Like most of George Mackay Brown’s work, ‘The Wireless Set’ is set on Orkney, and begins when the first wireless set arrives in 1939, presented by Howie to his mother. Howie tells her it speaks the truth; his father, old Hugh, is less convinced, citing an inaccurate weather report as evidence. When the war begins, the wireless is at first a source of news for the village, but after accidentally tuning into Lord Haw Haw they become fascinated by his lies. The story ends with news of Howie’s death and its final pages are among the most moving I have ever read.
First published in A Time to Keep, Hogarth Press, 1969, republished by Polygon in 2015
Often referred to as the Orkney Bard, George Mackay Brown (1921 – 1996) wrote poetry, short stories and novels. His novel Beside the Ocean of Time was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Saltire Society judged it their Scottish Book of the Year for 1994. In The Christmas Dove the children of a rich merchant keep a white dove in a cage. When the door is accidentally left open the dove escapes and takes wing on adventures of its own. The story bears the nostalgia of a bygone age. There is a sense of the exotic, too. Those are its charms. The author leaves the reader to contemplate its period, though by the end of the story it becomes clear that it’s Brown’s re-telling of the biblical story of the birth of Christ.
George Mackay Brown has been my literary hero for over forty years. His writing is full of nostalgia about the past. He found himself living on the cusp between two eras – the end of the Scottish Enlightenment and the dawning of Modernism and Modernity. It was a position he was never entirely comfortable with. In an essay written shortly after the publication of his first novel, Greenvoe (1972), entitled ‘Oil and the Orcadians’, Brown railed against the changes “progress and science have bought – books, radios, education, lemonade, bakehouse bread”. It’s a feeling that, in the fast-moving world of the twenty first century I find myself being able to empathise with. The story of ‘The Christmas Dove’, then, could be said to be Brown’s defiance against capitalism and the materialism that is the modern world.
First published in 1985 as a limited edition (150 copies) of four stories, by The Perpetua Press, titled Christmas Stories; reissued in 2020 as one of thirty stories in an anthology published by Galileo Publishing under the same title
Chosen by Carola Huttmann. Passionate about art, literature and writing, Carola draws much of her creative inspiration from the richness of landscape, stories, history and traditions of the Orkney Islands which imbue them with their vibrancy and charm. They have been her home since 1995. Find her on Twitter at @CarolaHuttmann