Introduction

Moberg--GMB 2George Mackay Brown (1921–1996) was a Scottish writer with a remarkably distinctive personality and outlook. Like Thomas Hardy (with whom he occasionally compared himself) and Wordsworth, he is a major British literary figure closely connected with a specific provincial setting: born in Stromness, Orkney, on a cluster of islands off the northeast coast of Scotland, he lived in that small harbor town nearly all his life except for the years when he was studying at Newbattle Abbey and the University of Edinburgh. (His sole journey outside Britain was a quick dash over to Ireland in 1968, and even England he visited hurriedly in old age only at the urging of friends.) The islands, littered with ancient monuments and ruins, produced in Brown a deep sense of connection to their neolithic, Viking, and pre-industrial pasts, and from that vantage point he was able to offer a wry, often dark, perspective on the mechanized world of the twentieth century. In particular, the arrival of oil-drilling off Orkney’s shores – as well as the discovery of uranium near Stromness – prompted a series of meditations, in both prose and verse, about the potential collapse of civilization. His conversion as an adult to Roman Catholicism obviously reinforced a lifelong tendency to look backward to the Middle Ages, while his grim interpretation of humanity’s future was also connected with an awareness of global warming (a phrase he was using as early as 1992, incidentally) and nuclear warfare.

For decades Brown followed a quiet routine in his modest Stromness flat (formerly a council home), sitting at the kitchen table every morning as he wrote weekly columns and other articles for local newspapers and, increasingly, composed poetry and fiction for a larger audience beyond the insular world of Orkney. His casual, self-deprecating manner disguised the fact that he was a surprisingly busy figure: he produced approximately fifty books during his lifetime, collaborated extensively with Peter Maxwell Davies in the creation of songs and operas, and assisted (always discreetly in the background) in the founding of a major annual festival of the arts in Kirkwall. When he died in 1996, his flat was crammed with manuscripts and typescripts, many of them unpublished.

On this website I am attempting to bring together a wide array of bibliographical information about him: annotated checklists of Brown’s own writings in books and periodicals, his musical joint productions with Davies, the occasional forays into radio and television, his plays, and the growing body of commentary on his work. From time to time I will also list and describe websites devoted to some aspect of Brown’s life or writings, but here I will be cautious, because – as we all know from sad experience – Internet links can become obsolete surprisingly quickly. On the other hand, the Web addresses of library catalogues are more likely to remain stable, and I have therefore sprinkled such links freely throughout the entries. My rule of thumb is that for each of his books I have tried, if possible, to provide connections to one or more libraries in Scotland, England, and the United States.

As a matter of policy, I am making an effort to personally examine the first editions of books by Brown, though for reprints I have sometimes relaxed that rule. (Alas, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 means that in a few instances I have had to rely on digital copies in creating my descriptions of first editions.) On the other hand, even though I cannot claim to have located or seen all the reviews of his books, I thought it would be useful to list as many as possible in order to convey a sense of Brown’s growing reputation.

During his early years as Stromness correspondent of the Orkney Herald, many of Brown’s contributions were unsigned or signed with pseudonyms. I have occasionally included some of these anonymous pieces, but I have always tried to make such attributions cautiously; another bibliographer going through the Orkney Herald files might well produce a slightly different conjectural list of his unsigned articles.

I should add that, with only a few exceptions, I am not sytematically recording the existence of GMB’s manuscripts – which have survived in great abundance, mainly in Kirkwall and Edinburgh – except when I can connect them with specific publications. Similarly, though I have read a good deal of GMB’s unpublished correspondence, which has  often provided useful bibliographical clues, I have made no attempt here to list those letters.

I wish to express here my gratitude for the important pioneering bibliographical work by Osamu Yamada, which was originally published in 1991 and subsequently revised and reprinted in a volume edited by Hilda Spear (2000). Though I am conscious of following in his footsteps, it will also be obvious that our approaches are quite different. I am finding a considerably wider range of material – mainly, I suspect, because of the current abundance of information from digital sources – and since an online work does not share the space limitations of a book, I am describing Brown’s publications in much more detail and am making use of illustrations whenever possible. I should add that I am also indebted to a master’s thesis by Stuart MacBeath (University of Glasgow, 2017), which offers a list and close analysis of Brown’s early contributions to the Orkney Herald.

