All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

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Twenty of the Best: George Mackay Brown, A Poet’s Magic

Recently I began a series looking at the three authors who, no matter what my mood, can stir my soul to song. Last week saw me reflect on the magnificent Roald Dahl. This week, we have an author and poet many may not have heard of; George Mackay Brown.

My introduction to George Mackay Brown came when I visited the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh during the early days of my backpacking odyssey. Although primarily featuring the work of famous authors from Scotland’s capital (such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) there was a special section set up to commemorate the life of Mackay Brown, who had died a few years earlier in 1996.

Commonly referred to as the Bard of Orkney, Mackay Brown wrote extensively of the islands and the Orcadian way of life. A poet, novelist and columnist his work has been described as categorized by “the absence of frills and decoration;the lean simplicity of description, colour shape and action reduced to essentials, which heightens the reality of the thing observed”, while his poetry “became informed by a unique voice that was his alone, controlled and dispassionate, which allowed every word to play its part in the narrative scheme of the unfolding poem”

My introduction to his work was Beside the Ocean of Time, for which he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and although my initial reaction was that of ‘meh’ by the time I reached the final chapter I was completely and utterly hooked; a chapter that has become one of my favourite closing chapters of all time! After reading this book I dipped into Mackay Brown’s work whenever I could, eventually collecting a near-complete collection of his bibliography (I was missing only three titles!)

During the dark days of depression I turned to his poetry for inspiration and hope. I succumbed to the beauty of his prose for comfort and rejuvenation. I relished in the stark, simplistic beauty of his life, thoughts and talent. Always reminded of my love for the isles that sung in his heart.

In a time when we seem to have forgotten the power of poetry and literature (thanks EL James) perhaps the world needs to rediscover the magic of George Mackay Brown.

“Here is a work for poets-
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence”
(from Work for Poets)

~ 8 ~
Following a Lark

Until this book I had only ever invested in poetry collections (usually involving titles along the lines of A Compendium of Scottish Poetry) featuring work from a number of different writers. Following a Lark was the first poetry book from a single author I’d ever purchased, and I never once regretted it. No matter how hard I’ve tried in my life I’ve never been able to write poetry, ever, so there is always an element of jealously when I read poems as I wish I was able to summon such lyricism and rhythm in my own writing.

Wait a while, small voyager
On the shore, with seapinks and shells.
The boat
Will take a few summers to build
That you must make your voyage in.

You will learn the names.
That golden light is ‘sun ~ ‘moon’
The silver light
That grows and dwindles.
And the beautiful small splinters
That wet the stones, ‘rain’.
(from New Child)

~ 7 ~

This was the fourth novel I read from George Mackay Brown after finding an ancient hardback edition on eBay in 2002. Originally written in 1973 it is a fictional account of the life and execution of the twelfth century Saint, Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney. Although at times a little too religious for my taste, it is hard to get past the meditative nature of Mackay Brown’s writing.

~ 6 ~
The Island of Woman and Other Stories

Between Scotland and Canada I spent an ill-fated period working as a waiter on the Isle of Mull. On one of the rare occasions I took a ferry to the mainland I found a dog-eared copy of this collection in a charity shop. Whilst reading it on the ferry back I lowered the book for a moment to allow my soul to breathe and right in front of me couldn’t believe my eyes; a school of dolphins was merrily frolicking before me. Although not the first time I’d seen dolphins in this stretch of water, seeing such a sight whilst spellbound by Mackay Brown’s words is a moment I have never forgotten, and doubtful ever will.

~ 5 ~
Six Lives of Fankle the Cat

Beautiful. Wonderful. Amazing.
I have read this book so many times I’ve lost count. I will tell you nothing about it other than it is about a cat called Fankle and the amazing lives he’s lived (pirates, ancient Egypt, China!) So get ye to a bookstore and grab yourself a copy of this magnificent children’s book.

~ 4 ~

A love letter to his home of Stromness and a magnificent novel. It is best approached cold, so shall refrain from spoiling it’s beauty.

~ 3 ~
Beside the Ocean of Time

This was the first George Mackay Brown book I read and as such will forever live in my heart. Based in the 1930s, it follows the life of Thorfinn Ragnarson from Norday as he regularly daydreams about key moments in Scottish history, eventually beginning to see a correlation between his daydreaming, history and his own future.

This book, quite rightly, won the Saltire Society award for Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Unfortunately, I can’t complain too much about Mackay Brown’s loss as he missed out to James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late – an exceptional book.

~ 2 ~
An Orkney Tapestry

Forget the Lonely Planet, forget Rough Guides, should you ever visit the Orkney Isles this is the book to take as your guide. Mingling folklore, legend, poetry and prose, Mackay Brown weaves a spellbinding tapestry of the life and history of these great Islands. Perfectly illustrated by Sylvia Wishart An Orkney Tapestry captures a sense of place better than any book I’ve ever encountered.

If you’ve never wanted to visit the Orkney Islands, I guarantee you will after reading this definitive work.

~ 1 ~
Northern Lights: A Poet’s Sources

For many, many years this book was nestled in my top five books of all time. Published posthumously this is a collection of previously published and unseen material ranging from poetry, diary extracts, short fiction, observation and folklore. It is one of the finest collections of writing I have ever encountered and gives a unique insight into the mind and inspiration of this literary genius.

~All quotes © George Mackay Brown~

My Life in Books
Twenty of the Best: Roald Dahl, Champion of the World
The unnoticed bias of the Booker prize (
Exploring Orkney: Scotland’s Rugged Northern Isles (

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017. Darn, your talent and committment make me want to be a greater person

Inspire Me

Inspire Me

Day seventeen of my 365 Day Blogging Challenge has requested I write about the people I idolize.

