He is the immensely popular archaeologist who has become a star of historical TV, known for his flowing hair and ability to explain the complex past to a present day audience.

Now Neil Oliver, who is known for programmes such as A History of Scotland, Two Men in a Trench, Time Team, and Coast, is to unveil his literary side - with a debut novel set in the 15th century.

Master of Shadows, to be released on September 10 this year by Orion, is set in the besieged Constantinople, and features a mysterious Scottish character, John Grant, a mercenary who played a key role in the siege and fall of the city in 1453.

Oliver, 48, who grew up in Dumfries and now lives in Stirling, already has a sequel planned.

He said that the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman empire has "fascinated and moved" him for many years and "in some ways the ripples from the events of 1453 are still being felt".

Oliver said that Grant is likely to be a recurring character in his novels.

He said: "Basically the beauty of John Grant is that the facts are so slight he is little more than a shadow.

"With that in mind he can move easily from story to story."

Oliver said he will not be giving up TV for the life of a novelist however, but will be "making more and more room for making stuff up".

John Grant, he says, was a real figure, shaped by "a violent past and a violent world."

Grant was an expert at detecting the efforts of enemies tunnelling under the city walls.

He said: "Grant was good at his job and seems to have foiled the Turks again and again during the long weeks of the siege.

"I found it great fun to imagine his back story and to work out what, to me, seemed like plausible reasons for him finding himself in that place at that time.

"He is real - but the story I have created for him is entirely a work of fiction.

"I love him, obviously. He has been shaped by a violent past and a violent world.

"He is also a unique individual, blessed with special skills and abilities that enable him to excel as a soldier and as an engineer able to confound the best efforts of the besieging army of Turks - he is essentially a good man, certainly a hero - but you wouldn't want to get in his way."

Oliver said that he wrote the novel amidst his frantic schedule of making television programmes and travelling, with the book written in snatches of free time.

The writer, who studied at the University of Glasgow, has penned previous non-fiction books include Vikings, A History of Ancient Britain, A History of Scotland, and Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys.

He first tried to write a novel 20 years ago - and he said he was thankful it was never published - and credited his newspaper background with impressing on him to work "quickly and accurately and always under the shadow of a deadline".

"The process of writing a novel was a mix of pain and pleasure, but mostly the latter," he said.

"Making stuff up is just a lot of fun, it's as simple as that.

"I also fully believe that writing is like any other work. You have to get the words down onto the screen and it's no use waiting for some sort of magical event. All this stuff about the creative muse makes no sense to me. If you want to write a book, sit down and type."

Oliver said that the process of completing the novel had been "inspirational."

He added: "I will certainly be making more and more room for making stuff up - it's just too much fun to resist.

"As well as that, making the kind of television I do means a lot of time away from home and family.

"Another pleasure of writing is the way it can, if you're lucky, keep you at home.

"For that reason alone the prospect of more writing is pleasing indeed."