The Neil Gunn Trust held its inaugural meeting in 1986. There were 7 of us, all local people, each bringing a different skill to the mix. The idea to build a monument to Neil Gunn came from Kerr Yule (my late husband). He was the driving force behind the whole project.
The monument was unveiled on 31st. October 1987 by Sorley Maclean, poet and Jessie Kesson, writer. The monument is situated on the Heights of Brae, Strathpeffer. The reason for choosing that particular site is as follows - Neil Gunn lived in Braefarm House, situated to the north of the road leading from Dingwall to Strathpeffer for 12 years. He wrote 11 of his 20 novels during that period. He used to write in the morning, then, in the afternoon, make his way up through the fields behind the house, crossing the Heights road at the very spot where the monument is situated. It is a marvellous location, offering views of the mountains to the west, and to Dingwall, the Cromarty Firth and the Grampians to the south. Neil then made his way up the little croft road immediately to the east of the present car park, and on and up to the moor and, eventually the Skiach river.
Since that beginning a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. The Trustees have never been content just to look after the maintenance of the monument and viewpoint, important as that is. We have branched out in all directions in our efforts to enhance the cultural heritage that Neil Gunn left us. After the Ceremony at Heights of Brae, it being the 31st. October and not exactly warm, we all gathered in the Royal Hotel in Dingwall for refreshments. It was then that George Finlayson, Convenor of Ross & Cromarty District Council at that time, announced that the Council planned to establish a Neil Gunn Writing Competition, on condition that the Neil Gunn Trust would assist and supply a judge each time. The Trustees were only too happy to agree.
The first Writing Competition was held in 1988 and was won by Bess Ross, who has gone on to write several books of short stories and novels; she has also written a play, which was performed by 'The Grey Coast Theatre'. There have been many winners since then, the most famous being Michel Faber in 1997. We can't quite claim to have 'discovered' him, but he certainly has used the fact that he won the competition in the blurb in his books.
When Ross & Cromarty District Council ceased to exist, the Trust persuaded Highland Council to pick up the baton and undertake to run the Competition in the future. The Competition has gone from strength to strength. To date there have been ten Competitions.
The 11th Competition was launched this year (2010) in the One Touch Theatre in Eden Court, Inverness by Daniela Norris, an Israeli woman, who won a top prize in the 10th Competition. Entry forms can be downloaded on the Highland Council website. The Closing date is in March (2011) and the Prize Giving will be held in June in the Town House in Inverness.
Prize Winners 2007
The Neil Gunn Trust is a registered Scottish charity, No: SC011206