. He wanted to see a Marion/Felix scene to show Felix’ reaction and how Marion would deal with it. Dorothy wrote the scene in an hour. If there is a reaction like Richenda’s feeling poleaxed she has to look again at the clues that she has included to see if she needs to make things any clearer.

Fax machines came on the scene during the period of writing. On one occasion having just finished a book Dorothy went off to Arran on holiday to a chalet hotel which had one fax machine at the reception desk. Richenda sent loads of long faxes which Dorothy replied to standing at reception while guests gave her their keys or instructions about their meals etc. πŸ™‚ Some of the faxes were somewhat explicit – they’ve never been back!

Richenda mentioned the Scales of Gold orgy scene – she had wanted to know what Diniz was doing? As a result he lost his virginity twice. She’s still embarrassed about it!

Not just sex but fashions have changed over the years. Cruelty to animals for instance is looked upon rather differently. Sentimentality is not allowable so much now either. Game of Kings is set in aspic, but the JJs are surrealistically in their periods. Readers have to be aware when the various books were written to understand how attitudes and fashions have changed.
Because of the unusual nature of the two series with the later-written Niccolos preceding the time of Lymond, Richenda, who doesn’t know what the ending is to be, has the flow going forward whereas Dorothy has it going backwards.

Consistency is very difficult. Regarding who does what, Dorothy assumes she will have to check history since she does so much original research which often hasn’t been tackled by historians. She also has to constantly work out what speed a camel goes at, how fast and where and in what conditions ships can travel, the speed of bullock carts, letters etc. She always tries to visit the scene to check the terrain.
As an editor – how much can you trust the author? A naval author who Richenda worked with got the ships bells wrong at one point and she started checking everything – it turned out that half of his historical and technical descriptions were wrong. Dorothy mentioned some racy French that was wrong but the US editor picked it up. The Latin tag for Lymond’s arms was wrong -she hadn’t used the accusative case – and the covers had to be redone.
US editors don’t have the same mores of the Europeans so there is a difference in how their editors and readers approach some passages.

Dorothy was given advice early on in her career that you must make your villain as strong as possible or the hero won’t be believable. Colleagues must also be top of their tree.

With time having gone all too quickly they moved to a Questions & Answer session

Q. Some characters we get very fond of but then you kill them.

A. It’s necessary because otherwise the last book would be massive. Endings should however be satisfying. Umar in particular was a turning point for Niccolo. A long series does something that only books can do – subtexts for instance.

Q. Spelling – how do you handle modern readers v period and UK v US

A. Dorothy mentioned that recently her word processor gave her the “too many spelling mistakes to continue displaying them” error message while writing Niccolo 8.
Lymond started using the original spellings but it’s impossible all through. An important difference in the two series is that while Lymond would quite often be speaking English or sometimes French, Niccolo is almost never speaking English. She puts in syntax to suggest the different languages. Scots is shown in a vernacular to suggest the language concerned.
Changed place names need to be supplied for the publishing team, e.g. Dubrovnik and Gdansk for the map maker.

Q. Any characters who won’t go away?

A. Not really. The main characters are fixed. Facts about minor characters do arise – Dorothy reads 20 different magazines on renaissance history.

Q. What are the relationship between UK and US editors?

A. Originally they were independent, but later they got together. Main thing is the structure and their different feelings about how clear things should be made. US editor now send comments to Richenda and she combines them with hers before asking Dorothy. There is a lot of time pressure as two years is a very short time to produce books of this complexity. These days there are PC issues to consider. One scene Bob thought was too literary though Richenda thought it was ok – it was eventually rewritten. Richenda jokingly suggested that they should republish with both versions of the scene and let readers decide which was the best!

Regarding sex scenes, one person thanked Dorothy for not making them explicit in the way some writers do. She replied that if you’re too explicit you run out of things to say whereas if you describe it as an act of love then there are always new ways to talk about it.

Q. Why do the supporting characters have little faith in hero?

A. It makes the books longer!! πŸ˜‰ The reader should be also unsure about him.

Q. Any prospect of a new series?

A. No. Too much work, but more importantly there would be too many other people dependent on her and she feels that wouldn’t be fair to them.


After the talk, which started around 5pm, and once Dorothy had spent some time in the signing tent, a group of us went with Dorothy to the Caledonian Hotel for drinks, and I had the pleasure not only of meeting Richenda for the first time but also the bonus of meeting Elspeth Morrison, also for the first time. The four of us later attended the Book Festival opening party. While some of the conversations must remain under wraps I can tell you that Niccolo 8 is going to be even longer than expected. It also looks as though it will be later than we’d hoped, although I hope to have word of the official publication date soon. The title still hasn’t been released and is known to only a handful of people (not including me!) but again that is expected soon.

The Companion

There has been some speculation from people with US publishing contacts that Vintage may be about to release a first US edition of the Dorothy Dunnett Companion. I’m told that they have been in touch with Dorothy about it but although she gave them Elspeth’s contact details they have not been in touch with her yet, so don’t expect too early a result on this. Personally I have mixed feelings about such an edition. It was always hoped that there would be a revised edition once the Niccolos were finished but I can’t see there being sufficient potential sales for both a reprint and a new edition, and I would much rather see the latter myself.

