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Thirty beautiful short stories written for Christmas sit within the pages of this book. George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) from Orkney, wrote these tales during the 1970’s and 80’s, and yet they somehow sit outside of time. As William S. Peterson says in the introduction: “Some of them are set in the ancient or medieval world; others seem to be taking place in the early twentieth century. Always, however, he insists upon collapsing the dissecting between the present and a shadowy past…”. Sometimes Christmas is obvious, while at others there is just a whisper as they sit within the Advent season, but these stories hold tradition, myth, childhood, family, and what it is to be human during this time of year. The wood and lino cuts are an additional treat. A story that is a particular favourite of mine is Dialogue at the Year’s End which sent a shiver of goosebumps cascading down my arms with the kiss of a fairytale, and brought a tear to my eye. Christmas Stories is the most lovely festive treasure, and would make a lovely stocking filler as it brings alive the human spirit and joy of Christmas.
First published in 1969, An Orkney Tapestry, George Mackay Brown's seminal work, is a unique look at Orkney through the eye of a poet. Originally commissioned by his publisher as an introduction to the Orkney Islands, Brown approached the writing from a unique perspective and went on to produce a rich fusion of ballad, folk tale, short story, drama and environmental writing. The book, written at an early stage in the author's career, explores themes that appear in his later work and was a landmark in Brown's development as a writer. Above all, it is a celebration of Orkney's people, language and history. This edition reproduces Sylvia Wishart's beautiful illustrations, commissioned for the original hardback. Made available again for the first time in over 40 years, this new edition sits alongside Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain as an important precursor of environmental writing by the likes of Kathleen Jamie, Robert Macfarlane, Malachy Tallack and, most recently, Amy Liptrot.
George Mackay Brown was a master of the short story form and produced a steady stream of short fiction collections, starting with A Calendar of Love (1967) and include A Time to Keep (1969) and Hawkfall (1974), as well as his poetry collections and novels. In this selection, edited and introduced by Malachy Tallack, we explore the author's Orkney and the ups and downs of the crofters and fishermen there. These magical stories, drawn from ancient lore and modern life, strip life down to the essentials.
In this new Selected Poems, Kathleen Jamie explores the multi-faceted world of George Mackay Brown's Orkney, the poet's lifelong home and inspiration. George Mackay Brown's concerns were the ancestral world, the communalities of work, the fables and religious stories which he saw as underpinning mortal lives. Brown believed from the outset that poets had a social role and his true task was to fulfil that role. This is not the attitude of a shrinking violet, tentatively exploring his 'voice'. Art was sprung from the community, and his role as poet to know that community, to sing its stories. But there was also room for introspection; the poet's task was simultaneously to 'interrogate silence'.
Greenvoe, the tight-knit community on the Orcadian island of Hellya, has existed unchanged for generations, but Operation Black Star requires the island for unspecified purposes and threatens the islanders' way of life. A whole host of characters - The Skarf, failed fishermen and Marxist historian; Ivan Westray, boatman and dallier; pious creeler Samuel Whaness; drunken fishermen Bert Kerston; earth-mother Alice Voar, and meths-drinker Timmy Folster - are vividly brought to life in this sparkling mixture of prose and poetry. In the end Operation Black Star fails, but not before it has ruined the island; but the book ends on a note of hope as the islanders return to celebrate the ritual rebirth of Hellya.
Bestowed at birth with two gifts, an ivory flute and a bag of silver and gold coins, a young girl wanders through time. She is destined to pursue the dragon of war and before he consumes the world in flames, subdue him not with violence but music. Moving across the battlefields from East to West, the girl bears witness to the suffering and brutality of war throughout history ...
These two long stories are set, like most of George Mackay Brown's work, in Orkney and in a period, the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when the pattern of island life, little changed since Viking times, was beginning to be threatened. The Golden Bird tells the story of the slow decline of an island community: a scattered village dependant on the sea for its livelihood and at risk from it, a place subject to the peculiar tensions of isolation and the unsettling influence of new values. The Life and Death of John Voe looks at the life of a typical young Orkney man: after whaling and sailing and gold-mining he comes home to devote the rest of his days to a beautiful country girl. These stories are the creation of a very rich imagination, of a practised and skillful writer, but they also have the power and simplicity of the traditional ballad. They will delight Mackay Brown's fans.
