John MacDougall Hay (1881-1919) was born and brought up in Tarbert, Loch Fyne, where his father was a steamship agent. He went to the University of Glasgow in 1898 where he was a prize-winning scholar and made his first ventures into journalism while still a student.
After graduating in 1901 with an Arts degree, he trained as a teacher and worked at schools in Stornway and Ullapool. A serious bout of rheumatic fever weakened his health and led him to give up school-teaching as a career. In 1905 he returned to Glasgow to train as a minister of the Church of Scotland, once again supporting himself as a freelance journalist. When his divinity studies were completed in 1908, he became minister of Elderslie near Paisley. He married Catherine Campbell, who was herself a minister’s daughter and their son (the Gaelic poet George Campbell Hay) was born in 1915.
MacDougall Hay continued to write, working in the evenings and revising his first novel Gillespie no fewer than three times over a number of years before it was finally published in 1914. This dark and powerful novel was very successful - praised by Thomas Hardy and enthusiastically reviewed in America - and he was tempted to leave the Church, but in the end he chose to remain in the ministry. A second novel, Barnacles was published in 1916, and a volume of poems, Their Dead Sons, appeared two years later. A third novel, set in the modern Church of Scotland and to be called The Martyr, was in the planning stages when he died of tuberculosis in December 1919, at the age of only 38.