New “Answers from Dorothy”

I’ve uploaded some more “Answers” to the web page, including a very long one about Groa which Heike Meyer in particular should find interesting.

Hexagonal Brooch in Game of Kings

Q. Is the large Hexagonal brooch in GK based on a real piece of jewellery? ‘A vast, hexagonal brooch set in ebony and diamonds shouted into the sunshine in a cacophony of light. The thing was enormous. Crouch, sitting within yards of the bed, could see the centrepiece was a heart set with pointed diamonds: around the heart and attached to it by foliated gilt wire were crystal plaques, each bearing an angel’s head, bewinged and carved in onyx: the plaque below the point of the heart was joined to it by a scroll, and on the scroll in diamonds were the initial letters H and D, entwined. It was the most expensive-looking jewel Mr. Crouch had ever seen in his life…. “H for Henri, D for Diane de Poitiers!” cried Mr. Crouch.’ Anyway, what struck me about this description this time around is that it sounds like an actual piece of jewelry that DD might have seen somewhere.

A. “Without my notes, this sounds like a description of a piece actually owned by Diane de Poitiers, presumably now lost, or I wouldn’t have introduced it. At a guess, I got it from an inventory of Diane’s jewellery in one of the many books written about Diane and the French court she lived in.”

The fourth and fifth in a series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer

The House of the Grey Sandal-hose

Q. In p.4, ch.3, Lulach says to Crinan junior: ‘Three Kings, two Ediths, and the House of the Grey Sandal-hose.’ We had a rather heated discussion about the meaning of this, especially ‘House of the Grey Sandal-hose’. Is it the English translation of a family’s name, which is originally in another language , e.g. Gaelic? Or is it a reference to the descendants of someone known for his funny trousers, e.g. Ragnar Lodbrok ? My theory – which may be totally off the track – is, that the whole passage refers to the forthcoming events in 1066; the three kings being the three rulers of England in that year (Edward, Harold, William), the Ediths the Queens of Edward and Harold, and the House of the Grey Sandal-hose a reference to Ragnar Lodbrok’s descendant Harald Hardrada . Are we all wrong ?

A. “I have been waiting twenty years to be asked this question. One of the kings is Henry I, as above, who also accounts for an Edith. All the answers have to do with an unnoticed connection with Scotland. And the key to the whole thing – wait for it – is Tarzan.”


Q. To create your Groa, you blended the persons of the historical Ingibjorg Finnsdottir and Macbeth’s Queen Gruoch. Now I’m no adherent of the ‘Macbeth is Thorfinn’ theory, and the main reason for this are their respective wives. They obviously lived at the same time, Gruoch in 1032, at the death of her first husband, already was mother of a son, and she is mentioned about 1050 as a benefactress to the Loch Leven monks. Ingibjorg was already married to Thorfinn at the time Rognvald was killed, which is estimated about 1045. But she can’t have been born much before 1030, because the genealogies give her as the granddaughter of King Harald’s full brother. Even if this brother was born at the earliest possible time, about 995/6, this would make him a very young grandfather. And Ingibjorg bore at least three children to Malcolm Canmore, which would be possible, but not probable, for a woman high in her forties, as Gruoch would have been. To give Groa a birthdate about 1015 AND call her the great-niece of King Harald is – no offence intended – rather improbable. So is this a case of poetic licence, or did you discover something during your research for KH to support a theory that Ingibjorg and Gruoch are truly the same person ?

A. “Well, not poetic licence, as five years in the salt mines will testify! But as is maybe evident, 99 per cent of the evidence for both the traditional interpretation of this reign and for mine is circumstantial, which makes it hard to answer simple questions in less than three weeks. Disentangling Macbeth/Thorfinn has to be followed by disentangling the wives, which is much more difficult, partly because the dates you quote can’t all be trusted. (Many Scottish historians have believed, for example, that there were two people, mother and daughter, called Ingibjorg, and King Malcolm married the daughter). The Historiographer Royal for Scotland, who followed all my research, pointed out that my theory would solve the whole problem and allow Thorfinn’s wife to be young enough to bear children to Malcolm (actually only one son, Duncan, is fully authenticated: Donald and Malcolm are not). A lot depends on the Icelandic sagas, but oral-based history is awful for dates. They all sat round the fire chanting their family trees, which are usually handed down in brilliant order, but dates are generally absent or wrong. They have to be independently corroborated.

Deep breath. Queen Asta married twice. Her first offspring included St Olaf, born in 993, if I can understand the only notes I have to hand. By her second marriage, date unknown, she had several children, including King Harold Hardradi (supposedly born 1015) and Halfdan father of Bergljot mother of Ingibjorg. Halfdan was older than Harold. If Asta got off her mark and remarried as soon as she was widowed, Halfdan could have been born, as you say, in 995/6 which, if he were a fast developer, would mean that Bergljot could have been born in 1011 and had her daughter Ingibjorg about 1024. This has to be checked (and I can’t just now) against the other known dates, if any, of Bergljot’s marriage and childbearing range. But if it’s all true, it means that Asta had a procreation period from about 991 to 1015 with a potential gap of 20 years between the first and last children of her second marriage.

