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.

Good News!  The 2021/22 competition opened on Monday 20th September 2021 and closes on Friday 4th March 2022.  For full details including rules and entry forms please go to

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 usually quotes from the works of Neil Gunn.

About the 2018/19 competition
The 2018/19 competition was launched by Scottish Makar Jackie Kay on Friday 14th September 2018. The entry forms (which included the themes) and the rules (which contained all the information needed to enter) were available to download on the High Life Highland website The fee for each adult entry was £8, the schools sections were free. Fees could have been paid by PayPal, bank transfer or cheque. The closing date for all sections of the competition was Friday 8th March 2019. The award ceremony took place on Wednesday 12th June at the Strathpeffer Pavilion. The prizes were presented by Robert Davidson, a founder Trustee and managing director of Sandstone Press which published Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, winner of the Man Booker International prize 2019. Names of all the prizewinners and copies of their entries are available on the High Life Highland website


Adult Short Story and Adult Poetry prizes
• First Prize = £500
• Second Prize = £300
• Third Prize = £200
• Highly Commended and Commended certificates at the judges’ discretion

Secondary School prizes
• First prize = £100
• Second prize = £60
• Third prize = £40
• Highly Commended and Commended certificates at the judges’ discretion
• High Life Highland prize for the school with the best entries overall = £100 + trophy

Primary School prizes
• First prize = £50
• Second prize = £30
• Third prize = £20
• Highly Commended and Commended certificates at the judges’ discretion
• The Lydia Michael Award for the primary school with the best entries overall = £100 + trophy

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 2018/19 competition was journalist and broadcaster Ruth Wishart.

The lead judges for the last 5 competitions were as follows:
• 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.

Michel Faber, Author.

One of Michel’s most famous books, Under The Skin.

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 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 Councillors of the Dingwall & Seaforth Ward of the Highland Council and by Mrs Rhoda Dunbar.

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