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.


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


Newsletter – 2nd February 98

Just to let everyone know that I uploaded the new “Questions for Dorothy” feature to the website last thing on Friday. Didn’t get time to do a notification at the same time and one or two of you have already spotted it. Here is the complete text of the new feature. Hope you like it.
(Of course it’d still be nice if you log onto the web site to see it, so the hits go up!! 😉 )

Questions Answered by Dorothy Dunnett

Dorothy’s talks and personal appearances are always popular, usually being composed of a reading from one of the books, a number of anecdotes from her research trips and a question and answer session, but with an ever growing army of fans all over the world there are many who may never get the chance to hear her speak or answer their questions. This page is an attempt to capture something of the atmosphere of one of these talks. By inviting questions from the visitors to this site and also providing some of the “standard” answers that often come up, I hope to be able to give readers something of the insight into Dorothy’s writing and ideas that they would have got from attending a talk in person.

As the number of questions and answers grow I’ll try to divide them into separate sections – perhaps one for each of the two series and another for the other books – but for the moment they are presented at they come in.

A Comparison of Lymond and Nicholas

One of the main topics of interest in many discussions is the contrast between these two central characters. I was about to say “of the two series” but Dorothy has let it be known that she considers it one series of 14 books. Here is her perspective on the two male leads.

“With Lymond, I wanted to show a very solitary man facing up to what was happening to him, and dealing with it, and changing under its impact. From the beginning, he appears as a courtier, a scholar, a wilful and charismatic leader of mercenaries, with formidable enemies. He also vulnerable because of something to do with his past and his parentage, which we can only guess at, for he himself doesn’t know the truth, and doesn’t want to. As his power and influence increase, these secrets are explored one by one, until he has to confront them in the end. And as this happens, we begin to understand what moulded the dazzling character whom we met at the beginning.”

“Nicholas had to be different. In the 15th century, you could climb out of your class if you were good at banking and merchandising and accountancy, and Nicholas as a young man does this. We met Lymond fully-fledged; we see Nicholas as young and (comparatively) inexperienced, but advancing with every adventure. There are mysteries too in his life, and enemies, but the real mystery is his nature. He is both hilariously outgoing, and obsessively private. We see him acting heroically; we see him deceiving his friends. We see him risking his life for someone else, but also initiating some crazy chain of events that will as surely bring about wanton ruin or death. The character of Nicholas is what this series is all about, rather than the unfolding of secrets. The central mystery was the key to Lymond’s whole life, but this is not true of Nicholas.”

St. Mary’s – Fact or Fiction?

Is there any historical basis for the mercenary troop at St. Mary’s in Disorderly Knights?

“No. But readers in the past, on their way to tour the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch’s house at Bowhill, have been able to stop by the side of this very beautiful lake and see where it might have been.”

This bring us to a subsidiary question that is often posed by non-Scots – How do you pronounce Buccleuch? The simple answer to this is Buckloo.

How much is preplanned?

The following question was submitted:

When Dorothy began each of the two series, how much of the plot was preplanned? There is so much foreshadowing that it seems a lot of planning was required, but in writing a series over the course of 12 – 16 years, it seems like it would be difficult to maintain the original focus. I have heard authors say that characters take on a life of their own as books develop. Does Dorothy feel that this occurs and if so, how does she balance this against the original plan?

“Each series was planned in detail from the beginning. Within a day-to-day historical framework like this, there is no leeway for major characters to make unplanned changes of direction, or you couldn’t be true to the history. It still leaves scope for them to display their given (and changing) characteristics in unexpected ways in the course of a scene.”

Original poetry in Checkmate

In Checkmate, what was the only original poetry by DD, later to be noted on the Rosebush Gift?

“Part IV, Chapter 1. Six lines, of which the second was charmingly engraved on the rose bush: Thy flying wit I braid with jewellry.”

What does “Caprice and Rondo” mean?

The following question was typical of a number of submissions.
I was wondering though, does anyone understand the book title? Lord knows it is full of capricious characters, but what does Rondo mean?

“Look up Caprice and then Rondo in the full Oxford English dictionary. The first word has to do with the tone at the start of the book. The second describes the shape of the story.”