Which makes something awe-inspiring of Snorri’s tale of how St Olaf took his half-brothers Halfdan and Guthorm on his knee when his youngest half-brother Harold was three (thus presumably in 1018) to compare the two boys and their brother. For this scenario, Halfdan would have to be born no earlier (to be kneeworthy) than 1012, which would make Bergljot born 1028 plus, and Ingibjorg 1041 plus, too late to marry Thorfinn whoever he was. So back to the drawing-board, remembering that at that time people had two wives at once, and what do we know about Queen Asta anyway?

My conclusion, wading through all this porridge (and this is just the bit I remember) was that the sanctifying of St Olaf had led to a lot of cleaning up in the background; that Halfdan’s dates and even parentage were shaky, and that there was no proof that Ingibjorg couldn’t have been born about 1015-17. This, if she became Gruoch, would make her a (very) young mother of Lulach, and later of Thorfinn’s two sons, followed by a Queen Asta-like gap of about 23 years (medical reasons? political reasons? children we don’t know about?) before she bore Duncan to King Malcolm in 1058 at the earliest.

Lastly, Gruoch qua Gruoch. As with Ingibjorg, there are no records to tell when she was born, what she looked like, or when she died. In all history, her name appears only once: in the record you mention where the Irish-trained Culdee monks of St Serfs monastery in Loch Leven in Alba attest to a gift of land called Kirkness, made to the monastery between 1040 and 1057 by ‘Machbet son of Finlach, and Gruoch daughter of Bodhe, King and Queen of Scots.’ The attestation itself is thought, because of anachronisms, to be slightly faked: the monks are known to have rewritten their charters before protesting their rights to a later King. This King was probably David (1124-53), and the occasion was likely to be the dispute over Kirkness (see above) between the monastery and Robert le Bourguignon.

At least one of David’s charters was witnessed by someone called Macbeth son of Thorfinn, who was probably the same as Baron Macbeth of Liberton who gave land to several churches about 1141. The monks may have attributed the gift of Kirkness to the earlier royal Macbeth to strengthen their claim. (And I checked the dates. Macbeth died in 1057. This Macbeth son of Thorfinn is not a direct descendant, but the conjunction of names is rather interesting).

The monks knew the name of Gruoch from two registers in their possession, later lost. The historian Wyntoun, who was prior of St Serfs in 1393, is believed to have found the name there and used it in his account, unique to him, of how Macbeth ‘killed King Duncan his uncle’, and married ‘KingDuncan’s widow, Dame Grwok.’ Wyntoun’s history is the only other place where the name is to be found.

Historians have found one other possible reference to the Lady’s family (but not to her) in the Annals of Ulster for 1033, which say that Mac meic Boete meic Cinaedha (Kenneth) has been slain by Malcolm son of Kenneth. This may mean either ‘the son of the son of Boete’, or ‘the son of MacBoete;’ and the premise is that Boete is the Bodhe mentioned at St Serfs. There were several Kings called Kenneth, and several Boete’s, giving rise to many possibilities. Gruoch, who is not mentioned anywhere, might be descended from one of the King Kenneths, and the Boete son of Kenneth killed by Malcolm (King Malcolm II, it is suggested) might be an unknown brother of hers. Nobody knows. But this idea, followed through, could make her Irish, royal, and with a claim to the Scottish throne which (it was thought) would explain why Macbeth married her. But he was already King Malcolm’s grandson, as Duncan was.

Take your pick. But I plumped for the Moray/Norway alliance as being the most compelling reason for marrying. Also, Professor Munch (Chron Man), is on record as saying that ‘Gruoch’ is an Irish scribe’s rendering of the Norse/Icelandic name ‘Groa’. Renaming was not only common but virtually compulsory on switching cultures, and led, for me to the likelihood of an Ingibjorg/ Margaret/Meregrota evolution. And if you want to speculate further, Bodhe and Bergjlot are not all that dissimilar.

The evidence on both sides is weak, and a decisive answer may one day turn up. But meanwhile, I rather share Thorfinn’s fondness for Groa. I am only sorry that we know nothing personal about her whereas we know exactly what Thorfinn looked like, for example. Whoever she was, for us she can only be fiction.”


Other Books of Interest
For those of us who like to read anything on the background of Dorothy’s books, I’ve just added to our Scottish pages a recently announced book from the excellent Tuckwell Press which might well be of interest.

The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1551
Marcus Merriman
Tuckwell, Winter 1999
hdbk, 186232090X UKP25.00
The period in which both England and France sought to capture Scotland by a forced marriage of the child Queen Mary is amongst the most colourful and interesting of our history, and had repercussions that are still felt to this day. This study promises to be a major contribution to our understanding of it.

Edinburgh 2000
There are still a number of places left on the Edinburgh 2000 Gathering, for anyone still interested. The form is still on the main Dunnett page on the website and can be downloaded.

This is now quite long so we’ll leave it there for now. It strikes me that I haven’t given you any “Confessions of a Dunnett Reader” recently but that’s been partly because my own reading time has been so limited and partly because the newsletters have been fairly full of other things and I now have others like the Scottish Books newsletters to write as well. There has been much discussion of children’s books on the discussion groups recently with many of you buying Harry Potter from us. Some of you may like to have a look at the new Children’s pages on the website to see what else is happening in that line in the UK.

