Monday, 17 October 2011

George Mackay Brown

Happy Birthday to George Mackay Brown, born in 1921 in Stromness, a fishing village on the Orkney Islands. He wrote poetry, essays, fiction, and travel books about Orcadian culture, history, and ritual. When he was young, he was often ill, first with measles, and later, tuberculosis; he was often hospitalized or confined to his bed, so he spent the time reading and writing. He studied literature and poetry near Edinburgh when his health permitted. His first book, Orcadians, was published locally in 1954; his first commercially published book was 1959's Loaves and Fishes.
He told Contemporary Authors: "I believe in dedicated work rather than in 'inspiration' [...] I believe writing to be a craft like carpentry, plumbing, or baking [...] In 'culture circles,' there is a tendency to look upon artists as the new priesthood of some esoteric religion. Nonsense -- and dangerous nonsense moreover -- we are all hewers of wood and drawers of water; only let us do it as thoroughly and joyously as we can." (resume courtesy of the online The Writer's Almanac).
I have never read anything by GMB, but am resolved to do so. I agree with his analysis of writing, that it is a craft improved only by application, doing it every day (like painting, for that matter, or any 'art'). And I am interested in the same things as he is: culture, history and ritual. Talking of 'hewers', when pronounced, the Energy Secretary's name* sounds like 'hewn'. There is a quote circulating to the effect that the wise course 'going forward' is to grow vegetables and keep chickens. I have no garden at my rented house in Moffat, but early next year I will be making one two doors down at 21 Well Road, a property in which I have a shared interest. Watch out for signs of veg cultivation and the sound of clucking. *Chris Huhne

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