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Alison McLeay


UK flag (1949 - 1998)

ALISON McLeay was an author with a special flair for historical and romantic fiction. Formerly a distinguished freelance radio presenter and producer with the BBC, she began writing in the mid-Seventies and went on to achieve a remarkable international readership throughout Europe and the United States, where she entered the bestseller lists.

After Dundee High School, where she was English dux, McLeay studied English and medieval history at St Andrews University.

While a student at Scotland's oldest university, she was a founder member of the biennial St Andrews Festival of Arts -organised and administered solely by students and, as such, unique in Europe - which became recognised as one of the principal international winter festivals in the country, although eventually folding during the Nineties.

After graduating from St Andrews, she went on to Glasgow University to complete a postgraduate course in radio drama, before joining the staff of the BBC.

She later became a freelance with BBC Radio in a wide variety of live morning programmes on Radio Scotland, on occasion presenting and producing Woman's Hour and Kaleidoscope, and also writing drama productions.

On her marriage to Simon Martin, a former journalist and salvage diver, in 1980, she returned to St Andrews where she was to live for the rest of her life. The couple set up and operated the town's first wine bar, and later a cookshop.

Her first book, The World of The Onedin Line, about the real-life seamen's world behind the popular television series, was published in 1977. "I kept trying to reassure myself that I had a book in me, until one day I bunged the manuscript down to a publisher and within a week I had an acceptance."

Her second book, Tobermory Treasure, which appeared in 1986, told the story of the Spanish Armada ship wrecked off Mull with its fabulous cargo worth $30 million. Such was her meticulous attention to detail in the research for her books that she learned to dive to join the salvage team involved with the Spanish galleon. She also scripted and produced a Radio 4 feature on the 400-year search for the vessel.

But it was not until the publication of her first novel, The Wayward Tide, in 1990, that McLeay became a formidable player in the literary market for historical romance. The book became an instant best-seller, and was labelled "the most stunning fiction debut in years" by Publishers' Weekly in America, where the first print run reached an astonishing 100,000 copies. The Wayward Tide was published in ten different languages.

The sea, travel and the lure of distant lands, played a central role in her tales of love and life. Her second novel, Sweet Exile, set in New Orleans and the Fens in England, followed soon afterwards. Her next, The Dream Maker, was set in Hudson's Bay. This was followed by After Shanghai and The Summer House, the paperback of which is due to be published later this month. Her recent works have proved to be particularly popular in France and Germany.

McLeay travelled to many parts of the world to carry out research for her books. "If you are going to have the feel of the place, you have to go there," she once said. Her other interests included cooking, gardening, painting, collages and reading.

Alison McLeay is survived by her husband and their 12-year-old son, Richard.