Must go and do some more reading – while I got a fair bit done on holiday I promised myself I would finish the Niccolos and leave enough time for a Lymond re-read before N8 appears, and I’m already behind schedule and the chess season is almost upon us. There’s just never enough time!

Best wishes to everyone

Newsletter – 28th June 99

Summer greeting from Edinburgh.

I hope you’ve all had a chance to look at the new-look Dunnett pages on the web site since the April newsletter and have enjoyed the new features. I’ve got a couple of new items to tell you about which have just been uploaded, more of which in a moment. Firstly let me deal with news that may well be very important to some of you.

Edinburgh Gathering 2000 Bookings

There is now an application form on the web site for the remaining places at the Edinburgh 2000 gathering. As most of you who are on one of the discussion groups or who receive the Whispering Gallery/Marzipan and Kisses magazines will know, announcement of booking details was made in the most recent issue, but the initial bookings were restricted to magazine subscribers. Any places left are open to everyone else from the 1st of July, and the organisers have asked me if I would make a copy of the booking form available to you all to be used for applications. I was happy to agree to this and the form is available on a pair of links from the main Dunnett page ( There is one version in Word6/95 format and one in plain text.
The form should be printed out and applications made by post with the relevant deposit.
I should stress that the inclusion of the form is purely in order to help everyone concerned and that neither I nor James Thin Ltd are involved in the organisation of the conference other than as the booksellers there, and I have no further information than what is presented here and on the form, so any booking enquiries should be made to Travel Scotland.

New DD Portrait on the main page

Dorothy recently supplied me with a copy of a fine new portrait which I believe was taken on her trip to Cyprus last year to promote the Italian editions of Niccolo. I plan to set up a gallery page with some of the older photos and some that have been sent to me by fans, so if you have any that you would like to have included do get in touch.

More “Answers from Dorothy”

To return to normal news matters I’ve added some more answers to the “Questions to Dorothy” page and also include them here below. They include the often discussed question of who was in the tent with Oonagh, and a couple more responses to Heike Meyer’s detailed questions about King Hereafter.
If you have any questions that haven’t already been covered (and don’t require the revelation of some key plot point in Niccolo), do drop me a message with them.

The Seraglio Chess Game

I’ve also put up a new feature in which I’ve reconstructed the first part of the Gabriel-Lymond chess game from Pawn in Frankincense. You really need to have some understanding of chess to get much out of it but I hope it may be interesting for those of you who do.

Still no word on the title of Niccolo 8 but it looks as if the March 2000 date for publication is likely to be correct. More news as soon as I get it.
For any of you who like to hear news of Scottish books and publishing events I should perhaps mention the new Scottish Books Newsletter and the associated “Capital Letters” feature on the website which I’ve recently started. If you’d like to be added to the list for this there is a subscription button on the Scottish Books page which works the same way as the Dunnett subscription button, or just drop me a message.

New answers uploaded June 99

Musical Preferences?

Q. Music features heavily in parts of both series – what are your favourite pieces and particularly do you have any favourite vocal pieces?

A “Haven’t yet allowed myself the luxury of classifying the period music. I need something knock on the head emotional as a writing accompaniment. Wagner, often.”

The Event in the Tent – who was it?

Q. Is it really Francis or Gabriel in the tent with Oonagh? In PF, who is the “Unbeliever” who visits Oonagh in her tent and makes love to her? Some of us believe, like Oonagh, that it is Francis. Others believe Dragut when he later tells Oonagh it could not have been Francis, and that therefore it was Gabriel. She seems to believe Dragut, and on this side of the argument, the author did tell us after their first love scene (in QP) that this was the first and last time Francis and Oonagh would make love. Some say this was an act uncharacteristic of Francis but very characteristic of Gabriel; others feel that had it been Gabriel, he would later have taunted Francis with this and he never does. How could Oonagh not know the difference between Francis and Gabriel – even in the dark – when they are physically so different? So who is right?

A “Advice: when you hit a puzzle, it often doesn’t work to analyse the scene in isolation. That way, you can probably find as many cogent arguments on one side as the other. What is ideal – and God forbid that I should expect you to re-read more than you want to – is to have the whole series fresh in your mind, including all the history of these characters, both on their own and in their relations with one another. These little episodes are ways of asking you to stop and think again about people in the light of the story’s overall themes, which have a lot to do with arrogance and responsibility, and very little to do with sentiment. Finally, an authorial voice is an authorial voice. Believe it.”

King Hereafter – Lulach’s utterances

Two more in the series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer

Q. In p 1, ch. 18 Lulach says: ‘There was a king who got a child on the miller’s daughter of Forteviot.’ And after Sulien asksÒ€ő ‘the same king?’, he answers ‘His name was Henry’. Is this a reference to some story mentioned by Henry of Huntingdon? Or to a poem or ballad concerning two standard characters of folk-lore, the king and the miller’s daughter? We discovered quite a few ballads, but none connected with Forteviot.

