Christmas Stories by George Mackay Brown (1921 - 1996) was published by The Perpetua Press in 1985 with a limited edition of 150 copies printed which were signed by the author, illustrator and printer. George Mackay Brown was an Orcadian writer who lived in my hometown of Stromness, the Hamnavoe of his stories. Stromness is a small town in Orkney, nestling beneath Brinkies Brae, the hill which provides some shelter for the town. Although George Mackay Brown rarely left his beloved Orkney, not all his writing was confined to Orkney as this collection demonstrates - the first story is set in Hamnavoe, the next two on an unnamed island and the final one in the Middle East.
The first story "Haul of Winter Fish" is a magical Christmas story - the fishermen of Hamnavoe have caught no fish during December and the crofters are no better off. A young boy tells his family he has seen a boat landing three baskets of fish on the pier. His mother makes a fool of the boy. However it turns out to be true. "When the mother opened the door in the morning, upon the jet and crimson of dawn over Scapa, there were three brimming baskets of cod on the pier: enough to feed every house in the village."
The second story "Christmas visitors" is a very sad tale of an old woman whose fisherman husband, Samuel, had been lost at sea 42 years ago. However he came to visit her every Christmas except this one. The story ends, "She is left with silence in the heart of her last winter: until the earth and the sea are one."
The third story "Miss Tait and Tommy and the Carol Singers" is a happier tale describing how Miss Tait changed from being a mean old woman to a friendly, generous one who invites the local children into her house to share exotic fruits and nuts.
The final story in the collection is entitled "The Christmas Dove" and is set in the Middle East. This is a version of the Christmas story and a fitting end to this book. After various adventures the dove reaches a town where he sees the shepherd boy who had helped him. "The boy stooped in at a dark door, where there was only a glim of light. Shadowy animals moved about inside. It was (thought the dove) the poorest house in the town. A tall shadow, a man, bent over a kneeling shadow that held a bundle in her arms."
The themes Brown deals with in his writing are the universal themes of love, sorrow, loss, faith and poverty. His language is beautiful and poetic as the following examples demonstrate:-
"And there you stood, sea-taken one, with the piece of torn net in your hand: speechless."
"Now the sun had moved down the sky, and as it touched the horizon a flush engulfed the desert. Through an air red as wine the dove spied, far below, three travellers with laden camels."
To hear George Mackay Brown reading his poem "The Poet" follow this link to the Poetry Archive.