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Light in the North  Welcomes You

Celebrating the life and writing

of Neil M. Gunn

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Light in the North

Welcome to the second year of our online 'Light in the North,' which is a celebration of the life and work of one of Scotland's most distinguished writers, Neil Miller Gunn (8th November 1891 - 15th January 1973).

These pages have been created to encourage conversations about him and further reading of his work . Neil M. Gunn was a prolific novelist, critic and dramatist, who emerged as one of the leading lights of the Scottish Literary Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. In 1937 he was awarded the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize' for fiction.

Gunn's nephew, Dairmid Gunn, has described Neil Gunn's novels as 'reflecting his constant philosophical quests that invariably depict two worlds – the world of here and now and the world in which the meaning of life and the essence of living are explored'. With over 20 novels to his credit Gunn was arguably the most influential Scottish fiction writer of the 20th century.

This year we have chosen Gunn's 1948 novel, 'The Shadow'. A young Scottish woman, Nan, who has lived through the horrors of the Blitz in London in the Second World War and been seriously depressed by the spiritual bankruptcy  of her Marxist lover and his party acquaintances, returns to her native Highlands and the loving care of a gentle and understanding aunt to overcome what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. Her tentative recovery is adversely affected by a local murder and the imagined sinister presence of a dark wood surrounding her aunt's house Her slow recovery is handled with delicacy and empathy by the author.

We have an exciting and diverse line up of contributors this year, that we hope will contextualise The Shadow  and other work by Neil Gunn.  Dairmid Gunn brings his personal insights about his uncle, The Shadow and the inspiration of Braefarmhouse near Dingwall for the novel's setting.  Tom Hubbard offers us an exciting Anthology of Observations and Aphorisms from Neil Gunn’s writing.  Kirsty Gunn reflects on the letters that Nan writes to her lover and the "inscape" of that character which is also true for the novel itself.  John Burns writes about Neil Gunn’s later life interest in Zen Buddhism and how elements of it are revealed even in the early work. We also include an extract from Peter Davidson’s book ‘The Last of the Light About Twilight ‘  which beautifully transports us to the shadows and timelessness of a walled Spanish garden.  We have two very different visual artists:.  Scottish painter Ian Scott shows his iconic painting Neil Gunn contemplates inside his Caithness writers retreat. Alexandra Mureșan is a leading glass artist from Romania and has taken inspiration in her work from the Scottish Highlands with glass pieces that evoke duality and the play of light.  

The novel is set in the period of the London Blitz and so we have included photographs from the Imperial War Museum that vividly evoke the confusion and horror of that time. Professor Edgar Jones writes about the psychological effects that the bombings had on the civilian population. Post war trauma and the dysfunction of the modern world is a theme that threads through many of Gunn’s novels, and is especially relevant in The Shadow. In addition, we are delighted to introduce Wordpath and Meaghan Delahunt who asks “ Have you ever thought about writing?”  She has created three writing prompts for Light in the North and we hope that you may be inspired to make your own creative response. 

Finally we have included information on Woodland Trust Scotland who do amazing work in rewilding and protecting the woods of the Highlands. The woods in The Shadow are a continued presence throughout the book and are based on Dingwall Woods ( now privately owned) near to Braefarmhouse.

There is also information about the Couldoran appeal from Woodland Trust Scotland and links to take you to their pages.

Light in the North is a not-for-profit organisation, and we hope you enjoy visiting this site and please feel free to leave comments for us on our Facebook page. 

Merran Gunn ( Programme Coordinator)

photo credit: courtesy of Dairmid Gunn

Home: About



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Dairmid Gunn

Dairmid Gunn is a nephew of Neil M Gunn and is an essayist and editor. In addition he has led a distinguished career in the Royal Navy and as a diplomat and Russian specialist.

Tom Hubbard

Tom Hubbard was the first Librarian of the Scottish Poetry Library.  
He is a writer of novels, short stories, plays and non fiction, a translator, poet, and visiting Professor in Scottish and comparative literature and aesthetics. 
He is an Irish Scot.

Kirsty Gunn

Kirsty Gunn has taught and written about Neil Gunn at the the University of Dundee where she is Research
Professor of Writing Practice and Study. She is published by Faber & Faber and internationally.

John Burns

John Burns teaches English and Tai Chi. He is a writer of poetry and short stories including; Celebration of the Light: Zen in the Novels of Neil Gunn. He is a founding editor of Cencrastus, and is now on the editorial team of Southlight magazine.

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alex muransen .jpg
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Ian Scott

Ian Charles Scott is an artist
from Caithness, Scotland who
lives and teaches painting in
New York. He has won many
prestigious awards and his
paintings can be found in the
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Aberdeen Art Gallery,  Dundee Art Gallery,  Royal Scottish Academy, 
Koyo Institute and Dublin Art
Gallery, among others.

Alexandra Murensan

Alexandra Muresan is a glass artist from Romania and a lecturer at the Ceramic and Glass Department within the University of Art and Design, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is the recipient of several awards and her  pieces have been exhibited in Cluj, Bistrița, Bucharest, Warsaw, Berlin, Lybster, Bornholm, Prague, Plzen, Bergen and Rome.

Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson  is an author, 

scholar, editor and translator. 

He is a Fellow of the Society 

of Antiquaries of London and

taught literature and art history

 at the University of Aberdeen.

He is currently Senior Research

Fellow in Renaissance and

Baroque Studies and Curator

of the Campion Hall Collection, 

University of Oxford.

Edgar Jones

Edgar Jones is a 
psychotherapist. He 
is currently
programme leader for 
the MSc in War and 
Psychiatry at King's 
College London.
He is a leading expert 
in the psychological 
effects of modern 
war and conflict.

Edinburgh City
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Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum 

have kindly shared 

some photographs of

the London Blitz from

their collection.

This illustrates the period

of history that Gunn‘s

‘The Shadow’ is set in.


WordPath is Scotland’s 
innovative, dynamic and
successful online creative
writing programme.
Delivering a highly 
creative, inspirational 
and intensely practical 
course and taught by
a small and friendly 
team of internationally 
published award-winning 

Meaghan Delahunt

Meaghan Delahunt is a 

writer and essayist. Her 

latest novel 

The Night-Side of the 

Country is currently 

being developed into a 


Together with Kirsty Gunn, 

she has created a unique 

online writing programme 

that teaches creative 

writing called Wordpath.

WoodlandTrust Scotland 

WoodlandTrust Scotland 
works to plant and halt 
the loss of native woods 
and trees and restore 
existing woodland to peak 
condition from Sutherland 
to Stranraer. ‘The Shadow’
is set around the author’s 
own farmhouse near Dingwall, 
Ross-shire and surrounding 

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