I’ve been thinking about this question all day. As I walked the chilly streets in a daze of depression I pondered what this word meant to me.

It didn’t take me long to decide that it is not a celebrity that I have the hots for. When I think of the word idol, I never think of cheesy television talent shows or warbling boy bands.

Nor do I think of Higher Powers, although this is by definition what an idol is; an image used in worship; a false God.

When I think of my idols, I think of people who have inspired me, souls that have touched and pushed me toward bigger and better things. Individuals who I look up to and say ‘darn, your talent and committment make me want to be a greater person’.

Once this decision was made, the only thing that popped into my mind were fictional characters. As The Doctor tangoed with Brooke Davis, Chuck Bartowski was summoning the courage to ask Jilly Coppercorn onto the dance floor. But these people are not people. They are figments of several people’s imaginations. Of writers, creators, directors and actors. The lives I have shared have been crafted, shaped and designed to reflect the moral, ethical and metaphorical constructs of the stories they feature in.

So in constructing the list I knew I had to eliminate fictional characters from the mix. The people I truly look to as my inspiration are flesh and blood, not ink and celluloid. The people I consider my idols are:

Mark Schwahn

Mark Schwahn is the creator of the television series One Tree Hill. I have spoken briefly of my love for this show but stopped short of fully explaining why I admire this writer as much as I do.

I will freely admit this television show is not spoken of in the same circles as The Wire, Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, nor am I going to argue that it should be. Each exist in different genres, each represent individual visions and alternate audiences. What they all share is an innate skill when it comes to characterisation and originality.

What One Tree Hill lacked in the originality of its premise, it made up for in the uniqueness of its voice. A voice that is quintessentially Mark Schwahn’s.

When I think of individual episodes of this show almost all of them were written by the creator. Immediately the intimacy and power of With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept floods my memory banks, as does the powerful subsequent episode Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them. Of course the season finales are thought of with their (at times) over the top cliffhangers, but episodes such as Pictures of You and To Wish Impossible Things, that focus primarily on character and relationship are perfect examples of television writing.

I admire Mark Schwahn’s ability to create character (I’ve already stated I believe Brooke Davis to be one of the finest fictional female’s I’ve ever come across) as well as the risks he took throughout the show’s nine season run. He is a writer I hold in high esteem and one who rekindled my own passion of this field of the arts. As such, I have no qualms to list him as someone I idolize.

The following video clip from the episode With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept contains a MASSIVE SPOILER for those who have not seen season 3 or beyond. So do not watch if you’re currently viewing, or planning to watch the series. I should add it is also potentially triggering, just to be safe. It is however, a beautiful piece of writing.

Charles De Lint

My favourite writer. A musician, lyricist, folklorist and all round inspirational man. Over the years he has created dozens of characters who flew of the page and into my heart; Jilly Coppercorn, Janey Little, Isabelle Copley and – of course – Blue.

I have long admired his pioneering work in Urban Fantasy and have never hidden how his work served as a source of inspiration toward my own dabbling in this genre.

A beautiful and creative soul that has taught me many things in the realm of writing, folklore and mythology. He also, through his author’s notes, introduced me to the group The Walkabouts, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Ronnie O’Sullivan

The world over people worship footballers, AFL stars, athletes, rugby players and swimmers for their skills in the arena of physical sport. I admire none of them. I do admire this man for so many reasons – all of which are on full display in this video:

George Mackay Brown

Beside the Ocean of Time. Greenvow. Magnus. Vinland. For the Islands I Sing. Hawkfall.

The poetic and literary output of this astonishing writer speaks for itself.

There are few writers who write with such a lyrical, timeless beauty. A skill I can only wish I possessed. My introduction to George Mackay Brown came at a Writer’s Museum in an Edinburgh backstreet. An exhibit that served as the inspiration for me to visit Orkney, and later, read my first of his canon; Beside the Ocean of Time.

Although it didn’t grab me at first, by the time I reached the final chapter I was spellbound. I can recall to this day the tears that trickled my face as I read the words that captured my heart forever.

Of all the writers and poets out there he holds my highest esteem. To be as talented as he is but a dream, but the power in which he infuses his words, will forever be a source of aspiration.

New Child: ECL

Wait a while, small voyager
On the shore, with seapinks and shells.

The boat
Will take a few summers to build
That you must make your voyage in.

You will learn the names.
That golden light is ‘sun ~ ‘moon’
The silver light
That grows and dwindles.

And the beautiful small splinters
That wet the stones, ‘rain’.

There is a voyage to make,
A chart to read,
But not yet, not yet.
‘Daisies’ spill from your fingers.
The night daisies are ‘stars’.

The keel is laid, the strakes
Will be set, in time.
A tree is growing
That will be a tall mast.

All about you, meantime
The music of humanity,
The dance of creation
Scored on the chart of the voyage.

The stories, legends, poems
Will be woven to make your sail.

You may hear the beautiful tale of Magnus
Who took salt on his lip.
Your good angel
Will be with you on that shore.

Soon, the voyage of EMMA
To Tir-Nan-Og and beyond.

Star of the Sea, shine on her voyage.

GMB © 1996
for Emma Catherine Lawson

FromFollowing a Lark’ (published 1996)

There are others, many so, but for now I feel this will do. I peeked ahead, you see, and shortly within the 365 Day Challenge is a prompt that will allow these real-life individuals to shine.

But their time will come, for now, who are your idols?