Stories of ‘The Storm’

Bidan hame

Many copies of The Storm and Other Poems were bought – or received as gifts – in Orkney and have remained here since. But it is 67 years since The Storm was published and many copies will have changed hands in that time.

John Gray of STROMNESS has special memories of the copies now in his possession:

I have two copies of The Storm. The older one was given to my daughter Elizabeth when she visited Mrs Sutherland of Woodlands as a wee girl and liked playing in her beautiful garden picking flowers for her Mum and trying to find Herbert the hedgehog (possibly invisible).

John continued and told us about his other copy:

The second copy, George gave to my wife Maureen who did most of the transcription for GMB of all his later books and poems. These books are now a valuable memory of both George and Maureen. It will be interesting to find where the other copies landed. Best wishes for the quest.

Artist Erlend Brown, also from STROMNESS, and a nephew of the poet, inherited his signed copy from his uncle after his death in 1996. Erlend provided images for some of George Mackay Brown’s work, but the cover of The Storm had been designed by GMB’s friend from schooldays, the artist Ian MacInnes. It shows the title at the top and the poet’s signature below the cover image – a boat drawn up in a sheltered geo, a rough sea and the Hoy hills beneath a wild sky.

Erlend said he had not only his uncle’s signed copy of The Storm: I also have the printer’s block for the cover and … the frontispiece.

These items will be on view at the Pier Arts Centre and in the Orkney Museum in their centenary exhibitions this year.

Graham Garson has a story to tell of a copy that has remained in Orkney and evokes memories of ‘gentleman farmer’ and poet, ‘Grandfither o Nistaben’ which you can read in the gallery below.

Faimily and Freens

Not all copies of The Storm remained in Orkney of course. Some were bought and sent to family and friends beyond the islands or travelled with owners who moved away.

Stuart MacBeath (GLASGOW) shared this account of his copy which eventually left Orkney and headed south:

I have a copy. It is one of my most treasured possessions. I conducted postgraduate research on GMB. The original copy must have belonged to GMB himself – he wrote an acrostic on it and gave it to his friend Brian Murray, who is also a friend of mine, as a gift.

Another such copy is owned by Thelma Stewart (LOCATION?) who inherited it from her parents. She said:

I suspect that it may have been bought in Orkney for them by my maternal Grandfather (Marwick), as they were living in Edinburgh in 1954. My mother was seven years older than GMB, but of course knew both him and his family as she was brought up in Stromness. My father knew both GMB and Edwin Muir.

Elizabeth Hourston (LEICESTERSHIRE) has a copy which also had its first home in Orkney but has now moved away. She says:

I have a copy which I gave to my father, George Johnson, presumably in 1954. He was the veterinary surgeon in Orkney from the 1920s to the 1960s. The book was bought in Kirkwall and is now on my bookshelves in Quorn, Leicestershire. 

Young Readers

Margaret Rorie and Susan Leonard (both KIRKWALL) became interested in George Mackay Brown’s work while at school. Both got their copies some time after The Storm had so quickly sold out – Margaret through careful searching and Susan through happy coincidence.

Margaret says:

I am a keen collector of GMB’s books having been introduced to his writing by my English teacher, Archie Bevan, while at school in Stromness many years ago. It took me some time to track down The Storm which now sits in my bookcase in Kirkwall having spent some time in Lerwick. I bought this in 2010 from an online bookseller but it cost a lot more than 4 shillings! It is in very good condition but a few of the verses are marked with ticks and there are a couple of comments. I would love to know the relevance of the ticks and who wrote these.

Susan Leonard’s story (already published as a blog on our website) can be found in the gallery below – click on the title to read it.

Gifts and Lucky Finds

As can already be seen above, some copies have been given as gifts and much treasured; and some too have delighted their owners by the very unexpectedness of the find.

Writer Maggie Fergusson, who lives in LONDON, first met George Mackay Brown in the early nineties and was later asked to write his biography. George Mackay Brown: The Biography was published in 2006 and won the Saltire First Book Award. Here she shares her stories of love and kindness and the generosity of a stranger associated with The Storm and Other Poems.

Yes, I am lucky enough to have a copy of The Storm. It was given to me by my husband, Jamie, when we were first getting to know each other, and I treasure it. Jamie is a book dealer, and he bought it from Updikes in Edinburgh. He thinks he paid £200 for it, but that it would now be worth £750. At the Saltire prize giving somebody – and I’m afraid I just can’t remember who – offered to give me his copy of it. It was such a very generous gesture, but I felt I had to tell him that I already had a copy, and I insisted he keep it.

Maggie Fergusson put us in touch with Father Jock Dalrymple, a priest living in EDINBURGH who had met GMB and is a great admirer of his work. She believed he may even have two copies. He replied to Alison Miller saying:

No, only one copy. Maggie was actually responsible for that, alerting me (possibly around 1998?) to the fact a copy was being auctioned in Swindon, I think – I made a successful bid over the telephone, the only time I have ever bought a book at an auction, or indeed bid for anything at all at one.

Maggie’s confusion over my possibly having two copies is the result of the most exciting day in my 50 years of foraging in secondhand bookshops – in 1997 . . . I found a copy of GMB’s first book, Let’s See the Orkney Islands (published in 1946, I think) – in a secondhand bookshop in Ballater (for £3.50) – and two hours later found another one (this time for £1.50) in a similar bookshop in Blairgowrie. I have never seen another copy before or since.