A. “The King of Alba who ‘murdered his uncle and married his uncle’s widow’ was Macbeth, according to a history written 400 years after Macbeth’s time by Andrew of Wyntoun, who professed to think that Macbeth was King Duncan’s nephew. (According to my theory, the king who married his slaughtered uncle’s widow was Malcolm). Wyntoun was also the sole source of the miller’s daughter story, which had King Duncan (who had two lawful sons), begetting a bastard on the miller’s daughter of Forteviot. This son supposedly grew up to be King Malcolm III, founding a line of Kings and even a Pope (named by Wintoun) ‘all descended from this one humble miller’. A dangerous premise for a court historian, you would think, except that in early times, a man of illegitimate descent could become a King (or a Pope), whereas, by the time Wyntoun was writing, a King born of nephew/aunt incest was a big no-no. So the miller’s story could have been necessary because Wyntoun knew that Malcolm married Macbeth’s widow. All subsequent historians ignored the miller.
The reference to Henry and another variety of miller relates I think to King Henry I and his mistress, a real situation which might have coloured Wyntoun’s little scenario. “

Q. In p. 3, ch.13, Thorfinn and Alfgar discuss Robert le Bourguignon. And T. adds: ‘Lulach says that because of a nephew and a great-grandson of Robert the Burgundian there sprang a new line of kings for England and Scotia, and some love songs.[…] Because of Robert’s great-nephew, the seats of Lulach’s descendants were occupied by Jerusalem, although against the monks of Loch Leven, even Jerusalem failed.’

Now we’ve been searching our heads off for suitable relatives of Robert’s, who e.g. supported the Anjou-Plantagenets in their struggle for power. The poet and crusader Maurice de Craon, the supporter of King Henry II, could be the great-grandson, and some members of the Nevers and Semur families provide the nephew and great-nephew, but which of them are meant? Someone suggested that Robert the Burgundian is no reference to Robert de Nevers, surnamedÒ€ő Le Bourguignon, but to his uncle Robert, Duke of Burgundy (which would make William the Conqueror his nephew by marriage and Guillaume d’Aquitaine his great-grandson). Can you help us?

And what is meant by the Jerusalem reference? A religious order like the Templars or the Hospitallers, which had its roots in the Holy Land? We discovered that the Culdees of Loch Leven were still there when the Culdee movement as a whole had already vanished (actually we found this in an article about medieval cheese-making – obviously they payed their taxes to the king partly with cheeses!), but in the 14th century St. Serf’s seems to have been also a Augustine priory. But we couldn’t find anything to connect the Augustines with Jerusalem. Or is it a reference to the growing influence of the English (and one of the Plantagenet’s ancestors was king of Jerusalem, at least)?

A. “I seem to remember infinite numbers of Robert le Bourguignons, all of them a pest. They do, however, constitute a wonderful invisible link to Scotland.. The charters for these families are good and only have to be analysed (in their hundreds). If I’ve mixed up the Roberts, let me know next year (!), but in this instance, it doesn’t affect the point Lulach was making. As you suggest, the poet Maurice de Craon was the song-maker. The first R de B I’m concerned with, went to the Holy Land and died, 1098. His son, Robert le B de Sable, died by 1110. A surviving son, Rainald le B, swapped Sable for Craon. Rainald’s son, R le B of Craon (Palestine 1138/48) was Grand Master of the Order of Knights Templar, (founded just before David became King of Scotland, and later replaced by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem). About 1128 the monks of the monastery of St Serfs in what is now Fife, Scotland, successfully lodged a complaint against R le B, seigneur de Sable who had taken a bit of their land of Kirkness. This was formerly royal land, and Lulach’s heritage, (as were Mar and Moray, in which the Templars would also hold land). In 1145 King David gave St Serfs into the keeping of the canons of St Andrews.
And lastly, R de B of Sable (d by 1110) was a cousin by marriage of Alan FitzFlaald (Fleance), whose family formed the link between the Archbishopric of Dol and their stewards who came from Brittany to Scotland, and by marrying into the Bruces, gave rise to the Stewart kings of Scotland and England.”


That’s all for now
Best wishes to you all


Newsletter – 23rd April 99

Spring Greetings from Edinburgh where the longer clearer days have been frequently accompanied by cold snaps and the odd snow and hail shower in addition to the usual April showers.

The main purpose of this issue of the newsletter is to inform you about the changes to the Dunnett web pages which I’ve just uploaded. As the main page was getting a bit long and overloaded with graphics, I’ve split everything up into different sections which should make things easier to view, and the pages have a new look.

BOOK NEWS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, and the BOOK COVERS have all moved to separate pages which makes things a little quicker on the main page and allows me to introduce some more decoration. All have been updated of course and I’ve done fresh scans of the covers. The PAST NEWS items also now have a place of their own for people who want to review the older stuff or catch up with things.

There are quite a few new Answers on the QUESTIONS TO DOROTHY section after DD kindly took time out from her Niccolo 8 writing to catch up with the backlog of questions which has been accumulating over the last few months. These are the first of the batch – there are a number of others in the pipeline that I’ll add in over the next few weeks. That whole feature has now been divided into General, Lymond, and Niccolo sections, and as quite a lot of the new questions/answers are on King Hereafter I’ll be adding that section the next time round.

The DUNNETT PLACES TO VISIT feature has been improved with some expanded descriptions and a new section on the Orkney Isles. I’m gradually adding new photographs where possible too.

