On November 8th 2001 Dorothy Dunnett, the cult Scottish novelist, died.
The writer of intricate and meticulously researched historical novels, she attracted a devoted following with her multi-volume sagas. Her novels included the million-word Lymond Chronicles, in six volumes, which covered 15 years in the life of a 16th-century Scottish aristocrat, Francis Crawford of Lymond, she followed that with the eight-part prequel The House of Niccolò.
Aficionados of the Dunnett epics formed their own societies, met regularly at international conferences, and swapped theories about the puzzles and the sub-plots that the author sewed so carefully throughout the developing storylines.
Dunnet also wrote a novel about the real Macbeth called King Hereafter, and a series of mystery novels centred around Johnson Johnson, a portrait painter/spy.
An only child, Dorothy went to James Gillespie’s High School for girls, where she overlapped with Muriel Spark, and was taught by Miss Kay, the model for Jean Brodie. She discovered a talent for painting, and contemplated a career as an artist, but war broke out, and at the age of 16 she went to work as a civil servant, becoming an assistant press officer.
Only after the death of her father, which caused her great misery, did her husband suggest that she take up writing. She began researching the childhood of Mary Queen of Scots, and invented a character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a dashing Scots mercenary, who travelled widely, visiting the French and English courts, caught up in intrigues across 16th- century Europe.
The Game of Kings, her first novel, was rejected by English publishers because it was considered too long, but was spotted in New York by Lois Cole, who had published Gone With the Wind. It came out in 1961 and was an instant best-seller, marking the beginning of a remarkable fictional journey, which took Dunnett round the world in pursuit of historical detail.
Although she led a busy life, her favourite relaxation was sitting in their Morningside home, with a glass of malt whisky, discussing the day’s events, sounds good to me!
As with many of our writers, Dorothy Dunnett is remembered in Makars Court, the stone bears her name, her coat of arms, and a brief quote from one of her books “Where are the links of the chain … joining us to the past”.