SCOTLAND has lost one of its most celebrated cultural figures - the prolific writer and intellectual William McIlvanney, known and loved by hundreds of thousands of readers as The Godfather of Tartan Noir.

McIlvanney, hailed as one of the most important Scottish voices of the 20th and 21st century, died yesterday after a short illness, at home in Netherlee, near Glasgow. He was 79.

McIlvanney most acclaimed works were his 1970s novels Laidlaw and Docherty.

Tributes from across the spectrum of Scottish society have been paid to the "inspired and inspiring" writer - who was also an acclaimed poet and admired political thinker.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon led the tributes telling how she shed a tear upon hearing about of McIlvanney's death.

She told the Sunday Herald: "I am very sad to hear of Willie's passing. His writing - particularly Docherty - had a huge influence on me when I was growing up.

"He came from the same part of Scotland as me - Ayrshire - and had taught at my school, so he was also something of a local hero. It was a big thrill for me years later to get to meet him.

"One of the last times I spoke to him was in the run up to the referendum and he was full of enthusiasm about the prospects of a Yes vote. His passion for Scotland - warts and all - and for social justice shone through all of his work.

"Willie was an iconic figure in Scottish literature. To me, he is a legend and he will be greatly missed. My thoughts are with his family."

A dedicated and inspirational teacher, McIlvanney gained immediate recognition as a major writer with the publication of his first novel, Remedy is None.

His reputation grew with works such as The Big Man, The Kiln and his classic Laidlaw trilogy.

A prolific and influential journalist and broadcaster, he contributed strongly and eloquently to political and sporting life in Scotland through his columns and, particularly, his narration of Only a Game, the groundbreaking TV series on Scottish football.

Acclaimed Scottish writer Ian Rankin fondly remembered the first time he met his hero.

He said learning of McIlvanney's death came as "dreadful news", adding that the writer was a "truly inspired and inspiring author and an absolute gent.

"First time I met McIlvanney, I said I was writing a crime novel, influenced my him. He signed my book: 'Good luck for the Edinburgh Laidlaw'. A few years later we did an event together in Edinburgh and he signed another: 'The Edinburgh Laidlaw done good'."

Former First Minister Alex Salmond said he had been left "hugely indebted" to McIlvanney.

"We should all grieve the death of William McIlvanney, a great writer and a passionate Scot who made a real difference to the nation.

"Of course his novels and literary work had a huge influence on millions but his political contribution was also significant, particularly when Scotland was struggling to find a voice in the 1990s.

"At great rallies like the democracy demonstration of 1992 his passion and extraordinary phrasemaking raised the hopes of the nation and shone a light in the political darkness.

"I and so many others in public life have been hugely indebted to Willie through the years for his inspiration and encouragement. My condolences and best wishes go to his family and countless friends."

Hugh MacDonald, sportswriter and friend of the McIlvanney family, said: "Willie was a brilliant novelist, an inspirational teacher, a profound political thinker and an insightful commentator on Scottish football.

"His triumph was not that he was both respected and influential in these disparate fields but that he was greeted in all with deep affection even love."

McIlvanney's literary agent, Jenny Brown, paid tribute to a "brilliant writer" and "inspiration to many". Alan Taylor, friend and editor of the Scottish Review of Books, also spoke of his sadness at the loss of such a great writer.

Born in Kilmarnock in 1936 to William and Helen, he attended Kilmarnock Academy before graduating from Glasgow University. He taught English from 1960 until 1975 in Irvine Royal Academy and then Greenwood Academy, Dreghorn, where he was also assistant head teacher.

He held a series of creative writing posts at Grenoble, Vancouver, Strathclyde and Aberdeen universities.

In 1975, McIlvanney left teaching to devote himself to writing full-time.

He was garlanded with prizes, with Docherty winning the Whitbread Prize. Other awards for his work included the Crime Writers’ Silver Dagger, the Saltire Award and the Glasgow Herald People’s Prize.

He influenced heavily a generation of writers both in his native country and further beyond with the debt of US writers being acknowledged last year with the re-publication of his novels in the USA as a standard bearer of European noir.

In recent years, McIlvanney had been a regular presence on the book festivals circuit. He is survived by his partner Siobhan, his daughter, Siobhan, his son Liam and his brother, Hugh, the celebrated journalist.