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Neil M Gunn

Neil Miller Gunn was a novelist, critic and dramatist working at the height of the Scottish Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike his contemporaries Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Hugh MacDiarmid, Gunn choose to write largely in English. Born in the Caithness village of Dunbeath, Gunn worked in the Civil Service in London and Edinburgh before returning to the live and work in the Highlands. He married his wife Daisy Frew in 1921.

Gunn’s first novel, The Grey Coast, was published in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1937 and the success of Highland River, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, that he was able to give up his job with Customs and Excise to write full-time. Highland River marked the end of a trilogy of novels exploring the history of the Highlands, following Sun Circle and Butcher’s Broom. The following year Gunn sold his house in Inverness and bought a twenty-seven foot motor boat, The Thistle, and took his wife and brother on a three-month sailing cruise around the islands of Scotland.

Neil Gunn’s socialist and Scottish Nationalist politics shaped his work, but equally did the landscape and people of the northern Highlands in which he lived. His best known novels include The Silver Darlings, and Butcher’s Broom.

His final book was the autobiography The Atom of Delight, published in 1956. He wrote a number of essays, which have been collected into anthologies. Gunn died in 1973, and a memorial sculpture was unveiled at Dunbeath Harbour in 1991.

On 1 April 2014 Creative Scotland announced that composer Mike Vass was awarded funding to complete a commissioned piece celebrating the work of Neil Gunn. Vass is currently making his way along the route that Gunn chronicled in 1937 with a series of community concerts forming part of the project. A tour of the commissioned work will then take place in October 2014.

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