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George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown, who died in 1996, was one of Scotland’s finest and most prolific novelists. He was born in Stromness, Orkney, in 1921, and lived there for most of his life, drawing inspiration from its past, people, and landscapes, to create his spare, beautifully written fiction and poetry. His father was a postman and tailor; his mother was a native Gaelic speaker from Sutherland.

Poor health in his teens and twenties meant he did not stray far from Orkney apart from a formative period at Newbattle College near Edinburgh followed by a degree at Edinburgh University. After taking his degree, he returned to Orkney and began to have his work published in 1954.

Mackay Brown’s friendship with the composer, Peter Maxwell Davies, was a fruitful one. Together, they collaborated on over 30 pieces of work: song cycles, operas, and music for plays celebrating Orkney’s distinctive cultural heritage. One of Mackay Brown’s last novels, Beside the Ocean of Time, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994. His autobiography, For the Islands I Sing, was published shortly after his death.

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