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Famous Like Me > Writer > G > Neil M. Gunn

Profile of Neil M. Gunn on Famous Like Me

Name: Neil M. Gunn  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 8th November 1891
Place of Birth: Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland, UK
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Neil Miller Gunn (November 8, 1891 - January 15, 1973) was a prolific novelist, critic, and dramatist who emerged as one of the leading lights of the Scottish Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. With over twenty novels to his credit, Gunn was arguably the most influential Scottish fiction writer of the first half of the 20th century (with the possible exception of Lewis Grassic Gibbon (James Leslie Mitchell)). Like his contemporary, Hugh MacDiarmid, Gunn was politically committed to the ideals of both Scottish nationalism and socialism (a difficult balance to maintain for a writer of his time). Gunn's fiction deals primarily with the Highland communities and landscapes of his youth, though the author chose (contra MacDiarmid and his followers) to write almost exclusively in English rather than Scots or Gaelic (a language he lamented never having learned).

Early Life

Neil Gunn was born in the village of Dunbeath in the county of Caithness, the northernmost county of mainland Scotland. His father was the captain of a herring boat, and Gunn's fascination with the sea and the courage of fishermen can be traced directly back his childhood memories of his father's work. His mother would also provide Gunn with a crucial model for the types of steadfast, earthy, and tradition-bearing women that would populate many of his works.

Gunn had eight siblings, and when his primary schooling was completed in 1904, he moved south to live with one of his sisters and her husband in St. John's Town of Dalry, Kirkcudbrightshire. He continued his education there with tutors and sat the Civil Service exam in 1907. This led to a move to London, where the adolescent Gunn was exposed to both the exciting world of new political and philosophical ideas as well as to the seamier side of modern urban life. In 1910 Gunn became a Customs and Excise Officer and was posted back to the Highlands. He would remain a customs officer throughout the First World War and until he was well-established as a writer in 1937.

Gunn married Jessie Dallas Frew (or "Daisy") in 1921 and they settled in Inverness, near his permanent excise post at the Glen Mhor distillery.

Beginnings as a Writer

During the 1920s Gunn began to publish short stories, as well as poems and short essays, in various literary magazines. His writing would bring him into contact with other writers associated with the budding Scottish Renaissance, such as Hugh MacDiarmid, James Bridie, Naomi Mitchison, Eric Linklater, Edwin Muir, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and George Blake. Blake and George Malcolm Thomson were the founders of the Porpoise Press, whose mission was to reestablish a national publishing industry for Scotland, and they would become Gunn's publisher until their absorption by Faber in the mid-1930s. The first novels Gunn published were The Grey Coast in 1926 and The Lost Glen in 1928.

During this period, he was also active in the National Party of Scotland, which formed part of what became the Scottish National Party.

The Professional Writer

Following the publishing success of Highland River, Gunn was able to resign from the Customs and Excise in 1937 and become a full-time writer. He rented a farmhouse near Strathpeffer and embarked on his most productive period as a novelist and essayist.

Gunn's later works in the 1940s and into the 1950s became concerned with issues of totalitarianism.

The Highland Zen Master

Gunn's final full-length work was a discursive autobiography entitled The Atom of Delight. This text showed the influence which a reading of Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery had upon Gunn.

Gunn's utilisation of these ideas was not so much mystical as providing a view of the individual in a "small self-contained community, with a long-established way of life, with actions and responses known and defined". He took the playing of fiddle reels as an example: "how a human hand could perform, on its own, truly astonishing feats - astonishing in the sense that if thought interfered for a moment the feat was destroyed". This thought-free state could be a source of delight.

In his later years, Gunn was involved in broadcasting and also published in diverse journals such as Anarchy in London, Point magazine in Leicester, and Saltire.



  • The Grey Coast (1926)
  • The Lost Glen (1928)
  • Hidden Doors (1929)
  • Morning Tide (1930)
  • The Poaching at Grianan (1930)
  • Sun Circle (1996 originally 1933). Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 0-86241-587x.
  • Butcher's Broom (1934)
  • Highland River (1960 originally 1937). Arrow. ISBN 0-09-908720-0.
  • Wild Geese Overhead (1939)
  • Second Sight (1940)
  • The Silver Darlings (1941)
  • Young Art and Old Hector (1942). London: Faber & Faber.
  • The Serpent (1944)
  • The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1943)
  • The Key of the Chest (1945)
  • The Drinking Well (1946)
  • The Silver Bough (1948)
  • The Shadow (1948)
  • The Lost Chart (1949)
  • The White Hour (1950)
  • The Well at the World's End (1951)
  • Bloodhunt (1952)
  • The Other Landscape (1954)

Essays and autobiography:

  • Whisky and Scotland (1935)
  • Off in a Boat (1938)
  • Highland Pack (1949)
  • The Atom of Delight (1986 originally 1956) Edinburgh: Polygon. ISBN 0-7486-6155-7.


  • Hart, Francis; Pick, J.B. (1985). Neil M. Gunn: a Highland Life. Edinburgh: Polygon. ISBN 0-9049-19951.
  • Pick, J.B. (2003) Neil Gunn. Northcote House. ISBN 0-7463-09899.

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Neil M. Gunn