First published in 1973 by the Hogarth Press, Magnus is George Mackay Brown's tour de force - his most poetic and innovative book. He links the twelfth-century story of the saintly Earl Magnus of Orkney's brutal murder at the hands of his cousin Hakon Paulson, to that of the philosopher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, murdered by the Nazis during World War II. This is a unique exploration of the eternal questions of guilt, goodness and personal sacrifice.
Vinland follows the turbulent life of Ranald Sigmundson, a young boy born into the Dark Ages when Orkney was torn between its Viking past and its Christian future. Struggling to understand the conflicts of his home, Ranald seeks adventure and knowledge across the seas, his journeys taking him as far as Norway, Iceland and Ireland. Through Ranald's story, many elements of early mediaeval life - of seamanship, marriage customs, beliefs and traditions - are brought vibrantly to life, and the traditional poetry interwoven through the prose adds a richness and poignancy to the tales he tells. In Vinland, Mackay Brown's fourth novel, lore and legend, the elementary pull of the sea and the land, the sweetness of the early religion and the darker, more ancient rites, create an exquisite celebration of Orcadian history.
Thorfinn Ragnarson is the daydreaming son of a tenant farmer, avoiding both work and school despite the best efforts of family, friends and neighbours. Instead, the boy dreams up elaborate historical fantasies of himself as a Viking traveller, a freedom-fighter for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the colleague of a Falstaffian knight who participates in the Battle of Bannockburn. He is then hurled into the future as Thor, who returns to the Orkneys as an adult and recalls his internment in a German POW camp, where he discovered his writing skills. Thor also reflects on the history of Orkney, the links between dreaming and writing and the whims of fate. In this beautiful and haunting novel, Brown's lyrical descriptions and gift for local colour capture, as ever, the myth-drenched magic of his native islands.
George's memory is inseparable from Orkney, where he was born the youngest child of a poor family and which he rarely left. His mother was a beautiful woman who spoke only Gaelic and his father was a wit, mimic and singer, who also doubled as postman and tailor. Tuberculosis framed George's early life and kept him in a kind of limbo. He discovered alcohol which gave him insights into the workings of the mind. While attending the University of Edinburgh he came into contact with Goodsir Smith, MacDiarmid and Norman MacCaig - and Stella Cartwright with whom perhaps all of them were in love. By the time of his death in 1996 he was recognised as one of the great writers of his time and country.
In this novel set on the fictitious island of Norday in the Orkneys, George Mackay Brown beckons us into the imaginary world of the young Thorfinn Ragnarson, the son of a crofter. In his day-dreams he relives the history of this island people, travelling back in time to join Viking adventurers at the court of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople, then accompanying a Falstaffian knight to the battle of Bannockburn.Thorfinn wakes to the twentieth century and a community whose way of life, steeped in legend and tradition, has remained unchanged for centuries. But as the boy grows up - and falls in love with a vivacious and mysterious stranger - the transforming effect of modern civilization brings momentous and irreversible changes to the island. During the Second World War Thorfinn finds himself in a German prisoner-of-war camp, and it is here that he discovers his gifts as a writer. Long afterwards he returns, now a successful novelist, to a deserted and battle-scarred island. Searching for the peace and freedom of mind he had in abundance as a child, he finds instead something he didn't even know he was looking for.George Mackay Brown intertwines myth and reality to create a novel of deceptive simplicity. The story of Thorfinn and the island of Norday is a universal and profound one, rooted in the timeless landscape of the Orkneys, the inspiration of all his writing.
In his fourth novel, George Mackay Brown takes us to an Orkney torn between its Viking past and its Christian future. Set in the early 11th Century, it tells the story of Ranald Sigmundson, who turns his back on a successful life of political intrigues and battles to design a ship to take him on a journey even greater than the first great voyage of his life, the one to Vinland.
The author's beloved Orkney is brought vividly to life in this classic collection, peopled with crofters, fishermen, ferrymen and tinkers. History plays a part too, for Norse and Scottish legend are revived in tales of witch trials, priest hunts and Viking raids, all endowed with the stark beauty of George Mackay Brown's masterful storytelling.
This collection celebrates winter and its festivals, light and darkness. It includes the tales of Lieutenant William Bligh at the port of Hamnavoe, an Edinburgh man rediscovering his roots in Shetland, Baltic-men shipwrecked on the Orkney coast, and Norse warriors setting out for the Holy Land.Through these stories George Mackay Brown explores the effects of new ways of thinking and working on the ancient patterns and traditions of Orkney life.