WHEN Sara Sheridan tells a story, she has a knack for ensuring you are on the edge of your seat. That is true of her successful Mirabelle Bevan murder mystery series and likewise when we meet in person at her Edinburgh home to talk about Sheridan's latest novel and the adaptation of the popular books into a cosy crime noir television detective drama.

Her office is bright and airy, an entire wall lined from ceiling to floor with books. Sheridan sits at her desk, backlit by the late morning light streaming in through the window. She has a warmth and instant likeability with a dry sense of humour and candid manner, yet equally exudes the air of a woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

It is always interesting to see an author in their natural habitat. Everything about the space is ordered and precise. Neat piles of papers and notes are stacked in front of her. Even the white desk is immaculately clean. Perhaps Sheridan tidied up before I arrived, but it is nothing less than I would have expected from a wordsmith who pays such diligent attention to detail in her work.

Sheridan, 47, currently writes across two main historical periods: the early 19th and the mid 20th centuries. Today we're here to talk about the latter – the 1950s to be precise, the era inhabited by her feisty and fearless Brighton-based heroine Mirabelle Bevan.

The bestselling books begin as Britain adjusts to the grey, post-war austerity of 1951. As a former Whitehall backroom girl, Mirabelle's cloak-and-dagger work behind the scenes helped track down Nazi war criminals and played a role in the subsequent Nuremberg Trials.

As peacetime dawned, the transition to the humdrum of ordinary domestic life proved tumultuous. Mirabelle craved excitement. She found a means to sate that appetite in detective work ranging from tracking down missing persons to investigating a raft of suspicious deaths.

Sheridan's latest novel, Operation Goodwood, is the fifth book in the series and, according to the author, means we have almost reached the halfway point in Mirabelle's myriad adventures.

"I always knew it was going to be 11 books because I am a swot," she says. "The history was my interest: 1951-61 is a really fascinating period. I wanted to do one book a year because every year in that period is really distinct.

"The other period I write in is between 1825 and 1835 but there is not a lot of difference between those years. In the 1950s, though, every year is dramatically different in terms of fashion, culture and politics – there is a lot going on."

The idea for the books was inspired by a tale Sheridan's father told her about a mysterious woman he once saw on Brighton beach. The lady in question was impeccably dressed and clearly well-to-do, but was taking extraordinary lengths to avoid paying the tuppence fee for a deckchair.

"It was 1951 and there had been clothes rationing for about 10 years," says Sheridan. "It was quite difficult to be well-dressed because everything was darned and you couldn't buy many new clothes. But here was this glamorous woman that Dad spotted. He said: 'I always wondered why she was dodging paying for the deckchairs because she obviously had money.' And I wondered that too."

Sheridan decided to write a short story as a fun birthday gift for her father but quickly realised there was more life to the character than could be captured in a handful of pages. "The whole series is the story of how Mirabelle got over the war," she says. "How do you get from 1951, where the entire nation is bereaved and there is still rationing, to 1961, when there is free love and the pill comes on the market?"

Sheridan is particularly fascinated by female history and confronts head-on the sexism, misogyny and racism that remained rife in the post-war years (not least using the N-word unflinchingly on occasion as she deftly captures the jarring social and cultural landscape of the time).

"My editor, Alison, used to phone me up and say: 'You can't use that word!'" she says. "We would quite often have a barney about whether it was too racist. I would refer to all kinds of newsreel and writing [from the 1950s]. The things people would say as an aside are really quite extraordinary."

Tackling such thorny themes is a deliberate move by Sheridan. She recalls her own jaw-dropping experiences while researching the era. "The way men talk about women in Pathe newsreels is extraordinary to us today. I was quite upset when I watched one newsreel. I phoned my mum and asked: 'Did Dad talk to you like this?' She said: 'Oh yes, it took me until 1972 to train him out of it.'"

Sheridan reveals that she is gradually losing her hearing and has started to learn sign language and lip reading. "My ears are a bit duff," she says, simply. "My mum has not got great hearing either. I have very small inner ears and a congenital condition.

"I can finger-spell already and I'm learning to sign and lip-read. It is not awful and I don't need a hearing aid yet, although I might need one soon. I'm just being prepared. At the moment I can hear you fine – it is my upper tones that are going. Sometimes if the telly is on and the doorbell goes or the phone rings, I don't hear them."

The author first discovered an issue with her hearing around 18 months ago. "Everyone could hear stuff that I couldn't," she says. "I went to the doctor and he referred me to otolaryngology who tested my hearing. I feel almost bad complaining about it because this is a preparatory process. Anyone can become profoundly deaf. I hope not – we will have to wait and see."

The eldest of three children, Sheridan spent her childhood in the Merchiston area of Edinburgh. Her father Ronnie, who grew up in London and Brighton during the 1950s, later moved to Scotland. He worked as an antiques dealer, while her mother Kate was a housewife. "He met my mum in Edinburgh at a tennis party – how middle class is that?" she says, smiling.

Sheridan paints an archetypal image of an author-in-waiting: a studious child with her nose permanently stuck in a book. "I was a swot and bookish, I'm not going to lie," she says.

The axis of that existence was nearby Morningside Library. "We didn't have a lot of books in the house growing up so I was at the library two or three times a week. Nowadays you would never send your eight-year-old on their own, but it was the 1970s. I had my readers' card and off I went."

