Tomorrow is the feast day of St Magnus, the 12th-century martyr, patron saint of Orkney, and subject of the novel, Magnus, that the Orcadian poet and story-teller George Mackay Brown considered his best work.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, he refused to come to London for the prize- winners' dinner. Over 20 of Brown's works have been set to music by the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whose move to Orkney was largely inspired by his meeting Brown and reading his collection of essays An Orkney Tapestry (1969).
While Brown stayed put, however, his writing travelled for him, as Muir, introducing Brown's first book of poems, The Storm, in 1954, predicted that it would: "reading these poems," he wrote, "I am impressed . Far from being a constraint, Brown's stability added to the scope and strength of his work.
There are stories attached not only to men and women, but to their grand- parents and great-grandparents: in this way, legends take over from gossip.'' In the Orkney islands, meanwhile, he found what he described as ``a microcosm of all the world.
Orkney has been continuously lived in for about 6,000 years and the layers of cultures and races are inescapable and unavoidable wherever you go. If I lived to be 500, there would still be more to write.'' By drawing his boundaries tightly around himself Brown freed his imagination to sweep through time and space, so that he could write as convincingly about the medieval earls of Orkney as the shopkeepers of 20th-century Stromness, and as evocatively about Nazi Germany or first-century Palestine as about Orkney.
Six days a week, he would sit in his kitchen from 9am until 1pm, writing with a ball-point pen on blocks of Basildon Bond paper, leaning on the same Formica surface at which he ate his breakfast, his back to the window to avoid distraction.