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Dorothy was of course best known for her two major series of historical novels. She started writing Game of Kings - which grew into the 6 volume series The Lymond Chronicles - in the late 1950s, and it was published in 1961. Curiously it was first published in the USA after being rejected as too long by a number of British publishers. Alastair Dunnett had contacts in the US publishing world and famously wrote to Lois Dwight Cole, who had discovered and edited Gone with the Wind. He said simply 'How would you like to see an astounding manuscript of a story written by the wittiest woman in Scotland?' and she wrote back saying 'Send it', and a contract was offered almost immediately.
While writing the Chronicles she interspersed them with a series of spy/detective mysteries which were called after the hero's yacht Dolly and are usually known as the Dolly series or the Johnson Johson series. These were originally produced under her maiden name of Halliday and have been renamed twice, which causes frequent confusion. Sadly they haven't been in print for some years and are highly sought after in second-hand circles.
After Lymond was finished her publisher wanted her to undertake a single volume work on a major Scottish historical figure. Rejecting the obvious ones she chose Macbeth, and set to researching the real 11th century character who had been shamefully turned into an ogre by Shakespeare. That research was to take her 5 years and lead her to the conclusion that Thorfinn the Mighty, Earl of Orkney, was in fact the same person as King Macbeth. Faced with the choice of spending another few years on research to prove her theory or writing the fictional account that had originally been contracted for, she chose the latter and the result was King Hereafter, which some believe to be her finest work.
Having decided that if she was to repeat the single volume process that she would only write 3 more books in her life, she turned once more to a series and conceived the idea of looking back to the period before Lymond, to look at how the development of trade and banking could allow a remarkable freedom of movement between classes for someone with the requisit skills. This became the eight volume House of Niccolo and cemented her reputation as one of the finest writers in the world.
While in the middle of the House of Niccolo series she suggested to her publishers that a companion voilume could be produced to explain in detail the history and background of the two series and provide the sources of the many poems and literary allusions which crop up. This was undertaken by Elspeth Morrison and resulted in the Dorothy Dunnett Companion. Some time later Elspeth and Dorothy worked together on a second volume of the Companion which filled in further detail and covered the books that had not yet been written at the time of the first volume.
Following Dorothy's death the original manuscript came to light of a book of the poetry connected to the Lymond Chronicles, and this was edited by Elspeth along with Dorothy's most recent editor Richenda Todd into The Lymond Poetry.
You can see most of the recent covers in the Book Covers page.
There have been few tranlations of Dorothy's work, although perhaps when you consider the multi-layered complexity of the books it is not so surprising. Some volumes of the Lymond Chronicles were published in German but the translations have a poor reputation and the series was never completed and is now out of print. The Dolly series was also translated into German and this may well have been an easier task than the historicals. The book jackets can be seen in the Non-English Covers page. At present a project is under way to produce new German translations so we hope to see the results of this soon.
There were three volumes of the House of Niccolo translated into French around 1994 but again these were fairly poor and no more were produced apart from a three volume omnibus edition.
In 2004 I heard about a Russian translation of Lymond and the covers of those can also be seen here.
Only in Italy does it seem that good translations have been produced and a number of the House of Niccolo volumes are readily available in Italian bookshops. Dorothy always enjoyed travelling to Italy for the launches, particularly as her publisher was also a director of La Scala Milan Opera House and used to give her the best box in the house!
Dorothy was with various publishers on both sides of the Atlantic at various times. These changes of publisher have meant that there have been times when her books have not been available due to the "grace periods" in between the old editions being allowed to fade out of circulation and the new ones coming in. That was certainly the case when I first set up the Dunnett pages on the James Thin site in 1995. Happily that has changed and all her Lymond and Niccolo books plus King Hereafter are currently available in various editions, but the Johnson Johnson books unfortunately are not.
These lists are based on my knowledge of the UK and
US editions from my time as a bookseller, with prices updated from various online sources. Since the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement in the UK discounting has been allowed so you may well be able to obtain the books more cheaply than the cover prices quoted here.
This site is designed, written, and maintained by Bill Marshall.
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