A NEW BBC Alba documentary uncovers the story behind Orkney author George Mackay Brown’s 1972 debut novel, Greenvoe.

Having written six novels, the Orkney Islands were Mackay Brown’s inspiration and he became a writer of international significance, winning praise for his poetry and short stories.

Greenvoe imagined an Orkney community called Hellya, based on Stromness, being threatened by a mysterious defence project that would tear the island apart.

In real life, a few years later in 1979, plans were laid to mine uranium around Stromness – but the local community successfully resisted the plan with the help of Mackay Brown.

Orcadian writer Alison Miller, who knew the author, said: “Parochialism is interesting, because, if you get the small and local right, it becomes universal.

“And I think that at his very best, George gets the local very, very right and it is universal and that’s really shown by the extent to which he’s loved all over the world.”

Presenting the programme is Cathy MacDonald who detects a Gaelic influence in the Orcadian’s writing, and added that Mackay Brown had a Gaelic-speaking mother who was brought up in Sutherland.

The National: Presenter of the programme, Cathy MacDonald detects some Gaelic influence in Brown's writing.Presenter of the programme, Cathy MacDonald detects some Gaelic influence in Brown's writing. (Image: BBC ALBA)

Fellow poet Peter MacKay said on the programme: “He was a very special poet, because of the way he could tell a story, create a community and create a world from that – and he was drenched in Orkney’s ancient history.

“You couldn’t separate GMB and Orkney – people and stories from that island – you couldn’t beat him.”

Ill health prevented Brown from serving in the Second World War and left him with low self-esteem.

The National:

A meeting with Orcadian poet Edwin Muir set him on course for Newbattle Abbey College and Edinburgh University where he fell in with poets Sidney Goodsir Smith, Norman MacCaig, Tom Scott and Hugh MacDiarmid.

The young Orcadian was inspired by them and went on to become an acclaimed poet and author.

Sar-sgeoil: Greenvoe airs on BBC Alba on Tuesday, March 21 at 9pm.