Charlotte Gordon Cumming's CV reads something like this: daughter of a Scottish clan chief, teenage runaway, poet, purveyor of oriental carpets, songwriter, mother, charity worker and producer of the Indonesian Pop Idol winner. And that's the abridged version.

The 47-year-old is now set for another tag: performer. After more than two decades of writing songs for other people, she is finally stepping into the limelight - and admits it's a daunting prospect. "It's not something I ever saw myself doing, " she says. "I've always just wanted to be left alone to write for other people. Yet my family and friends kept saying, 'Char, you have a good voice. Use it and do the songs yourself.'" Then again, Cumming is nothing if not adaptable. When she was 18 she ran away from boarding school in Italy and made her way to London. There she turned her hand to poetry until a record-producer friend convinced her to try writing lyrics. She loved it, and spent every spare second pursuing her passion while working in a series of part-time jobs - including selling oriental carpets - to help pay the bills. That was 27 years ago, and she is now a sought after wordsmith.

One recent project was writing six songs for and co-producing an album by Joy Tobing, the winner of Pop Idol in Indonesia.

Although she's now based in Totnes, Devon, with her husband Nicholas Evans (the author of The Horse Whisperer) and their four-year-old son, Finlay, Forres-born Cumming is fiercely proud of her Scottish roots. Her late father was chief of the Cumming clan - an honour that has now passed to her brother - and her family owned Gordonstoun before it became a school. She also has a passion for Africa, which she visited frequently with her family as a child. She is on the appeals committee of the Tusk Trust, a conservation charity, and says the continent is a source of inspiration: it was in Kenya that she wrote Soul Sound, a song that was recorded by the Sugababes and nominated for an MTV Award. "In Africa I feel extremely alive, but also very small, " she says. "The song was the essence of how I felt: seeing the beauty and horror of a place, and going into a heightened state."

Her newly released debut album is a melancholic fusion of African and Celtic sounds. "I never went out of my way to write an 'obscure' album, " she says. "I've always loved that beat: the African drumming I remember hearing as a child, and the bagpipes and snare drums of Scotland. It's a sound that really stirs me."

Mind-walking, the debut album by Charlotte Gordon Cumming, is out now on But! Records.