Finally, I am very aware that putting such an enormous amount of material on a website introduces complex problems of organization. (In particular, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by his thousands of weekly essays for the two local newspapers, the Orkney Herald and the Orcadian.) My suggestion is that you find your way through this bibliography by making heavy use of the search box, the chronological categories, and the tag list to the right. You should also bear in mind that the search box treats multiple words as Boolean and searches; if you want to find exact phrases, place quotation marks around them. As for the tag list, it displays the hundred most frequently occurring tags on this site: click on any of them.

As a further aid to navigation, I am also providing (see above in the header) a simplified, chronological list of Brown’s books as well as lists, arranged by date, of GMB’s regular newspaper columns (“Bookshelf,” “Island Diary,” “Letter from Hamnavoe,” “Stromness News,” “Under Brinkie’s Brae,” and “What the Pier Head Is Saying”). His other contributions to the two Orkney newspapers will be posted as individual entries below.

The link to unlocated Scotsman articles above supplies a list of pieces by GMB in the Scotsman for which I do not yet have full information. (Suggestions and advice from readers will be appreciated.)

I have also decided, rather belatedly, to include on this website a lengthy list of the books (and a few periodicals) that GMB is known to have owned. The list and a discussion of his library can be found on the page above entitled GMB’s personal library.

William S. Peterson (wsp@umd.edu)


Acknowledgments: I am grateful to many individuals who have contributed to making this website possible, but I feel particularly indebted to my wife Sylvia Holton Peterson, who has provided much assistance; Morag MacInnes, who has answered many questions and has given me access to her personal collection of George Mackay Brown’s books; Kate Elliott, who has traced many of the articles in the Orcadian; Robert E. and Kim Foden, who have allowed me to digitize some years of the Orkney Herald for research purposes; James Fergusson, who has helped to keep me informed about recent publications and books from GMB’s own library; and David Mackie, former Senior Archivist at the Orkney Library and Archive, and Lucy Gibbon, Assistant Archivist, who have been unfailingly helpful.


Photographs above: Stromness from Brinkie’s Brae (by Fionn McArthur); George Mackay Brown, 1990 (by Gunnie Moberg); the historic marker on GMB’s final residence in Stromness (by Kate Elliott).


GMB — Poems for Christmas (21 December 2000)

GMB. “Poems for Christmas.” Orcadian, 21 December 2000, p. 1.

“Here are two seasonal poems selected from the collection of George Mackay for The Orcadian by Archie Bevan. ‘Christmas’ was written in 1994. ‘Three Sons’, from 1995, was probably George’s last Christmas poem. Both pieces are included in Travellers, a new selection of late and hitherto uncollected poems, due to be published in February, by John Murray.”

Festival Players to Head for Fringe (18 May 2000)

“Festival Players to Head for Fringe with Greenvoe Production.” Orcadian, 18 May 2000, p. 20.

“The Orkney stage production of Greenvoe, currently being produced for the St Magnus Festival, will be performed to Edinburgh audiences at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. . . . Between 30 and 40 [of the players] will travel to Edinburgh to perform Alan Plater’s adaptation of George Mackay Brown’s famous novel at the Old St Paul Church Hall on Jeffrey Street, nearly Waverly Station on August 14–18.”

See also “Greenvoe Cast Perform Final Show after Fringe Success,” Orcadian, 31 August 2000, p. 10: “The St Magnus Players’ cast of Greenvoe are pictured back in Stromness on Friday night after their success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. ¶ On Friday they gave their last and 11th performance of the play. . . . playing to a packed house in Stromness Town Hall”

GMB Garden Plan (2 March 2000)

“GMB Garden Plan.” Orcadian, 2 March 2000, p. 3.

“Stromness Community Council are planning to create a memorial garden for local poet and author George Mackay Brown on an area of waste ground at the south end of the town opposite Stromness Golf Club.”

GMB Collection out in Paperback (27 January 2000)

“GMB Collection out in Paperback.” Orcadian, 27 January 2000, p. 19.