While as a teenager Sheridan fell in love with crime writers Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh (and owned a well-thumbed copy of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte as a 10-year-old), it is Swiss author Johanna Spyri's famed Heidi that can lay claim to being her most beloved childhood book.

"I had these two sporty brothers and I thought it would be quite good if I could go up a mountain and have some cheese, which is basically what most of Heidi is all about," she says. "I think I quite fancied Peter the goatherd – that was probably my first crush."

Her mother Kate is dyslexic which meant the task of bedtime storytelling fell to her father Ronnie. Rather than read from a book, however, he would produce kooky curiosities from his pockets – a snuffbox or a 17th-century silver comb – and weave magical tales about their origins.

If Sheridan has inherited her father's gift for a good yarn, she also shares his obsession for historical objects. While her two brothers followed him into the antiques business, Sheridan channelled that passionate drive into writing books.

"I'm such a nerd," she says. "With the Mirabelle books I always start with stuff. Artefacts are important to me. I'm keen on creating time through the things that were there."

It is almost two decades since Sheridan became an author. Newly divorced and casting around for a career that would allow her to work from home while caring for her young daughter, she decided to quit her job as a university administrator and write a book.

Sheridan cringes at the memory of this bold naivety. "That is a really bad idea – don't do this – although it kind of worked for me. I was very lucky and I think if I hadn't sold my first book pretty quickly I probably would have just given up on it. The idea of writing and writing and no-one wanting anything ... I would just have thought: 'Bugger it, I'll do something else.'"

She has since remarried. Her husband Alan, 54, is a former maths and physics teacher working in the game industry who she describes as "a professional geek". Her only child, Molly, 24, is a makeup artist and stylist who is co-founder of the Scottish Fashion Creative Network.

Sheridan began her career in contemporary commercial fiction with the Saltire Prize-nominated Truth or Dare in 1998 and went on to write Ma Polinski's Pockets and The Pleasure Express. In 2003, she switched to historical fiction – funding the move by ghost-writing.

Her chosen genre, she cheerily admits, is not without its challenges. "Writing historical fiction is a minefield," she exclaims. "Contemporary novelists don't realise how easy they have it. I was on [a panel] with Ian Rankin and a question from the audience was 'what kind of research do you do?' His research was driving up and down the M9 and I thought: 'You lucky bastard!'"

She breaks into laughter. "Meanwhile I'm like: 'Did they have knickers? Did they not have knickers? Could there have been a button?' If it is modern day, you just know it and don't even think twice as to whether a character would use a mug or if there would be sugar available …"

Although technically Sheridan has no-one to blame but herself. "I know – it is totally my fault," she grins. "I put my hand up to it. I wouldn't change it, although I do have a new idea for a contemporary series. It won't be for this year, though, because it's too busy."

Life is certainly hectic. Earlier this year, it was announced that STV Productions had snapped up the rights to her Mirabelle Bevan series and plan to turn it into a major detective drama. "It is exciting," she says. "They have got to find a writer first. People keep asking: 'Who is going to play Mirabelle?' but that is still miles away – although I am running a wee list in the back of my diary of all the people who I think could play her."

Sheridan is apologetically coy when asked about her top picks. "I can't tell you," she says. "Because then if someone else gets it, they will think: 'Oh, you wanted so-and-so.' Sometimes I will be watching telly and take a note of a name, but that is ages away and the main thing is that they find a cracking screenwriter who loves the stories as much as we do."

There are the inevitable comparisons to Ann Cleeves, whose Vera Stanhope detective novels and sextet of Shetland murder mysteries have successfully been adapted for television, but Sheridan insists her own books have a "different feel", preferring to draw parallels with James Runcie's Grantchester series, also set in the 1950s.

"I think there is a difference between historical crime and crime on telly," she says. "Endeavour, Father Brown and Grantchester are a very different feel from Shetland, Vera and Rebus."

Nor will she allow her exacting standards to slip as Mirabelle makes the leap to the small screen. "It is the tiny things that can spoil it," she says. "I was enjoying War and Peace recently and then there was a lady being spun round on the dance floor who had a zip in her dress. I was totally outraged."

There is another big project in the works. Sheridan has set up her own company, Urban Reivers, based around her love of artefacts. Due to launch this summer, it was an idea sparked following the independence referendum when Sheridan – a Yes voter – began to ponder the wider picture of Scottish cultural identity.

While acknowledging that we have a "cracking brand as Scotland", Sheridan wanted to look beyond simply "slapping a kilt on it". At the crux of Urban Reivers is the potent question: what would Scotland make if there was no tourists?

"Why are we making tartan purses?" she moots by way of explanation. "We should definitely not be making tartan purses: we should be making things which come from our real culture and history."

Sheridan has produced beautiful silk maps of Scotland in homage to the navigational guides dropped behind enemy lines during the Second World War allowing serviceman to safely find their way home.

In the pipeline is a collaboration with artisan perfumer Sarah McCartney. "We are creating a perfume in memory of the Jacobite women that will be called Damn Rebel Bitches," she says. There is a dual ethos to the project. "I don't want to make anything at Urban Reivers that can't end up in a museum in 100 years, but it still has to be an everyday object," she says.

Equally Sheridan is keen to help stoke and bolster our often beleaguered self-image. "There is that cultural cringe about being Scottish," she says. "We have to put that one to bed as soon as we can and the way to do that is to just be f****** brilliant at what we do."

Operation Goodwood by Sara Sheridan is published by Constable, priced £19.99