Competition Logo

“For at the end of the day, what's all the bother about? Simply about human relations, about how we are to live one with another on the old earth. That's all, ultimately. To understand one another, and to understand what we can about the earth, and in the process gather some peace of mind and, with luck, a little delight.”

'The Serpent' by Neil M Gunn

This quotation provided the theme, 'Living with One Another', for a highly successful 10th Neil Gunn Writing Competition. The competition, first launched in 1989 to celebrate the important contribution of Neil Gunn to Highland and Scottish literature, has continued to attract entries of high quality; this year the adult competition having over 200 entries from around the world, including entrants based in Brazil, USA, Canada, Finland and France as well as from Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The competition was judged in four sections: adult prose; adult poetry; secondary school (S4-6) poetry or prose; and, primary school (P5-7) poetry or prose. The adult section was open to all writers, while the schools' competition was limited to schools within the Highland Council area.

At the Prize Giving held in the Inverness Town House on Tuesday 23 June, chief judge, James Robertson, himself a well known author, observed that “The range of voices was very satisfying, displaying an international outlook and addressing the big issues of our time, features which also characterised Neil Gunn's work. In a piece of writing for a competition, we are looking for work which displays ambition and is trying to say something big. Our prize winners certainly showed that ambition.” Commenting on the winner of the adult prose section, James said “It displayed a musicality and richness of language; it was scary, nightmarish and surreal. It unsettled me and asked questions.”

The judges of each section provided a brief review of the work they had read. In the primary schools section, Alison Wilkie, a member of the Neil Gunn Trust, commented on the quality and variety of writing and praised the entrants for their willingness to think broadly in interpreting the theme and tackle difficult issues such as slavery and war. In the secondary section, Colin Ferguson, also from the Trust, said “What distinguished the prize winners from the rest was an originality of approach, an ability to convey a real sense of place or action and the creation or depiction of believable characters”.

In the adult poetry section, Jon Miller, poet and PT English at Ullapool High School, noted that “while some entrants tended to 'overdress' their work with the use of fancy fonts or computer enhanced presentation, what I was looking for were poems that showed completeness and control. The prize winners did this, demonstrating skill, feeling and a sense of language and tone.”

James Knox Whittet from Norfolk was named as the overall winner of the Neil Gunn Writing Competition. This prize, sponsored by HI-Arts, is a week's writing course at Moniack Mhor or another Arvon Centre in the UK..

The organizers of the competition, Highland Council Library Service and the Neil Gunn Trust gratefully acknowledge the support they have received from sponsors Royal Bank of Scotland and HI-Arts.

Adult Winners Photo

From left to right: Councillor Bill Fernie, Jon Miller (Poetry Judge), Jim Bradbury (2nd Poetry Prize), James Knox Whittet (1st Poetry Prize), James Robertson (Author and Lead Judge), Daniela Norris (2nd Prose Prize), Ann Yule (Convenor of the Neil Gunn Trust and Adult Prose Judge), Jacqueline Liuba (1st Prose Prize) and Helen Forbes (Highly Commended Adult Prose)

Winning entries from the 2007 competition can be found on the Am Baile website (

by Colin Ferguson

Neil Gunn Writing Competition Prize Winners June 2009

Overall winner of the Neil Gunn Writing Competition

James Knox Whittet for the poem “Cuttings” - a one-week writing course at Moniack Mhor

Adult Prose

1st (£500) Jacqueline Liuba, Applecross “…...there are angels as there are trees.”
2nd (£250) Daniela I Norris, Grilly, France “Hands”
3rd (£100) Fiona Thackery, Curitaba, Brazil “Forgotten Tigers of Rio de Janiero”

Adult Poetry

1st (£500) James Knox Whittet, Heydon, Norfolk “Cuttings”
2nd (£250) Jim Bradbury, Eastbourne, East Sussex “A memory of old men grieving”
3rd (£100) Donald S Murray, Lerwick “Lifting Song”

Primary School Section

1st (£50) Simon Thomas, North Kessock “Slavery”
2nd= (£25) Robbie Fairweather Graham, Applecross “Peace not War”
2nd= (£25) Ruby Partridge, Broadford “A Garden of Flowers”

Secondary Schools Section

1st (£100) Beth O'Connel, Thurso High School “Troika”
2nd (£60) Neil Henderson, Thurso High School “The Weighting Room”
3rd (£40) Isabella Claydon, Gairloch High School “SHE”
Conal McDonagh, Gairloch High School “Block 616”

A Special Prize of book tokens was presented by the Neil Gunn Trust to Thurso High School in recognition of the outstanding success of its pupils in the competition; the prize was collected by Sandy Stewart, PT English.