Another entirely new section is the page on SCOTS PRONUNCIATIONS AND MEANINGS which includes audio files for the most commonly disputed pronunciations and looks at the derivation of some of the standard Scots personal and place-names. I’m quite pleased to have unearthed some interesting stuff there – have a look at the entry for Semple for instance – and am looking forward to more digging.
Please let me know if I’ve missed any names that you want to hear or understand the origins of, and I’ll try to include them in subsequent revisions. For the moment I’m sticking to the Scottish names, as that is obviously the area I’m most familiar with, but if I can do enough research to be confident with the foreign names I may include them later. (Being an appallingly bad linguist I may need Dorothy’s help here! πŸ˜‰ )

Yet another new section is the MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS page. It was inspired by the recent acquisition by our Mercat Press division of a number of books previously published by the Stationery Office including one very good one on Mary. It looks at Mary’s early life and her relations who we see in Queens’ Play and Checkmate. I plan to develop this further if there is sufficient interest.

Finally there’s a lighter note with a CASTING page for that film we all keep talking about! πŸ˜‰

Book News

For those of you who aren’t yet aware of them, the new UK Penguin editions of Lymond are mostly now available, and the new US Vintage editions of Niccolo have started to appear with the first three now being available. Full details are on the web page bibliography.

Personal Appearances

For anyone who is likely to be in Edinburgh in August, Dorothy will once again be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and this time is bringing along her editor – Richenda Todd.
It’s on Saturday 14th August 5pm at the Post Office Theatre. They’ll be discussing the problems of writing a long historical series i.e. historical accuracy, overlapping of events, consistency of events and characters, and they’ll be covering both series of books. If anyone should know the difficulties inherent in that subject it must be her!!

Below is the text of the new Answers, but do have a look at the new layout of the web pages and let me have your opinions.

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

New answers uploaded April 99

Where did you find your research material for King Hereafter?

Q. I would like to ask Mrs. Dunnett how long it took her to research and where did she find all of the wonderful history for King Hereafter.

A “A detailed answer would hold up Niccolo 8 for a month (my reading list alone was 700 books long).
1975, Day 1, contract to write the first properly researched historical novel on the real Macbeth, on which there is ample academic material. (younger son then aged 11).

Day 2 (virtually), discover the academic material is mostly ancient and full of gaps, the exception being the deconstruction of Shakespeare, which is popular and has been well and accurately tackled.

Day 3, sort out which few areas have been updated, mostly in monograph form, and verify from the universities that absolutely no historical department is currently re-examining this period.

Day 4, resign myself to collecting and analysing primary material, as soon as I have read through and noted the secondaries. This included sources (including foreign ones) for info on the Celts, the Picts, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, on current laws and customs on marriage, fostering, bastardy, kingship, on the detailed politics of surrounding countries, on biographies of individuals such as
Canute, Emma, PopeLeo, etc. etc. Also early charters, monastic annals, fragments of early poetry (plus linguistic studies), the Icelandic sagas, saints’ lives, early histories written under the Stewarts, and a lot about the Norman Conquest (plus Norman and Breton charters) to identify the Normans who fled to Macbeth. Also everything relevant in archaeology.

Lovely discoveries about the Archbishop of Dol. Travel, including visits to Rome, Goslar, Vienna, Brittany, Normandy, the Celtic Library at Harvard and all relevant places in the UK, including many visits to Orkney, collecting published material and looking at buildings and museums. Compilation incidentally of 145 interlocking European family trees, laid out in miniscule writing on a piece of
wallpaper 20 feet long.

Discovery that the story still didn’t make sense. Awful dawning realisation that it did make sense if Thorfinn and Macbeth were not half-brothers but the same person. Grinding of teeth (original research is not a good idea for a novelist). Decision (courtesy of my publishers) to continue researching, and in particular track to its source every accepted fact that contradicted this theory.

By the end of 1979, evident to me that the Thorfinn/Macbeth case was stronger than any other, and the investigation was now academically viable. Moment of truth; continue for ten years and exhaust all the lines of research? Take another year, and publish the case as it then stood as non-fiction? Or write, with the facts I then had, the novel I had been contracted to write in 1975? I chose to write the novel, beginning in January 1980 and finishing in March 1981 (younger son now aged nearly 17 and forgiving). The rest, as they say is history…..”

How is Gelis pronounced

Q. One thing I would like to ask Dorothy Dunnett is whether Gelis is pronounced JEALOUS…

A “I’ve never discovered. It’s short for Egidia. I usually try to avoid ‘Jealous’ and try for ‘Jailees’.”

Extra comment from Bill Marshall: I recently came across an entry in a listing of Scots names which gave Egidia as the feminine form of Giles (as in St. Giles). See the web site Pronunciation/Meaning section for further details.

What were your early readings and did they inspire you?

Q. Did she read Quentin Durward (Scott) and The White Company (Arthur Conan Doyle) when she was young? Did they in any way inspire, influence, or direct her imagination?

A “Can’t remember reading The White Company, but my school went in for Walter Scott in a really big way. I once amused Sir Walter’s charming g-g-many g’s-granddaughter by remarking brashly that the books were all right so long as you skipped the first forty pages. They weren’t in the forefront of my memory when I started to write, but everything one has read forms source material, I’m quite sure. I didn’t even realise until recently what a magnificent researcher he was.”

