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Neil M. Gunn

Life and Novels

Early Life in the Highlands

Neil Gunn was born on the 8th November 1891 in the Caithness fishing village of Dunbeath on the north east coast of the county. He spent his childhood in the village and its surroundings, which acted as a backdrop for such novels as Morning Tide, Highland River and The Silver Darlings. After completing his schooling at the local school he moved to Galloway to continue his studies under a private tutor engaged by an elder sister married to a local doctor. After successfully passing his entry examinations for the Civil Service, he had postings to London and Edinburgh before his return in 1921 to the Highlands as a Customs and Excise Officer.


Gunn and the Scottish Renaissance

In the 1920s Gunn began to write short stories, poems and essays for literary journals. His first novel, the Grey Coast, was published in 1926, and it was followed in 1931 by the highly acclaimed novel Morning Tide. His success brought him into contact with modernist writers who had  turned away from 19th century traditional writing to espouse a more realistic and valid interpretation of Scottish life and moeurs of their own era in their poetry and prose. They represented a development that came to be known as the Scottish Literary Renaissance. These  writers included such well known names as Hugh McDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison,Lewis Crassic Gibbon, Eric Linklater and Edwin Muir. One of the aims of the Renaissance was to establish a national printing press for Scotland. Two of Gunn's early novels, Morning Tide and Lost Glen, were published by the newly formed Porpoise Press. An interest in Scottish nationalism led Gunn to take an active part in the formation of what became  the Scottish National  Party. His interest in politics waned after the outbreak of the 2nd World War. In his later novels he concentrated more on the philosophical and spiritual aspects of living in a rapidly changing world.


Later Life

In 1931 after the publication of Morning Tide he married the love of his life, Jessie Frew, better known  as Daisy, a  Dingwall lady. They set up house in Inverness where he managed to reconcile his work with the pursuits of writing and politics. In 1937 his novel, Highland River, was declared winner of the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize. This prompted Gunn to leave the Civil Service and devote himself to full-time writing. With Daisy he moved to a farm house on the hills near the county town of Dingwall, where he wrote 11 of his 20 novels. In 1954 while living near Cannich in Inverness-shire he wrote his last novel, The Other Landscape, and two years later his so-called spiritual autobiography, The Atom of delight. Before his death in 1973 he had received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh for his contribution to Scottish literature. Further recognition of his service to literature had been marked by the creation by the Scottish Arts Council of the Neil Gunn International Fellowship, the fellows of which were to be distinguished foreign writers.

Neil M. Gunn: News & Updates


The Grey Coast (1926)

Hidden Doors (1929)

Morning Tide (1931)

The Lost Glen (1932)

Butcher's Broom (1934)

Whisky and Scotland (1935)

Highland River (1937)

Off in a Boat (1938)

Wild Geese Overhead (1939)

Second Sight (1940)

The Silver Darlings (1941)

Young Art and Old Hector (1942)

The Serpent (1943)

The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1944)

The Key of the Chest (1945)

The Drinkinng Well (1946)

The Shadow (1948)

The Silver Bough (1948)

The Lost Chart (1949)

Highland Pack (1949)

The White Hour (1950)

The Well at the World's End (1951)

Blood Hunt (1952)

The Other Landscape (1954)

The Atom of Delight (1956)

Secondary Reading 

Neil M. Gunn: The Man and the Writer edited by Alexander Scott and Douglas Gifford (1973)

Neil M. Gunn: A Highland Life by F. R. Hart and J. B. Pick (1981)

Essays on Neil M. Gunn edited by David Morrison (1971)

Neil M. Gunn and Lewis Grassic Gibbon by Douglas Gifford (1983)

The Novels of Neil M. Gunn: A Critical Study by Margery McCulloch (1987)

A Bibliography of the Works of Neil M. Gunn by C. J. L. Stokoe (1987)

A Celebration of the Light: Zen in the Novels of Neil Gunn by John Burns (1988)

Neil Gunn's Country: Essays in Celebration of Neil Gunn edited by Diarmid Gunn and Isobel Murray (1991)

The Fabulous Matter of Fact: The Poetics of Neil M. Gunn by Richard Price (1991)

Landscape to Light. Essays compiled by Dairmid Gunn and Alistair McCleery (2009)

Belief in Ourselves. Essays compiled by Dairmid Gunn and Alistair McCleery (2010)

Neil M. Gunn: Imprint
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