August 25, 1923 – September 9, 2001
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Dorothy Dunnett: Life in Interesting Times
"My mother and father met while playing chess, so I've always had a fondness for the game. If it weren't for chess, I might not be here." ~ Dorothy Dunnett
August 25, 1923
Dorothy Halliday was born in Dunfermline, Fife on the 25th of August, 1923. The only daughter of a mining engineer, she grew up in the Corstorphine area of Edinburgh.
She was educated at the James Gillespie School for Girls – only a few years after Muriel Spark who based her famous novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on the school. Dorothy Halliday excelled at languages, and received her certificate in 1940.
At the outset of war, sixteen year-old Dorothy embarked on her career in civil service in the Scottish Office, working as a typist, thinking the job would afford her plenty of time for painting. She found some time for art, but mostly she found love, when she met her husband-to-be,
Also at the Scottish Office was a young journalist, adventurer and playwright: Alastair Dunnett. He was the new press secretary for the Scottish Secretary of State. After the war, the friendship they'd struck during their professional time together stuck. They were married in 1946.
Dorothy’s love of art was clear as was her talent as a portraitist. She began to exhibit works at the Royal Scottish Academy in the 1950s under the name Dorothy Halliday.
Newlyweds Dorothy and Alastair moved to Glasgow, where Alastair worked as the editor of the Daily Record. They moved back to Edinburgh when Alastair became editor of The Scotsman in 1956. They had two sons, Ninian and Mungo.
A New Chapter
Dorothy Dunnett begins writing her first novel – The Game of Kings, first of the Lymond chronicles, published in 1961. The series follows the daring, dashing, dubious Francis Crawford of Lymond, from Scotland to Russia and nearly everywhere in between. More about the Lymond books here.
Dorothy and her husband Alastair both had a deep and abiding love for Scotland and its landscapes. They travelled together frequently, and collaborated on a book about the Scottish Highlands.
It’s a Mystery
Dorothy was also a great writer of mysteries, penning a series about portrait-painter-turned-spy Johnson Johnson and his yacht, Dolly. The first book, Dolly and the Singing Bird, was published in 1968, under the name Dorothy Halliday.
In 1982, Dorothy Dunnett published standalone novel about the Scottish king Macbeth, a work of historical fiction that wonders what if that fabled king were the same man as Thorfinn the Great?
Dorothy's second series of historical novels is the House of Niccolò, beginning with Niccolò Rising in 1986 and spanning eight books, including her final novel, Gemini, in 2000.
Dorothy was awarded an OBE in January 1992 in the New Years Honour's list for her services to literature.
Her final novel, Gemini, was published in 2000. It was delayed several months due to the death of her beloved husband, Sir Alastair Dunnett, in late 1998.
To mark the publication of the final book of House of Niccolò a gathering was organised in Edinburgh, which was attended by Dorothy Dunnett, who gave the keynote speech. This was followed by a gala meal for 300 attendees in the great hall of Stirling Castle.
Fare Ye Well
Diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and liver, Dorothy died in Edinburgh on November 9, 2001