HE was one of Scotland’s greatest 20th-century poets and authors who told wider truths from the micro world of his native Orkney.

Now a writer is wanted to follow in the ink tips of George Mackay Brown in the centenary year of his birth. Applications opened this week for a residency to give an Orkney-based writer the opportunity to develop new work using Orcadian dialect.

Hosted by the National Library of Scotland, the “Scots Scriever” post is for 12 months and will provide £15,000 to the successful applicant.

“The role of the Scots Scriever – a joint initiative between Creative Scotland and the National Library of Scotland – aims to support the creation of original writing in Scots and the promotion of the language through creative forms,” says the advert.

“2021 is the centenary of Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown and a year when there will be a particular focus on Orkney.

“In line with this, the role of the Scriever will be centred there for this year. The 2021 Scriever will celebrate the richness of the Orcadian dialect, acknowledging the islands as a stronghold for the Scots language in Scotland.”

The application deadline is May 24. Many of Mackay Brown’s works are concerned with protecting Orkney’s cultural heritage from the relentless march of progress and the loss of myth and archaic ritual in the modern world, an anxiety which was further influenced by his conversion in 1961 to Catholicism.

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Reflecting this, his best-known work is Greenvoe, a novel published in 1972, in which the permanence of island life is threatened by “Black Star”, a mysterious nuclear development.

Mackay Brown received an OBE in 1974 and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1977, in addition to gaining several honorary degrees.

His final novel, Beside the Ocean of Time (1994) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and judged Scottish Book of the Year by the Saltire Society. He died in 1996.

Together with the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Queen’s master of music and a resident of Orkney – with whom he collaborated on many works – he started the St Magnus International Festival, which has become one of the cultural showpieces of Scotland.

Now it is celebrating his remarkable life and legacy next month. Having had to cancel the 2020 event because of the pandemic, the festival will present a mixed programme of work online, with the hope that some planned “live” events will be able to go ahead between June 18-23.

HeraldScotland: George MacKay Brown at home in Kirkwall, Orkney, 1988. Photograph: James Galloway George MacKay Brown at home in Kirkwall, Orkney, 1988. Photograph: James Galloway

This year’s theme will reflect Orkney, its landscape, seascape, heritage and history while bringing the usual highquality blend of performers together.

Festival director Alasdair Nicolson said: “We’re trying to create some sense of what it’s like to be in Orkney at festival time where, to some extent, the island landscapes and history share the stage with our fine performers.

“It’s very sad not to be working with large numbers of performers or audiences and venues sold to capacity, but the silver lining is being able to beam our work to audiences near and far.”

Mr Nicolson said this year would have been the 100th birthday of Mackay Brown and the festival is playing a key role in a year of celebrations of the world-renowned writer’s work.

The jewel in the crown of the tribute will be a film of the haunting drama The Storm Watchers, which has been directed by Gerda Stevenson remotely during lockdown and features actors in “an extraordinary community project”.

Mr Nicolson said:“I’m delighted to have triggered this remarkable project – a film of a very unusual and powerful play by Mackay Brown, much of it filmed on smartphones by the people of Orkney during the pandemic, in the year of his centenary.

It’s a special tribute to a much-loved writer, created against the odds in many ways by his own people.

“There is no doubt that the world of arts and culture has taken a heavy blow during this pandemic and, speaking as a professional musician, one that will have a lasting effect.

“As we try to bring some activity back to the stage and screen it has been immensely challenging to be working in unfamiliar territory, with complex arrangements and programme planning that has been ever changing and to some extent last minute.

“We’re acutely aware that Orkney has done well in this period and we will be operating within strict guidelines to ensure that does not change.”