MARY Stewart, who has died aged 97, was a romantic and historical novelist most famous for a series of books inspired by the Arthurian legends. During the 1960s and 70s, she was regularly in the best-seller lists and was particularly popular in the United States.
For many years, she also played the role of the don's wife in Edinburgh; her husband Sir Frederick Stewart was professor of geology at Edinburgh University.
She was born the daughter of a vicar in Sunderland and attended boarding school in Ripon, where she excelled but was also bullied. Exceptionally bright, she was offered places at both Cambridge and Oxford but her father could not afford to support her so she went to Durham instead where she obtained a first in English.
During and after the Second World War, she taught for a while in Durham, where she met her husband to be, and began writing in the mid 1950s.
Her first novel, Madam, Will You Talk? was about the adventures of a woman and her friend who become caught up in a murder trial in Provence. However, just on the cusp of publication, Stewart panicked. It was all far too personal, she said, "like walking naked down the street", and she wanted the book pulped.
The publishers refused and it was a success.
Over the next 20 years, she wrote a further 15 novels, most famously the Arthurian trilogy: The Crystal Cave in 1970, The Hollow Hills in 1973 and The Last Enchantment in 1979. All three books followed King Arthur's attempts to united his dis-united kingdom.
All her books featured strong women with endless resources of common sense and were often set in exotic locations which were thoroughly researched on the ground. The Gabriel Hounds was set in Lebanon, The Moonspinners, which was made into a film by Disney, in Crete, and Airs Above the Ground in Austria.
She sometimes said that her drive to write came from the fact she was unable to have children due to an operation after an ectopic pregnancy. "I'd always wanted to be a writer," she once said, "but I suppose what really started me was losing an unborn child and being told I could never have another one. Something was needed to take the place of a family, which I'd always desperately wanted and writing was the thing."
Later, Stewart wrote books for children, including Ludo and the Star Horse which won a Scottish Arts Council Award. She also returned to the Arthurian legend for inspiration with The Wicked Day in 1983 and The Prince and the Pilgrim in 1995.
Her last book, Rose Cottage, appeared in 1997, by which time she was already in her eighties. She lived with her husband in the Highlands until his death in 2001.