Elizabeth Copp too had a story to tell of the delightful unexpectedness of her recent discovery of The Storm on her bookshelves:

I wish I could tell you for sure how The Storm came into my family but I can’t – I can only surmise. When I read your post on Facebook, I went upstairs to look through my collection of Orkney books and there it was, in very good condition too. I felt slightly shocked, for I admit that I didn’t know for sure that it was there. My collection of older Orkney books came from my parents’ home, with some coming from my aunt and uncle’s. At the time of publication, my uncle Magnus didn’t live in Orkney so I presume the book belonged to my parents – though Magnus’s mother lived at Craigiefield at the time and was a great reader, so it could have belonged to her. This is the problem with the past – you can’t be certain of events unless they are written down or you have a memory of a story being told. However, I’m going to opt for the book belonging to my dad, for he was born in the same year as George – August 1921 – and wrote poetry too. I have a book of his handwritten poems which he started writing before the war. So I wonder if, when George’s book was published, he bought a copy for inspiration, for my dad was a great reader and loved Orkney. I have been thinking for some time that it might be good to have my dad’s poems put into book form to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I cannot tell if they are ‘good’ poems but they are personal and mean a lot to me. How could I do this? George’s legacy lives on, for he has encouraged me to talk about this little project to someone outwith the family!

Well, George’s legacy was perhaps still greater. Because Elizabeth went on to write the story of her discovery for Scottish Book Trust’s Your Stories project which this year has as its theme, ‘celebration’. You can read it on their project page and also in the gallery below if you click on the title ‘Memories’.

Libraries

The Orkney Library owns two copies of The Storm and Other Poems, and the National Library of Scotland has one. It’s interesting to hear of copies in other libraries which have them, helping to give an idea of how far that ‘family’ from the first printing spread. So we were delighted when Lara Haggerty, Library Manager and Keeper of Books at The Library of Innerpeffray in Perthshire, emailed to tell us of a copy that spent part of its life in the US before returning to Scotland:

Here at Innerpeffray we have a copy of the first edition of The Storm. It is part of a collection of Scottish books donated to us in 2015 by Janet Saint Germain, an American bibliophile, who also collected many of Mackay Brown’s other work in the first edition or limited edition. As far as I can tell from the copy, apart from a pencilled then erased note (which looks like a price and an auction? number) there are no other marks of ownership, so I can’t say much about the book’s journey here to Scotland’s first free public lending library. Janet often kept notes on where she had purchased books, and their history, so if we do come across anything relating to The Storm, I will let you know.

*Janet Saint Germain, mentioned above, died aged 74 in 2016. She lived in New York City, then Dorset, Vermont. Her obituary in the New York Times said ‘Janet was a devoted bibliophile with a lifelong interest in Scottish history and culture.’ She was a member of the Grolier Club, America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. In 1992 she was involved in its first substantial exhibition of Scottish literature which drew from its large collection of Scottish writing, and she compiled the catalogue, Voices of Scotland: books and manuscripts from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The Library of Innerpeffray has an interesting history and website too where you will find a fascinating selection of virtual tours: https://innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk

Collectors

That first printing of The Storm and Other Poems, according to a letter from George Mackay Brown, amounted to 250 copies. Later he was critical of it. But the scarcity of copies and his growing stature as a writer led to the books themselves being prized and sought.

Jim Eunson from Edinburgh wrote:

I saw the story about The Storm and thought I would share my story. I am a long-term hardcore Orkney book collector, and have been collecting GMB books for many years. The Storm was published the year before I was born. I did not have a copy until about 20 years ago when I bought a copy on eBay – sold, as it turned out, by Dave Gray.* It was a good copy for which I paid a reasonable price.

Then about 8 years ago I was offered a number of Orkney books and other items by Gerry Meyer’s daughter-in-law, as she was helping to clear up his estate. As most readers will know, Gerry was the long-standing editor of The Orcadian, a Swiss newspaperman who had come to Orkney during the Second War to work on the Orkney Blast, the Forces newspaper produced during the War, and had stayed on.

This included this copy of The Storm which is in extremely good condition, but also signed and dated by GMB to Gerry and Nora. I was absolutely delighted to get this. I have seen few other copies of the book at all, but never another signed copy. There cannot be many. I then sold the other copy to an Orkney book-dealer. I paid quite a lot for the items but there were a number of other books (as well as a complete run of The Orkney Blast). 

So that is my story of the two copies I have owned.

*Dave Gray worked at Radio Orkney from 1990. He was Senior Producer from 2008-2021.

Stories of ‘The Storm

To read more stories, click directly on the title of each piece. To see the image full size, click on the image.

Our thanks!

Thank you to all those who have so far submitted stories of their copies of The Storm and Other Poems and to those who have let us know where they – and their copies – are. We will publish more here over the next few months and add a list of locations in which there are copies.

Appeal

If you are an owner of The Storm and Other Poems (1954) and would like to share your story of your copy and any aspect of its history, and what it means to you, we’d be really pleased to hear from you. Not everyone have a story to tell though, and we are really glad to hear from people who simply want to let us know they have a copy and where it resides now. You can contact us here:

gmbfellows@gmail.com

radio.orkney@gmail.com

Where next?

Click here to return to GMB Centenary 2021

Click here to return to The Storm and Other Poems

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