Any influence from Kristin Lavernsdatter

Q. After reading and re-reading King Hereafter I wondered if Dorothy Dunnett had been influenced by Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavernsdatter. Kristin appears to take place about two generations after King Hereafter. It is almost like the gap between Nicholas and Lymond. Naturally, Undset and Dunnett take a different tack in their books but they both present intricate characters.

A “They are wonderful books. I’d never heard of them, much to the shock of two readers – Judy Amory and her husband from Harvard – who promptly repaired my ignorance by sending me the whole trilogy. That probably pre-dated King Hereafter, but my work for that was so different that I don’t recall even thinking about Undset.”

King Hereafter

The first in a series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer

Q. In p 1, ch. 18, Lulach utters something strange. He says ‘One cold winter, the ink froze at Fulda.’ Thorfinn later remembers this when Archbishop Adalbert asks him ‘who interprets your dreams ?’ We couldn’t make head or tail of this, so could you please help ?

A My notes would take weeks to sort out, so this is simply from summaries or from memory and not to be trusted:

As you have probably worked out, Lulach, poor guy, is the many-tongued voice of History, which you can’t trust either. Everything he says directs attention to something uncommon relating to the history of Scotland. I wanted to show that – although the novel should be enjoyed as pure historical romance – there is a serious basis for the new theories about Scotland it posits, and that here, in the gap between the real events and the Shakespeare play, is a classic example of how and why history comes to be distorted. Failing academic footnotes and appendices, which would have been ridiculous, it seemed appropriate to put some of the evidence in the mouth of Lulach the Fool, who bore the name of the prophetic Wild Man of Irish and Welsh history. The Havamal quotation which prefaces the novel is black irony.

Part 1, chapter 18: everything that Lulach says on this page relates to evidence for Macbeth’s real story. There was a King of Alba went to Rome. This was Macbeth. How do we know? Because an Irish monk called Marianus Scotus (born 1028) sat in a monastery at Fulda in Germany and recorded it: 1050 – Rex Scottiae Macbethad Romae argentum pauperibus seminando distribuit. (in MGH). But how could Macbeth afford to scatter gold like seed to the poor? How could he afford to take a king’s escort from Scotland to Rome and back, with all the rich gifts he would have to donate? Answer (mine): Macbeth couldn’t, but Thorfinn with his tributes and shipping trade could.

The frozen ink reference (real) was a pointer to anyone interested that the writings of Marianus Scotus in Fulda would provide food for thought. (The second time, it crops up because Thorfinn is reflecting that Lulach is his dream – not to mention nightmare -interpreter). The monks incidentally were always mumping about the weather: 1047: Nix in occidente in tantum ut silvasfregisset. Another monastic record supplied the information about the six-day hurricane in December 1052 which I described in a scene with Thorfinn in Orkney.

Hope that’s enough to keep you all going for a while longer as you wait for Niccolo 8 πŸ˜‰
I’ll add some more answers in a few weeks.

Best wishes


Newsletter – 9th Jan 99

New Year Greetings from Edinburgh!

Niccolo 8

There hadn’t been much recent news until this week so this newsletter is a rather rush job.
It’s main purpose is to confirm what many of you will already have guessed – that Niccolo 8 will be a little later than originally planned. As most of you will know it would normally have been Nov 1999 – all the recent Niccolos have been November in the odd numbered years – but given the tragic events of Sept it was always likely that it would be delayed. At the moment the best guess is that it will be published around the end of March 2000, but this date is by no means cast in stone. There is no word yet of the title – Michael Joseph don’t know it yet so it looks as if Dorothy is teasing us a little longer.

Orders for it – not yet.

Can I stress again that I will announce when we can take orders for it, but that we can’t take them at the moment as Michael Joseph can’t. Any attempt to hold such orders outwith the computer systems that are intended for the purpose would be fraught with potential for mistakes, while if we put them on the system it would be almost inevitable that an order would be sent to Michael Joseph prematurely and that would disappear into a black hole. So please wait until the title is decided and the systems are ready for it.

New commemorative editions of Niccolo planned

There will be another new UK edition of all the Niccolos to commemorate the finishing of the series. They will be in the “B” paperback format and will have more elaborate covers than the current small format Penguin editions. They are likely to come out in two lots – the first 4 in Jan 2000 and the next 3 in March 2000. I’ll give you further details when they become available.

The new Penguin Lymonds

The new Penguin editions of Lymond will be out very shortly – Ringed Castle should be this month and the others should follow in Feb and March. I’m told they have been reset (presumably rather than just reduced from the other editions) so they should be easy on the eye for reading, and they are priced at UKP 7.99 Details for most of them (apart from Pawn in Frankincense which will probably be last out) are on the web site with hotlinks for anyone who wants to order them.
The Michael Joseph trade editions are gradually disappearing as the Penguins come in. We still have copies of some of them – particularly Checkmate which is otherwise now out of print – but supplies will dry up over the next few weeks.

