DEEP in commuter-belt Sussex, Eva Hanagan cuts a curiously home-spun Highland figure. She knits her own Fair Isle jumpers, sews her tweed skirts, bakes shortbread and oatcakes. Her novels have similar domestic qualities described by one reviewer as ''Aga sagas seen through older eyes'' and by The Herald critic as tales written by ''a wise old bird''. She has published seven books, the most recent of which is The Daisy Rock set in Tangie Bay. But there is an eighth, a story written 20 years ago, which remains unpublished and which haunts our conversation.

Eva is now in her early seventies (''But you don't need to mention that do you?''), but you do, Eva, you do, because, unlike younger authors, there is a huge amount of living that went on before she first put pen to paper 20 years ago. Born in Inverness, she spent a comfortable, middle-class childhood in the surrounding country, for a time attending the local village school.

''It was mostly farm servants' children, agricultural workers. They lived in abject poverty. These children would walk miles barefoot to get to school. In the summer they would walk on the tarmacadamed road to get a layer of tar on their feet. On market days in Inverness the men who were casual workers used to line the pavements on a Saturday night and farmers would look at them as though they were stock cattle and shake the hand of the ones they'd take on. It was very primitive in the Highlands.''

Eva became a socialist very early in her life, cutting her political teeth on the Common Wealth Party, before joining the Civil Service and then, in 1945, being posted to Vienna where she met and married her husband. The years that followed were typical of a Services family, travelling in Europe and the Middle East. It was when they came back to England, with their two sons now away from home, that Eva felt able to settle down and write. In the early days, she was in the Duckworth publishing stable, her name on the same august list that also contained Beryl Bainbridge, Alice Thomas Ellis, and Quentin Crisp. Her books tell seemingly gentle tales, the lives of their characters closely observed, ageing alongside their author. But along came new writing fashions and she lost heart.

''I thought, bugger it. Unless you're Edwina Currie and it's all sex and shopping, or paedophilia and all that . . . But you have to beware of sentimentality, the 'kale yard', kilts and haggis and misty-eyes, that can affect Scottish writers.''

HANAGAN adds: ''Writing is a frightfully selfish egotistical occupation. I got very involved in running creative writing classes at Ford Open Prison in Sussex. I was amazed at the creativity of an awful lot of lags. There was a surfeit at that time of bent senior Metropolitan police and there were a lot of con-men; one was an accountant who could write like Barbara Cartland.''

Eva kept up correspondence with some of her old lags. Underneath the apparent domesticity of her novels, the golf and the greenhouses, there are sharper moments, observations of the resentments and habits of long marriages. But it is her memories of post-war Europe that provide the structure for the first, her ghost novel. In her early twenties, one of six women on a troop train which slowly made its way to Vienna, she observed the immediate aftermath of war.

''Europe was a moonscape. In Cologne, all that was standing was just that finger of the cathedral. We used to stop at food halts, like horses. In the stations, the washing facilities were on trestles on the platforms, long plank trestles with holes. In the holes were German helmets filled with water and a bit of rough soap. We were issued with haversack rations, ghastly stale sausage rolls. When we came to larger towns, all along the railway line were these starving children holding their hands up; the towns that they came from were just a wilderness. We used to throw out our rations to these whey-faced children.''

She eventually arrived in Vienna to find a city more or less starving, with hardly any electricity and thousands of women wondering where their men-folk were. Eva's work brought her into contact with the war trials, at which death sentences were the grimmest aspect.

''When you're older and you look back, these drawers in your memory slide open and it's never really bright morning again. You see the absolute depths of human depravity.''

The story she has wrapped around these events, an unsanitised version of the post-war experience, has never seen the light of the printed page. When she first wrote it, British interest in membership of the Common Market deemed it politically incorrect. It wasn't then, she says, really the right time to write about the Germans. But perhaps now we could lay a few more ghosts.

n The Daisy Rock, by Eva Hanagan, Warner Brooks, #5.99.