George Mackay Brown treasures set to go under the hammer

A treasure trove of personal artefacts which shaped the career of one of Scotland's most celebrated poets is to be auctioned off.

One of the items up for auction. Picture: Lyon & Turnbull

Dozens of manuscripts, notebooks, letters and handwritten notes kept by the celebrated Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown will go under the hammer in Edinburgh next month.

Auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull said the family of Mackay Brown’s literary executor, Brian Murray, a fellow Orcadian and long-time friend, has put the collection up for sale.

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Highlights include a homemade childhood comic, a signed copy of his first poetry collection, The Storm, and copies of the college magazine he worked on.

Natasha Muirhead with a lithograph poster called "Splitkein" by Harald Damsleth. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Rare books from his own collection will be sold off, including signed copies from friends and mentors Ted Hughes, Edwin Muir, Seamus Heaney and Hugh McDiarmid.

One lot features 20 Mackay Brown works which have been signed or inscribed by the writer. Another features 50 leaves of notes, including what are described as “thoughts on literature and life”. One lot, containing notes and essays from Mackay Brown’s postgraduate research into English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, is expected to fetch up to £1,800.

Born in Stromness, in Orkney, in 1921, Mackay Brown studied at Newbattle Abbey College, in Midlothian, where he met Muir, and then Edinburgh University, when he became part of the circle of writers associated with Milne’s Bar, but lived most of his life on his native island.

Although best remembered for his poetry, his output also includes short stories, plays and novels, one of which, Beside the Ocean of Time, won a Booker Prize nomination and was named Scottish Book of the Year in 1994 two years before he died.

Natasha Muirhead with a lithograph poster called "Splitkein" by Harald Damsleth. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Cathy Marsden, specialist in rare book and manuscripts at Lyon & Turnbull, said: “George Mackay Brown is widely considered to be one of the 20th century’s greatest Scottish poets.

“An example of his early interest in writing can be found in his homemade magazine The Celt, which he distributed to friends as a teenager. At this time, he was taken ill with tuberculosis, which would affect him for many years to come. The illness also prevented him from enlisting in the army during the Second World War and, in turn, allowed him to begin a career as a journalist with the Orkney Herald in 1944.

“In his early thirties, George Mackay Brown attended Newbattle Abbey College, where Edwin Muir, worked as ­warden. Whilst studying there Mackay Brown and other ­students edited the college magazine The Sun.

“This is probably the biggest collection of Mackay Brown material to ever come up at auction. I would expect a lot of interes to come from people in Orkney, as well as from institutions.”