The Neil Gunn Writing Competition


The Neil Gunn Writing Competition takes place every two years and has been running since 1988. It is organised by the Neil Gunn Trust in partnership with High Life Highland and with assistance from The Highland Council.

Aims and structure of the competition
The aim of the competition is to follow in the footsteps of Neil Gunn by encouraging writers of all ages and abilities. The competition gives writers the opportunity to write on a theme and to have their work read and judged.
The competition has four sections – adult short story, adult poetry, secondary school (S3-S6) and primary school (P5-P7). The adult sections are open to writers anywhere in the world writing in either English or Scots; the schools’ sections are limited to pupils in the specified year groups attending Highland Council schools.

The themes are quotes from the works of Neil Gunn.

About the 2021/22 competition

This has been the first competition since the pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020/21 competition.  We are delighted to announce the following results.  To view the winning entries in all sections please go to the High Life Highland competition webpage


Adult Short Story

First Prize = £500.  Winner Heather F Reid

Joint Second Prize = £250.  Winners Robin Rother and Jim Mainland

Commended : Neil Cargill and Ruth Adams

Adult Poetry

Joint First Prize = £400.  Winners Jon Miller and David Ross Linklater**

Third Prize = £200.  Winner James Knox Whittet

Highly Commended : Barbara Hickson

Commended : Ian McDonough

**We were delighted to discover that David Ross Linklater is the grandson of Bess Ross, the winner of the very first Neil Gunn Writing Competition back in 1988.

Secondary School prizes
First prize = £100. Winner Mhairi MacColl, Lochaber High School
Second prize = £60.  Winner Douglas Leslie, Millburn Academy
Third prize = £40.  Winner Coll McNamara, Millburn Academy
Commended : Rosana Shepherd, Lochaber High School and Karina Stankeiwicz, Inverness High School
High Life Highland prize for the school with the best entries overall = £100 + trophy.  Joint winners Lochaber High School and Millburn Academy

Primary School prizes
First prize = £50.  Winner Daisy Mackenzie, Mulbuie Primary School
Second prize = £30.  Winner Charlie Raven, Bonar Bridge Primary School
Third prize = £20.  Winner Alice Olesik, St Joseph’s Primary School
Highly Commended : Harris Cameron and Jessie Forrest, both Abernethy Primary School.  Commended : Bernhard Almadin, Alexander Abu El Seond and Maria Cameron, St Joseph’s Primary School and Ethan Munro and Ava Parmenter, Abernethy Primary School

The Lydia Michael Award for the primary school with the best entries overall = £100. Joint winners : Abernethy Primary School and St Joseph’s Primary School.

The lead judge for the adult sections is always a prominent Scottish literary figure. He/she is assisted by a panel of shortlisting judges for each section, appointed from the Neil Gunn Trust, High Life Highland Library Service and Highland Council Education Department. The judges have no information whatsoever about the entrants until the judging process is finished. The lead judge and shortlisting judges attend the award ceremony, following which the judges’ comments together with the prizewinning entries in all sections are published on the High Life Highland website
The lead judge for the 2021/22 competition was author and patron of the Neil Gunn Trust, James Robertson.

The lead judges for the last 6 competitions were as follows:

2018/19:  Ruth Wishart
2016/17: Michel Faber
2014/15: Rosemary Goring
2012/13: Jackie Kay
2010/11: Andrew Greig
2008/09: James Robertson

Award Ceremony
This is held in June three months after the close of the competition and usually takes place in Inverness or the Dingwall area. The prize winning entrants from all sections plus their guests join together with the judges, officials and competition sponsors to celebrate their success, receive their awards and hear comments from the judges on their writing. The ceremony is followed by refreshments where there is the opportunity for informal conversation.

There was no award ceremony in June 2022 because of the ongoing risks associated with the Covid 19 pandemic. We regret this very much and hope circumstances will permit us to hold an award ceremony next time

History of the competition
The Neil Gunn Trust was delighted to be invited by Ross and Cromarty District Council to assist them in developing a competition for adults and children in the name of Neil Gunn. The first competition took place in 1988 and was won by a Ross-shire resident, Bess Ross. Dairmid Gunn, Neil Gunn’s nephew and Literary Executor, was in charge of the judging for this and other early competitions. When Ross and Cromarty District Council ceased to exist, the Highland Council and subsequently High Life Highland took over the partnership with the NGT, and a very successful partnership it has turned out to be, delivering a further 13 competitions. Thanks to the Internet, news of the competition travels far and wide and attracts adult entries from many parts of the world, although the majority of entrants are UK residents. Several winners have gone on to become published authors, the most famous of whom is Michel Faber. School entries continue to be open only to Highland Council primary and secondary schools. For the 2018/19 competition, associated support materials for teachers were developed to introduce children to Neil Gunn and to assist teachers to develop the creative writing skills of their pupils through the theme of the competition.

The organisers are entirely reliant on sponsorship and the entry fees paid by adult entrants to cover the costs of the competition. Major costs include the prize monies and the fee and expenses of the lead judge. Without the generous support of past and present sponsors, the competition could not survive. Any individual, business or organisation wishing to provide financial assistance to the competition, for instance by sponsoring a prize, is asked to contact the Neil Gunn Trust.

Sponsors and supporters
The Trust, in association with High Life Highland, particularly acknowledges the long term sponsorship of the schools sections of the competition by the Lydia Michael Trust and the long-term support given by the Highland Council, The Dr David Summers Trust and Mrs Rhoda Dunbar.

For more information on the writing competition please contact Charlotte MacArthur using the form below.