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Northern light shines on Orkney poet

5 December 2006

Maeshowe at sunset will provide the atmospheric setting for a reading of work paying homage to the great Orcadian poet and author George Mackay Brown. The Neolithic tomb, with its Viking runes, was prominent in the writing of GMB (as he was affectionately known).

In the days around the winter solstice, the rays of the setting sun reach up through the ancient stone passage and illuminate the great chamber at the heart of the burial mound.  Sadly, sunshine in December cannot be guaranteed but fair weather or foul, it is the perfect time and place for a public reading by Edinburgh-based author Stuart Delves, of his Northern Light which pays tribute to GMB.

The piece was produced as part of the UK-wide Common Ground project called in which 30 authors were asked to write about people and places that had inspired them and then to take part in events and performances.

Stuart Delves, author of Northern Light said:

‘When I was asked to take part it was an easy choice to make. I first discovered Mackay Brown’s work about 20 years ago but only really became familiar with his poetry around five years later while working in Devon.  That’s about as far away from Orkney as you can get and still be in the UK, but I found his work inspirational.

After I moved to Edinburgh and started working for some clients in Orkney I realised just how much he captures the essence of the islands.  It is a place I came to love and regard as a spiritual bolthole. I have never known anywhere like it.

Orkney manages to be contemporary but have a very relaxed pace to life and there is history all around you, just standing there, like nowhere else I have ever been, whether its Neolithic, Viking or from the First or Second World War.’

Northern Light starts and finishes in Maeshowe and incorporates words from Brown’s own poetry. Stuart hopes the event will appeal to some of GMB’s many fans on the islands, including those who enjoyed his weekly newspaper column that was renowned for its perceptive reflection of local life.

Alan Jones, Historic Scotland monument manager, said:

‘We firmly believe that the properties in our care should be at the heart of the community and we are delighted that Maeshowe is being used in this way to pay homage to a great Orcadian.’

The reading takes place on Saturday 16, December and anyone wishing to hear it should join the 3pm tour when entry will be free. As the chamber can only accommodate 20 visitors at a time the places will be on a strictly first-come-first-served basis.

Notes for editors
  • All bookings for the reading must be made at Tormiston Mill on 01856 761606.
  • Normal ticket prices at Maeshowe are £4.50 adults, £3.50 concessions and £2 for children. It is located 9m west of Kirkwall on the A965.
  • George Mackay Brown was a poet, author and dramatist who was born in Stromness in 1921. Considered one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century he spent most of his life in Orkney apart from a spell as a mature student at the University of Edinburgh and Newbattle Abbey College. Beside the Ocean of Time was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1994. His inspiration was chiefly from the islands and was drawn from their long history. Not only did Maeshowe feature in GMB’s writing but after his death, in 1996, his funeral cortege passed within yards of the great tomb.
  • Stuart Delves is the co-founder of Henzteeth. A copywriting company that champions the creative use of language in business. He is currently writing a book on ‘Scotch, the brand’ for Cyan Books, London. Stuart also convenes the Pentlands Writers Group, which staged a large scale Lottery funded community play for Christmas 2005 commemorating the end of WWII. His award-winning play, ‘The Real Lady Macbeth’ was revived this year by the Brussels Shakespeare Society. It won the FEATS Competition in Luxembourg and then played at the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden and at the Complete Works Festival in Stratford. Call 0131 445 5860 or
  • The Common Ground project is being carried out by 26 which is a not-for-profit organisation that encourages the more creative use of language in business. Northern Light is published in Common Ground from CYAN Books, and which is available from It is the fourth large-scale project by 26 and more information is available at
  • Historic Scotland has 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae.

For further information

Kate Turnbull
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959