Neil Gunn -- Author from the Scottish Highlands

Meet Neil Gunn (1891-1973)

Neil Miller Gunn was born on 8 November 1891 at Dunbeath in Caithness. In a c.1941 article he wrote for Modern Authors (Kurtz, Ed.) he tells us that "his earliest memories center round his father's fishing boats and the tall cliffs, with inland straths and moors for background. There was the village school, but his real education was absorbed as a matter of joy from his environment, its long hours of independence and freedom, its fishing and hunting, its legends and traditions. At the age of thirteen he went to Galloway, in the south of Scotland, where he was privately educated for a couple of years. But at the end of that time he grew restless and seeing an advertisement for boys in the Civil Service, set off for the given address, passed the examination, and was sent off to London, where he found himself facing life on fifteen shillings a week. In two years he saw enough life in that great city to last for a long time, so he went to Edinburgh for a change. But after two years there, he decided to go in for a higher post in the Civil Service, which at once would give him more money and take him back to the Highlands.

"For that Northland would not keep out of his head. And now his job took him all over the Highlands, until he knew the inlets and fishing lochs of the Hebrides as intimately as the cliffs of Caithness. Hunting and fishing, all the local sports and pastimes, were his; and he started writing as an extra pastime -- short stories, poetry, essays. His second novel, Moming Tide, won a Scottish award, was a choice of the English Book Society, and was successfully translated. His sixth novel, Highland River, was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize as the best British novel in 1937. But before that he had thrown up his Civil Service post, bought a boat, and gone to sea with his wife, cruising down the West coast of Scotland." This adventure is described in his book Off in a Boat (1938).

"This Northern land is in his blood and therefore in his books. Its culture is a very old one and particularly fascinates him because at an early age it managed to hold a fine balance between individual freedom and the duty that an individual owes to society. He is an authority on the modern movement called Scottish Nationalism, having taken part in its economic, political and literary ventures. He is an authority also on Scotch whisky, and has written a book on the subject. For there is indeed little of his native land that he does not know at first hand."

Gunn has been described as being "typically Scotch in appearance, tall and rawboned, with aquiline features and dark curly hair" but there is no mention of his being possessed with false modesty. His work in Civil Service was as a Customs & Excise officer -- what Appalachian 'moonshiners' call a 'revenooer'. His enthusiasm for Scottish nationalism through the SNP agenda cooled as he came to recognize that true nationalist is one who is more interested in bringing benefits to Scotland than fighting for, perhaps uselessly, for a purist goal of independence. He was determined to be a practical man of affairs and not only as a writer. He sought to achieve this goal by his widespread service on government commissions and in his broadcasting activities. He died in Inverness in 1973. Prof. F. R. Hart and 1. B. Pick have written a full biography -- Neil M. Gunn: A Highland Life.(Polygon).

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