Linden Bicket & Kirsteen McCue

Unpicking and re-stitching the threads of An Orkney Tapestry: preparing a centenary edition

In 1969, the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) published his seminal work, An Orkney Tapestry. Described by the composer Peter Maxwell Davies as ‘the most wonderfully poetic evocation of a place I’d ever come across’, this rich fusion of ballad, folk tale, short story, drama, and environmental writing was a landmark in Brown’s development as an author. An Orkney Tapestry is now regarded as a central text in Brown’s canon. It encouraged international tourism to Orkney, and it is written about frequently within Scottish literary and cultural criticism. Alongside works such as Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, this volume is also an important precursor of new nature writing by Kathleen Jamie, Amy Liptrot, and many others. Yet, despite its status as an influential and highly important work of modern Scottish (and Orcadian) literature, this work has long been out of print.

This paper will examine the process of textual editing undertaken by Dr Bicket and Professor McCue for their new, centenary edition of Brown’s An Orkney Tapestry. It will discuss the role of the adaptation and ‘translation’ of the Orkneyinga Saga that Brown undertook for the first time in this text. And it will explore the impact of this work in light of its reissue one hundred years on from Brown’s birth.

Linden Bicket, University of Edinburgh, Kirsteen McCue, University of Glasgow, Scotland