“A collection of six George Mackay Brown short stories [The Island of the Women and Other Stories] is about to be published for the first time in paperback.”

Greenvoe Festival Project (27 January 2000)

“Greenvoe Festival Project under Way.” Orcadian, 27 January 2000, p. 16.

“Under the watchful eye of playwright Alan Plater – the man who has adapted George Mackay Brown’s novel Greenvoe for this year’s St Magnus Festival – the preliminary reading of the community play took place on Sunday afternoon.” Includes an interview with Plater.

The George Mackay Brown Trail

I have recently been able to download a copy of the little leaflet serving as a guide to the newly-created George Mackail Brown trail in Stromness. The leaflet explains, “If ever there was a writer associated with a particular place, it is George Mackay Brown. He was born in Stromness and lived here all his life, seldom leaving the town he loved so much and which shaped his work. Take this trail to visit places in Stromness that influenced his writing every day.” There is also a website devoted to the trail and a link to the leaflet.

The trail takes two or three hours to complete (but only about an hour if you skip Warebeth Cemetery and Brinkie’s Brae).

VL — Festival’s Shining Star (22 June 2000)

VL. “Festival’s Shining Star.” Orcadian, 22 June 2000, p. 19.

Review of a production of Greenvoe (an adaptation of GMB’s novel) at the Stromness Town Hall – part of the St. Magnus Festival.

For a subsequent performance on Shapinsay, see also Sheila Garson, “Community Brought Vividly to Life by Greenvoe Production,” Orcadian, 6 July 2000, p. 27.

People of the 20th Century (30 December 1999)

“People of the 20th Century: George Mackay Brown.” Orcadian, 30 December 1999, pp. 9–10.

Part of a series of tributes to prominent Orcadians; accompanied by a photo of GMB, the caption of which describes him as “one of Orkney’s best-known literary sons of the 20th century.”

Orcadian Studies Course (7 October 1999)

“Orcadian Studies Course Features Three Local Poets.” Orcadian, 7 October 1999, p. 10.

“The work of Edwin Muir, George Mackay Brown and Robert Rendall has ensured that the poetic traditions of Orkney have not been confined to a silent library. ¶ The works of these three Orcadian poets form the basis of one of the Orcadian Studies courses on offer by Aberdeen University Centre for Continuing Education in Orkney this autumn.”

GMB in Tourism Drive (7 October 1999)

“GMB in Tourism Drive.” Orcadian, 7 October 1999, p. 5.

“Stromness’s most famous son, George Mackay Brown, is one of the poets, playwrights and novelists quoted by the Scottish Tourist Board in an effort to attract visitors to Scotland this autumn.”

Cornish Writer Exposed (13 May 1999)

“Cornish Writer Exposed for Copying Works of George Mackay Brown.” Orcadian, 13 May 1999, p. 5.

“A Cornish writer has been exposed this week for blatantly copying large passages from the work of . . . George Mackay Brown. ¶ Some of the passages in Dr. Alan Kent’s Yowann and the Knot of Time can be almost directly matched with those in George Mackay Brown’s Beside the Ocean of Time. . . .”

GMB — Burns Night Poem (21 January 1999)

GMB. “A Burns Night Poem by GMB.” Orcadian, 21 January 1999, p. 1.

GMB’s poem is “A January Day: Burns.”

Introductory note: “Monday, January 25, marks 240 years since the birth of Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns. It is a date now celebrated world-wide as Burns Night. ¶ To mark the occasion The Orcadian has the privilege of publishing for the first time this poem by George Mackay Brown – his own tribute to ‘the January makar,’ written on the eve of Burns Night four years ago.”

Poem dated 24 January 1995; it was to be published in GMB’s Northern Lights in June 1999.

Camerata Crafts Centenary Celebration (12 May 2022)

“Camerata Crafts Centenary Celebration.” Orcadian, 12 May 2022, p. 18.

“A special concert is to be given by Orkney Camerata this month, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of George Mackay Brown. ¶ The event, on May 22, is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between Camerata and the GMB Fellowship.” Two creative writing workshops were encouraged to write a poem or short prose piece connected with GMB, and then several Orkney composers set them to music.