Lewis Grassic Gibbon is the pen name of James Leslie Mitchell (1901 - 1935). The names 'Grassic' and 'Gibbon' were taken from his mother's side of the family.
Mitchell came from several generations of Aberdeenshire farming people. He was proud to claim he came from 'peasant stock'. The experiences of his childhood and youth are reflected in those of Chris in Sunset Song. His early life was spent near Auchterless, and then his family moved to a farm near Arbuthnott, in 'The Mearns' or 'Howe of the Mearns', west of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.
In Sunset Song, the village of Kinraddie is based on Arbuthnott, where Mitchell attended primary school and where he lies buried. While living at Arbuthnott, he met and fell in love with Rebecca (known as Ray) Middleton, who lived on a neighbouring farm. Her father is considered to be the model for the character of Long Rob in the novel.
Like Chris, Mitchell was academically gifted and loved reading, attributes he gives to the 'English Chris'. He was particularly interested in history, archaeology and anthropology. While he appreciated the spiritually uplifting effect of being close to nature, which he ascribes to 'Scottish Chris', he apparently strongly disliked the drudgery of life on the farm and resented being called away from his studies to work. In contrast, although Chris refers to the 'weary pleiter' of the land, he presents her as a willing and capable worker.
After leaving school at 16, Mitchell became a journalist, but as he was thought to be overly biased politically he eventually lost his job. He had been too young to participate in World War One but enlisted in the army in 1919 and spent four years serving his country until his discharge in 1923.
He loathed his time in the army, finding the experience degrading and inhumane. This can be seen in Ewan who is dramatically brutalised by his exposure to the system. After leaving the army, Mitchell joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a clerk, and remained there until 1929.
He resigned from the RAF to become a full-time writer, and made a good living from his work. He produced many novels and short stories, with Sunset Song being published in 1932. He lived in London, and married his former sweetheart, Ray Middleton. They had a son and a daughter. Mitchell died at the relatively young age of 34 from a ruptured stomach ulcer, possibly brought on by the stress of his army experiences or by overwork.