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Correspondence between George Mackay Brown and Hugo Brunner

Identifier: Coll-1294

Scope and Contents

The material in the collection spans a period of 22 years from 1974 to 1996, and consists of several dozens of pages. The content tells of George Mackay Brown's annual cycle and his daily life, and particularly of visits of muses and other friends, as well as referring to publishing and contract matters. Included among the many individuals mentioned or referred to in the letters are: Ernest Marwick, Edwin Muir, Andrew Motion, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Hermann Palsson, Simon Fraser, Esther Garke, Gunnie Moberg, Sigrid Mavor, Renee Simm, Nora Kennedy, and latterly Surinder Punjya whom he had first met in 1991. Included among the Brown works referred to in the letters, in various contexts, but mostly in the passing, are: Magnus, Calendar of Love, Greenvoe, Christmas Poems, An Orkney Tapestry, The Winter Song, Loom of Light, The Lamb, Christmas Stories, Portrait of Orkney, The Golden Bird, Scottish Bestiary, The Game of Chess , The Ballad of John Voe, The Masked Fisherman, Fankle the Cat, The Road to Colonus, Archangel, Tryst on Egilsay, Beside the Ocean of Time, Time in a Red Coat often abbreviated by Brown to TIARC, Selected Poems, Following a Lark, Winter Tales, and Pictures in the Cave. Often the references are to the numerous foreign translations of his work, or to corrections to his work, suggestions for the material, illustrations and illustrators for it, and other publishing matters and themes.

A letter dated 8 February 1974, Stromness, is a copy, the original of which was retained by Hugo Brunner. The letter refers to the birth of one of Brunner's sons, the godfather of whom was George Mackay Brown. In the letter he talks of how he 'always finds these articles about myself hugely embarrassing, like suddenly coming on one's image in a distorting mirror.' He also refers to 'Poor Jo Grimond - I don't envy him, electioneering in a northern winter. I think he'll keep his seat all right, in spite of having 2 eager young men against him'. 1974 was to be the year of two General Elections in Britain, the first being held in February 1974, and a second in October.

A letter dated 11 June 1985, Stromness, tells of how Brown 'dined in the big hotel with a group of elderly French people from the French-Scottish Association. The food was rather wretched, but the French folk, who are here till Friday, seemed to be enjoying Orkney. I don't know what they'll think of Brodgar and Skarabrae in this rain...' He also refers to a coming visit he will be making to central Scotland. 'As for Glasgow,' he writes, 'I resign myself to Providence'.

A UK general election is again referred to in a letter dated 11 June 1987, Stromness, in which he thinks he will 'go and vote for the Green candidate'. Later on the letter describes how he 'Lay in bed till 3 am listening to Election results - v. depressing. I was rather proud of the way Scotland had thrown out so many Tories. A kind of terrifying Boadicea is running the land. My Orkney 'Green' candidate forfeited his deposit, of course'.

On book prizes he has this to say, 11 March 1988, Stromness: 'The James Tait Black prize doesn't cause such a stir nowadays as it used to do. It's all Whitbread and Booker!'

In January 1991 (letter 17 January 1991, Stromness) he refers to start of the war in Iraq and Kuwait which 'has been hanging like a shadow over us all winter. May it end soon', he writes, 'without the slaughter of too many innocents'.

Brown's 70th birthday is referred to in letters dated 19 October 1991 and 24 October 1991, both from Stromness. In the former he writes that there are 'Still plenty of visitors and phone calls, but no mail (on account of the weather) after the profusion of mail all week'. BBC television had also marked the birthday. The BBC 'even did a snippet of me reading a poem on 17th: but I didn't see it'. The latter refers to how 'the pleasant little birthday storm has died down and I am trying to find place for the beautiful debris (presents) that came flooding in'. Brown was 'overwhelmed with kindness round the 17th' and he writes that he was expecting a visit from Sheena McDonald, the television broadcaster, who 'is coming to Orkney next week to give me a private view of the film she made in August'.

There is a small body of copies of letters in the collection from Brown to 'Henry and Nancy', or simply to 'Henry' or to 'Nancy' - possibly in Michigan - and these cover the period September 1992 to July 1995.

The final original letter in the collection from Brown to Brunner - also written from Stromness - is dated 'Good Friday '96' which was Friday 5 April 1996. George Mackay Brown died on 13 April 1996, eight days after the letter was written. In it, Brown writes about having 'been a bit off colour'. He wishes 'A happy Easter to all the Brunners, and to John Murray's people'.


  • Creation: 1974-1996


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Open to bona fide researchers upon signing a Data Protection Access form within the reading room, but please contact repository for details in advance of visit.

Biographical / Historical

The Scottish poet, author and dramatist, George Mackay Brown, was born on 17 October 1921. His work has a distinctly Orcadian character and he is considered one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century.

Brown had a long association with publishers Chatto and Windus. This had begun in 1959 when they published, under its Hogarth Press imprint, his second volume of poetry Loaves and Fishes. He remained with Chatto and Windus until 1984. It had been Hugo Brunner (Chatto and Windus) who first suggested that someone should write the story of his life, and the writer proposed was Maggie Fergusson. The job was done with Fergusson's The Life of George Mackay Brown published in 2006 by John Murray.

George Mackay Brown died on 13 April 1996.

Hugo Brunner (Sir Hugo Lawrence Joseph Brunner) was born on 17 August 1935. His parents were Sir Felix John Morgan Brunner (1897-1982) and Dorothea Elizabeth, daughter of the Victorian era actor manager Henry Irving (1838-1905). Hugo Brunner was educated at Eton and he studied at Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated with the degree of MA (Hons).

Between 1958 and 1965, Brunner was with Oxford University Press and was OUP representative in Hong Kong, 1960-1962. From 1966 until 1976 he was Sales Director with Chatto and Windus, publishers. He returned to OUP in 1977 and was then back again at Chatto and Windus in 1979 as Managing Director, then Chairman, until 1985.

Brunner has also been Director of Caithness Glass Ltd., 1966-1996, and Chairman 1984-1991. He has seen involvement with Brunner Investment Trust Plc., 1987-1999, and with SCM Press Ltd., 1991-1997.

On 7 January 1967, Brunner married Mary Rose Catherine Pollen, daughter of Arthur Joseph Lawrence Pollen and Hon. Daphne Baring, and grand-daughter of Cecil Baring, 3rd Baron Revelstoke of Membland.

Hugo Brunner contested the constituency of Torquay for the Liberals in 1964 and 1966. He was Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, England, between 1996 and 2008, and he was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.


1 box

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

MAccession no: E2011.09.

Related Materials

Also within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are the various Manuscripts of George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) acquired by purchase over the years. See Handlist H.50, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.

Processing Information

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.

Correspondence from George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) to Hugo Brunner, publisher
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
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