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


Newsletter – 11th December 97

Seasonal Greetings to everyone from Edinburgh

Caprice and Rondo

Most of you who ordered by airmail will by now have read your copies of Caprice and Rondo – the surface mail people have been receiving their copies in the last few days from the reports I’ve received. Hope you’ve all been enjoying it and it has answered some of the many questions generated by the series so far!! Of course I’m sure it will have thrown up a few more as well 😉

I’m sure you’ll all be glad to hear that it made the UK hardback fiction bestseller lists top ten, and a large part of that will have been down to you all. We’ve currently sold about 600 copies and demand continued to be strong despite having more than twice the number of advance orders as we had for To Lie with Lions. As mentioned below Dorothy signed a load more at the personal appearance which she did for us on the 12th Nov, and at the time we thought they would probably last until Xmas, but in fact they only lasted until the end of the month!!

New feature for the web site – Questions for Dorothy

Every time I’ve seen her recently, Dorothy has asked if there is anything she can do to help me with the web page. I’d been reluctant to ask for anything as I know how busy she is and most ideas were inevitably going to be very time consuming, but a comment I received regarding the US tour set me to thinking. Most of you probably have little or no opportunity to see one of her appearances and ask all the questions that I know you’re eager to ask.
Why not, I thought, compile a list of answers to all the most common questions that she is usually asked at these events and then invite some more that she can select from and answer.
I suggested this to her and if we can make it work she is keen to go ahead with it. This is a bit experimental and we’ll need to see how much of Dorothy’s and my time it takes up, but if it works out we’ll soon build up the equivalent of a Dunnett FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and maybe be able to give a little of the flavour of attending one of her talks.

If you want to be involved send in one question each and we’ll select about 10 or 12 depending on how much time and space is needed to answer them, and once Dorothy has replied to them I’ll post the answers both on the web site and here in the newsletter. If all goes smoothly then in a few months time we’ll repeat the exercise with some new questions and add them to those we already have.
It would help if you keep the questions separate from any other correspondence and put “Questions for Dorothy” in the Subject line of your message. If you have any standard answers that you know about then I’d be interested to hear those as well.

Please don’t expect an immediate result as both the Christmas holidays and Dorothy’s busy schedule will mean it will be well into 1998 before we can put up the replies. I’ll be away all next week as well so although I’ll be picking up mail at home I won’t be able to follow up any queries.

Dorothy’s Talk and Signing at South Bridge

As you know Dorothy did a small UK tour to promote C&R, and this included an evening here at our main shop.
I had printed some copies of the web site, both to give my colleagues who were running the event, an idea of her background and also to give out to anyone interested. Having read the summary the first thing one of my colleagues said on seeing her was “She’s not 74 !!!” and indeed she looked as usual much younger despite her recent heavy schedule, proving the old adage that a keen mind keeps you young.

She started off the night by giving a quick summary of the two series for anyone who wasn’t fully aware of them and it was interesting for me to hear her comparison of the more obviously attractive character of Francis with that of Nicholas. The impression was of a man with vast abilities but no real purpose in life, and she said she had wanted to have such a character to explore the ways he could develop.

She then went on to read a passage from C&R which she referred to as “the divining scene” and we were all held spellbound for a while as the scene progressed.

Having invited questions she then was able to regale us with stories of her research trips to the Ukraine and Poland for this latest volume, and we were soon in fits of laughter at her adventures. To land in the middle of the Ukraine at night and travel with a driver who speaks no English in an ancient ex-soviet car on cart-track roads that are awash with rain and landslides to a “2000 room soviet hotel” in the middle of nowhere, would be daunting for the most intrepid of us. I wished I’d had a tape recorder handy. Surely there is a wonderful autobiography waiting to be written when all the other projects are completed, though I’m not sure she’d thank me for suggesting it 😉

Something I didn’t know was that Steven Pacey, who read the audiobook of Niccolo Rising, was the actor who played Tarrant in the cult UK Sci-Fi series Blake 7. It turns out that when you get a contract to have one of your books turned into and audiobook, you have to supply pronunciation guides for the narrator, and that she didn’t know this until the day before the recording was due to start!!

We also learned that if you have your books published in Italy by her Italian publisher, one of the perks of the promotion visit is a box in La Scala Milan as the publisher is a director there!!

Once everyone hd bought their signed copies, had finished their wine and left, she very gamely continued signing large quantities of both C&R and Ringed Castle which have since been all sent off to the many fresh orders we’ve received since.

My own continued reading of Lymond

Thanks for all your comments about my thoughts on GK and QP. I hope all my replies reached those who wrote to me. I’ve had more trouble with my private mail account and am concerned taht some may have gone astray.
There isn’t much space here to go into too much detail about Disorderly Knights and Pawn in Frankincense which I just recently finished – I suspect I’ll need to re-read them before I do that. So just a few quick impressions.
At first I found DK a little slow, but that was soon dismissed as the pace quickened after the large amount of scene setting necessary to the story. I’m sure that if I re-read it now I’ll get many more clues to the subsequent behaviour of Graham Mallett, but at the time I had little idea of what was to come. What an incredible villianous construction he is!! Dealing with an obvious monster is one thing – when that monster is so thoroughly disguised as an angel that everyone trusts him absolutely the chances for disaster are vastly greater.
As the scene moved back to Scotland the sweep of the story became astonishing. Lymonds treatment of Joletta intriuging until the truth of her became apparent, the curious love/hate feelings of Jerrott, the death of Will Scott…. there seemed to be no rest in any chapter from the flood of new twists to be assessed. I had little warning of the “Council of War” at Boghall when suddenly all the clues half-seen or missed entirely were all suddenly brought together in that masterful speech condemning Gabriel against all the obvious appearances. A tour de force that hardly slakened until the dramatic ending quite unlike those of the previous two books.

