George Mackay Brown George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown is perhaps Orkney's best known author. He was born in Stromness in 1921 and his poetry, plays, novels and short stories continue to have an impact worldwide.

George Mackay Brown, or GMB as he was known in Orkney
George Mackay Brown, or GMB as he was known in Orkney

A sense of place at the heart of George Mackay Brown's work brings many visitors to Orkney every year. His work was inspired by Orcadian folklore – the myths, legends and sagas - Orkney’s Norse heritage, the natural landscape, his childhood and exploration of his faith. He wrote about his hometown of Stromness and chronicled the lives of the people who lived here and the way of life.

After six years as the Stromness correspondent for the Orkney Herald and a period recovering from tuberculosis, GMB, as he is often referred to in Orkney, from 1951 studied at Newbattle College in Midlothian under warden Edwin Muir, a fellow Orcadian writer. He went on to read English at Edinburgh University, returning to Orkney in 1961.

George Mackay Brown at work in Orkney
George Mackay Brown at work in Orkney

Dubbed by some as the Orkney bard, his first book of poems sold out in days. Despite almost continual ill-health he continued to write and gained numerous prizes for his work. These included the James Tait Memorial Prize for his novel The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories. Beside the Ocean of Time was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Scottish Book of the Year title from the Saltire Society. He was awarded the OBE and three honorary degrees.

A meeting with composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who has a home in Orkney, led to many collaborations between the two artists. An opera, The Martyrdom of St Magnus, was performed in 1977 at the first St Magnus Festival.

George Mackay Brown at home in Stromness
George Mackay Brown at home in Stromness

His weekly column which ran for more than 25 years in The Orcadian from 1971 is in print in book form and gives an insight into his Stromness routines and his observations on a changing Orkney.

George Mackay Brown died in 1996 but his legacy lives on in his words, and in the George Mackay Brown Fellowship.

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