Extra comment from Bill Marshall. Recognising them as musical terms I consulted a number of music dictionaries and found that they were described as follows.
Caprice as a term for a variety of compositions usually showing some freedom of expression. The Italian term A Capriccio – following one’s fancy.
Rondo is a round, a musical form in which the first or main section recurs, in a form such as ABACADA where A is the recurring section and the other letters are the subsidiary ones. We also know that Dorothy originally wanted to use the title Rondo Capriccioso but was talked out of it by her publishers on the grounds that some people wouldn’t be able to spell or pronounce it!

What order should I read the books in?

“The double series will form a single entity of 14 books. Order of reading: I’d say LC first, then (in chronological order) HN followed straight through by a re-reading of LC to pick up all the hidden links.”

General Points about the House of Niccolo series

The geneologies printed in the HN books are correct (except for
Esota’s death in the first four books).

Kathi’s marriage to Robin Berecrofts is historical fact

More answers soon!!

Newsletter – 22nd January 98

Greetings to everyone on the list – especially the many new readers who’ve joined us in the last few weeks. Hope you all had a good New Year and the weather hasn’t been effecting too many of you – I know that some of our Canadian friends have not had an easy time with the dreadful ice-storms. Edinburgh’s winter continues to be mostly very mild, but the Highlands have recently had a lot of snow and up in Orkney they had 6 foot snow drifts, all the electricity cut off for a few days, and temperatures of minus 16 C at the beginning of the week.

This edition of the newsletter is basically to tell you about the forthcoming paperback edition of Caprice and Rondo, which was announced recently, and to let you know about the redesign of the web pages. It’s the latter that’s been taking up all my time recently as I’m in the middle of a complete revamp for our 150th anniversary in April and the possibility of an expansion of the search facilities to include the contents of Books in Print.

If you go to the home page ( rather than straight to the Dunnett page you’ll see that we now use a framed system for easier navigation, although I’ve tried to make sure that you can still use the site without frames if necessary. At the moment most of the contents are still as before in terms of style, but I’ll gradually be changing things to better match the frame style. Do let me know what you think of it and if you have any problems that I can correct in the design.

Caprice and Rondo

The hardback is now into its third reprint and copies are in short supply – although the reprint should be ready by the end of this month. The first paperback version has now been announced – as was the case with To Lie with Lions there will be a Michael Joseph trade paperback edition which is due to be published on 28th May priced at UKP 11.95 ISBN 0718140826 We’ve ordered copies and anyone who wants it can use the StockSearch system on the web pages as usual, or send an email to Craig on

I also asked about the Penguin paperback when I was in touch with MJ, but it looks as if that will not be available until next year.

“Questions for Dorothy”

I’ve collected the questions that have been sent in so far and passed them to Dorothy to compile answers. Once I get them back I’ll post them on the web page and here in the newsletter. I’ve been surprised at the quite small number so far – either you all know all the answers already or you’re too modest to speak up 😉 Perhaps once you see the first batch you’ll be emboldened to send in a few more, novice readers like me want to see as many as we can!!

One peripheral item of news that I meant to include in the last newsletter concerned the possible casting of an actor to play Lymond should there ever be a film or TV series. I know that this is a popular discussion item with many of you, and of course Dorothy herself did once mention that she was rather inclined towards a young Peter O’Toole when she started the series. Of the modern actors I find it hard to imagine an American playing the part having heard too many rather odd attempts at a Scottish accent, and have always thought it should be someone with more home connections. It was therefore very interesting to hear that Jason Connery – son of the one and only Sean – has bought a cottage in the borders area and is moving into it with his family as their permanent home. As anyone who saw the second series of the Robin of Sherwood TV series a few years ago will know, Jason very definitely has the hair colouring to play Francis and as an added Dunnett connection he has also recently appeared in the title role in a Scottish film production of Macbeth.

Another news item that caught my eye in the “Scotland on Sunday” newspaper last week was a report that the Mayor of Moscow is pushing ahead with a search of underground tunnels in an attempt to find the legendary jewel-encrusted library of Tsar Ivan IV, who of course had a fairly major role in Ringed Castle. The library – no-one really knows whether it exists or not – was reported to have come originally from Byzantium.

I’ll skip my impressions of the Lymond series this time around as I’ve been stuck near the end of Ringed Castle for the last three weeks. Too busy both at work and running the chess club to read anything properly since New Year, and I think I’ll have to back-track a few chapters and re-jig the memory on some of the political and trading intrigues. And of course re-reading the scene at the Revels will be enjoyable in itself!!

best wishes to you all