King Hereafter

As hoped we have been able to obtain copies of the US Vintage edition of King Hereafter, so if any of you that are outside the US would like a copy please get in touch. At the current exchange rate we’re selling it at UKP 9.65

Confessions of a Dunnett Reader

I’m half way through Race of Scorpions at the moment but there is never enough time for reading. Spring of the Ram was a fascinating look at the dying embers of the Byzantine world, and has also got me much more interested in the politics and history of the Mediterranean area.
So often the history books fail to give a real perspective on trade and war in these times and you are left trying to see it through modern eyes and ideas. So much depended on a single ship getting through with its cargo or a single engagement by relatively small armies. And how often have we looked at a flat military plan with it’s arrows pointing in all directions but failed to grasp the true significance of the lie of the land, the supply routes, the weather, the politics and internal jostling. Dorothy somehow brings this all to life in a way that seems beyond the dry textbooks (and all other authors).

It has been fascinating to watch Nicholas grow, and the changing opinions of his friends as he does so. At the moment it is easier to identify with him in the hero role – though perhaps not to the extent that you can with Lymond – but his mistakes are either forgiveable in one of his age and experience or are a natural consequence of the conflicts he is set within. (Of course I’m aware that this identification will probably not be so easy in the later books when his motives and morality will be more called into question)

I find myself becoming a little exasperated with Tobie’s attitude at the moment – he seems to have impossibly high ideals and is all too ready to criticise when Nicholas fails to meet them. Yes, there is the same unwillingness to explain himself that Lymond suffers from, but I find myself thinking that someone of Tobie’s intelligence should be seeing and understanding more than he does.

It’s probably a bit soon yet to give an opinion on most of the bigger questions that have so far turned up – but maybe on some of them.
Did he love Marion? Yes I’m pretty sure he did. Maybe the nature of it changed a bit but he seems very genuine in it.
Did he deliberately sink the cannon? Hmm, I’m doubtful about that unless he was even more precocious than he seems and there was a very deep motive involving others plotting in Scotland.
Did he engineer Felix death? No, I can’t see any evidence of that.

There are of course lots of questions, but I need to read more and then examine my instinctive reaction before posing them.

Quick General Summary for new subscribers

This last bit can be skipped by all the old hands. There are however lots of new people coming on board all the time, or people reading this via one of the discussion groups without having seen the web page, who may not know the things the rest take for granted.
I produce this newsletter as part of my work for James Thin Ltd, the 150 year old Edinburgh bookseller. We have long had a close relationship with Dorothy as one of our principle local authors, and for a long time have had many overseas Dunnett customers who order the books from us. The new UK titles are normally published about 7-8 months earlier than the US editions and of course everyone always wanted the books as soon as they could get them. For a long time we had run a conventional mailing list for notification to all these people (indeed we still do for those that are not on email) and Dorothy signs all the books before we send them out.

I set up our first email connection just over 4 years ago and by chance I was asked by Douglas Brown of our Mail Order Dept, who ran the mailing list, to reply to a Dunnett customer who had mentioned her email address in a letter, and from there I suddenly started to get email from other net connected fans. The numbers grew quickly and the first announcement of To Lie With Lions was made by email as well as letter, and when I set up the web site a few months later a Dunnett page was an obvious item for inclusion. It quickly became our most popular page and has remained so despite many advances in the site. If you haven’t seen the page then go to
for the full framed version and follow the button links for “Scottish” and “Scottish Authors”, (or “Fiction” and “Historical Fiction”) or go directly to
for the Dunnett page without the navigation frame.

Most of the routine questions that are often asked are answered on this page and over the years I’ve added a number of other items such as “Questions to Dorothy” and “Dunnett Places to Visit”. You can even see a horoscope for Francis Crawford!
The book availablility lists are always kept as current as possible and there are hotlinks from the book ISBNs into our BookSearch enquiry/ordering system so it’s easy to order them. This system is fully secure for credit card transactions, so you need have no worries about ordering from overseas.

You should be aware that if you want books quickly and are on a different continent from us, then airmail, while expensive, is the best choice. Surface mail to the US and Canada takes between 5 and 8 weeks, and to Australia and the Far East can take 3 months or more. Even airmail isn’t always as fast as you would think – I’ve known cases of books being held up in US Customs and taking 18 days to reach their destination – but is usually only a few days. The vast majority of the orders for new titles as they first appear specify airmail – and those that initially say surface mail often change their minds πŸ˜‰

From a figure of roughly 120 or so advance orders for Unicorn Hunt we moved to over 200 for TLWL with many more email orders quickly following. Caprice and Rondo was over 400 advance orders and the figure was nearer 600 within a couple of months of it being published, so you can imagine it has become a logistical nightmare to try to get them out as quickly as possible. Hopefully this may be a little easier with Niccolo 8 since it now won’t be in the very busy November period when we are also dealing with a lot of academic orders, and when the postal system is already starting to suffer from the Xmas rush. Of course how quickly Dorothy can sign 600 or so copies is another matter!

In case it’s not obvious I long since stopped regarding this as “real work” and it became a labour of love. Having met Dorothy a number of times and been captivated by her charm, intelligence and sense of humour, I started reading the books properly myself and am now as much a fan as the rest of you. Sometimes it’s hard to know where work stops and discussion begins, but usually if I post from my address then I’m talking business, while if I’m using my personal account on cableinet which I use to participate in the discussion groups then I’m talking as a fan. Though sometimes it can get a bit blurry! πŸ˜‰

You’re always welcome to contact me if you have any questions that I can help with.

Best wishes to old and new readers alike