Ann Scott-Moncrieff: Born with an Oar in her Fists
The 2020 George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture was presented to a live audience on Zoom on Thursday 10 December by writer and publisher Jean Findlay. The author of Chasing Lost Time (her acclaimed biography of poet, translator, army commander and spy Charles Scott-Moncrieff) she is also the founder and director of Scotland Street Press, and the granddaughter of the Orkney writer Ann Scott-Moncrieff.
The lecture included family photographs and illustrations from the first editions of Ann Scott-Moncrieff’s novels and short stories for children. It included too an interview with the writer’s close friend Hannah Rendall, and a conversation with her daughter (and mother of Jean Findlay), Lesley Findlay.
Ann was born Agnes Shearer in Kirkwall at the start of World War 1 in 1914 but did not live to see the end of World War 2 as she died in 1943 aged just 29. Her early death might partly explain that she is little known as a writer today – but the range and quality of her writing in the years of young adulthood show an already committed and accomplished writer.
On leaving school she became a trainee reporter at The Orcadian then worked in Fleet Street, London where she met her future husband, writer George Scott-Moncrieff. They returned to Scotland where they married in 1934 and had three children. She wrote scripts and adaptations for the BBC Radio Education service and her lifelong friend from Orkney, Hannah Rendall, who died in 2006, described this writing as the work that put ‘bread and butter’ on the table.
She wrote two children’s novels, Aboard the Bulger (1935) and Auntie Robbo (1940), now republished by Scotland Street Press, and a collection of short stories for children, The White Drake (1936). This too will be republished (as Firkin and the Grey Gangsters) by Scotland Street Press in 2021.
Some of Ann’s adult short stories were published in newspapers and magazines of her time but only a small number of poems survive. These were first published together in Chapman and are now available in a pamphlet published by Braga Press.
Discussing her narrative poem “The Brig o Waith”, one of two poems published by Ernest Marwick in An Orkney Anthology (1949), in an article for the Orcadian in 1953, George Mackay Brown wrote:
We shall never know how much Scottish literature lost by that early death. She left behind only a small amount of poetry, but sufficient to indicate what an outstanding poet she would have become.