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Significant Scots
Neil Miller Gunn

One of the foremost Scottish novelist of the 20th century, Gunn wrote twenty novels which are treasured for their perceptive evocation of Highland life and landscape. His writing embodies his own concept that ‘a novelist cannot write about people in a vacuum. They must have background, and the background becomes part of them’.

Along with friends like Naomi Mitchison, he shared a vision of Scotland as an independent and prosperous country, and this vision also informs his fiction. He was born in Dunbeath in Caithness in 1891, and during his long life of 82 years lived in many different parts of Scotland, such as Kirkcudbrightshire in the south-west where he went to school. As a young man he spent some years in London, returning to Scotland in 1910 to work as a Customs and Excise Inspector in the Highlands. His short stories began to be published in the 1920s, and he soon gained popularity and recognition as a writer closely associated with the Scottish ‘Literary Renaissance’.

In 1937, heartened by the success of Highland River, Gunn gave up the 'day job' and became a full-time writer. He stayed for many years at Braefarm House on the road between Dingwall and Strathpeffer where he wrote some of his best books including The Silver Darlings (1941), The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1944) The Lost Chart (1944) and The Shadow (1948). His lively interest in the social history of Scotland resulted in many fine books, including Butcher's Broom, set during the Highland Clearances. However, metaphysical and spiritual questions are almost always at the heart of his work and some of his later books, particularly The Atom of Delight (1956), show the influence of Zen Buddhism. Neil Gunn brought an original mind to bear on a wide range of settings and situations, and he also tested various genres, for instance detective fiction in the shape of Bloodhunt (1952) and, Whisky and Scotland, a history, brims with Gunn's convivial and knowledgeable love of a good dram. The original 1935 edition is keenly sought-after by the many collectors of books on whisky.

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