I was warned that PF was hard to read and indeed it was. So much cutting between scenes after the two parties split up and ventured into continually changing areas, and the relations between Francis, Jerrott and Marthe in a constant turmoil. I found I was often having to check back a couple of chapters to confirm things and also often referring to the prophecies of the Dame de Doubtance. Phillippa is becoming a wonderful character and must surely figure highly in the last two volumes. The ending is quite staggering. It took me three reads before I was sure that Mikal’s treachery was actually a Lymond set-up to get into the Seraglio. Then the sudden switch in fortune of the trial that looked hopeless. I’m still trying to construct the final position of the chess game and I’m not sure if it can actually be done, but the concept is fabulous, the tension unbearable and the agony of Francis’ decision can be palpably felt.
Can’t decide if I should be re-reading or rushing on with Ringed Castle.

Enough for now. Hope you all have a great time over the New Year.

best wishes


Newsletter – 11th Nov 1997

Greetings from a suspiciously mild Edinburgh
(douce old Scottish saying in reply to a someone mentioning what a nice day it is – “aye, we’ll pay for this later” 🙂 )

Well, you might say that this has been an interesting few weeks!!
Naturally everything stopped for Caprice and Rondo, but unfortunately the gremlins in the computer systems didn’t seem to get the message. Our main South Bridge unix machine which runs all the stock control and accounts has been crashing regularly and taking up lots of time for Craig and I. The web site had to be moved from our old ISP to the newer one after they finally worked out how to host the secure server, but things didn’t go smoothly and I found I was locked out from making any changes for the best part of two weeks and then when I could get in it wouldn’t accept new files. We also couldn’t pick up StockSearch orders for a couple of days, so apologies to anyone who didn’t receive acknowledgements on time. Just for good measure we discovered that the comments box on Stocksearch hasn’t been working properly for ages and suddenly I’m getting loads of comments! I’m now in a new office upstairs as my long awaited move couldn’t be any further delayed and I had to move all my software and data over to Windows NT.

Caprice and Rondo

For those of you who don’t already know, the processing of the nearly 400 copies of Caprice and Rondo that were being sent airmail was completed in five and a half days (which was faster than we’d managed with about half the number of To Lie with Lions). Dorothy made three trips in to sign all the reserved copies and a few more in addition, but couldn’t manage all the spare ones before having to head back to the US for the second leg of her author tour. We’ve exhausted the signed ones with additional email orders but she’s coming in for a public signing session tomorrow so we’ll have some more signed copies then. All copies (apart from a small number that had problems with things like invalid card numbers that we couldn’t easily sort out) had gone out by the end of Friday 31st Oct and the UK ones went out on Monday 3rd Nov. I would expect that all the airmail ones would have arrived by now, and certainly I’ve had lots of messages telling of arrivals. I know that a short list of people have still to receive their’s and we’ll be checking into that now.

UK edition of Ringed Castle

This has now been published and any orders that we had have been sent out. The cover is now on the web page along with the others.

The US Tour

While I haven’t spoken to Dorothy since she got back I did get a chance to talk a bit more about the first leg of the tour. Apparently everyone who spoke to her or to the publishers wanted to know about King Hereafter and the Companion. Now I don’t currently know what the position is about US rights to either of them, but certainly Vintage have got the message that there is a large demand for them. I just hope Michael Joseph over here get the same message. (I’ve just been told that Caprice and Rondo is already having to be reprinted; which to me suggests that they didn’t print enough in the first place – more details as I can get them.)
One of the visits was so busy it was apparently described as being “more like a signing by Madonna” 😉

Dorothy told me that she was extremely well treated by Vintage and was astonished to find when she went to her hotel room window in Washington that she had the classic view up to the White House!

I had the pleasure of meeting Alastair for the first time during one of Dorothy’s signing visits. I had suggested that it might be possible for our small publishing division – the Mercat Press – to republish his autobiography, Among Friends. He brought a copy in and the Mercat editors are considering it at the moment. I’d like to get some feedback on how many of you would be interested in a copy if we do decide to go ahead with it, although it’s a bit early to know what the price would be at the moment.

Thanks to everyone for their restraint in sending messages during this period – it was much appreciated. I’ve still been getting about 30 messages a day but pretty much all have been on genuine aspects that needed looked at. Needless to say I did fall a bit behind in answering them all but I hope I’ve caught up most of them now. Anybody expecting a reply that hasn’t had one do get back to me.

Thanks also to everyone who mailed me on my personal address about my comments on GK and QP. As luck would have it I’d no sooner suggested it than my ISP started having email problems and I had a few problems getting replies sent out. I hope none got lost on the way to me, but I’ve now answered all I received so if you haven’t had a reply please resend if you still have the message on file. The problem seems to be in the anti-spamming software that they had installed recently and this has been happening with a number of UK ISPs – in fact we had the same problem with this account for a while and I was struggling to send out the last newsletter without most of the messages being rejected.

The reactions to my comments were most interesting and I hope we’ll be able to swap ideas further in the future. I’ve actually now finished Disorderly Knights – really shouldn’t have tried as I was having to grab the odd chapter when I came in late at night, usually about 11.45 till about 1.00am, and my wife wasn’t too pleased at me coming to bed even later than normal, but of course once I’d started it I couldn’t leave it alone. Finally finished it in a 4 hour session that finished at 3.00am this weekend. Won’t try to give my reactions to it now as I’m still getting over the breathless ending, so let’s keep that for next time.

I’ll be seeing Dorothy tomorrow at her signing tomorrow so maybe I’ll have some more news soon. In the meantime I’ll let you all get back to reading C&R 😉

best wishes