LOCH Doon looks deep, dark and treacherous. Police cars are parked by the banks, a helicopter putters overhead and if you didn’t know better, you might think you’d walked into a Kirsty Wark novel.

The scene is, after all, eerily reminiscent of a gripping chapter in her new book, in which a boating accident summons rescuers and desperate relatives to these very shores. Thankfully, however, there are no human lives in peril on the loch this Monday morning and the forest fires that raged over the weekend have been extinguished, although the emergency services appear still to be on high alert.

This stretch of the Galloway countryside feels gloriously remote but Kirsty Wark is clearly a familiar face in the Loch Doon Visitor Centre – and not just because of her television profile.

She’s visited many times while researching her new novel, The House By The Loch, and seems quite at home as we settle down by the huge window in front of a glowing calor gas heater.

“Look, I’m getting tartan legs,” says the erudite BBC Newsnight presenter, “but it’s better than being cold.”

From our toasty vantage point, we can see right across the loch, which was loved by Robert Burns for its bonnie banks and braes and dammed in the 1930s to create a reservoir for the Galloway hydro-electric power scheme.

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That scheme, says Wark, was the inspiration for her novel. “I think the hydro-electric project is wonderful – the architecture of the hydro, the big halls. It was such an extraordinary endeavour and I’m fascinated by engineering – there were a lot of engineers in my family.”

The daughter of a lawyer and a teacher, Wark grew up in Kilmarnock but has fond childhood memories of this area. “We spent holidays at nearby Kendoon but Dad was a great fisherman and Loch Doon was where he came to fish.”

A multi-generational tale that blends fiction with actual events from Galloway’s past, Wark’s story revolves around the family of Walter MacMillan, a hydro-electric engineer who as a child witnesses an RAF Spitfire plane plunging into the loch, killing its Czech pilot and haunting Walter for the rest of his life. “That’s where I imagine the plane went down,” says Wark now, pointing across the water. The actual event was observed by a local lad here in 1941 and although Wark has invented a fictional hinterland for the young eye-witness, the visitor centre’s manager confirms that her novelistic account of the event is spot-on.

It’s not the first military aviation accident to feature in a Kirsty Wark book. Her debut, The Legacy Of Elizabeth Pringle, was partly inspired by an RAF plane crash near Goatfell on the island of Arran, and while the author insists the link is coincidental, she firmly believes we should never forget the Second World War. (Her own father, James Wark – a prominent solicitor who later became a procurator fiscal – was awarded the Military Cross for service during that conflict.)

Wark studied history at Edinburgh University and her knowledge of Scotland’s past is impressive.

As we drive around the loch, she points out relics of the RAF training ground that was established here during the First World War, and the place where Doon Castle once stood. Built during the 13th century on a small island, it was fought over during various conflicts, before eventually being dismantled when the loch was dammed.

“It was rebuilt stone by stone by Irish navvies,” she says, when we stop for photographs at the reconstructed, shore-side castle ruins.

She later points out some of her own, fictional landmarks: the place where Walter settles with his young wife; the copse of trees where he builds two holiday huts for his adult children.

And finally, the place where the accident happens – the one that will summon blue-flashing police cars and a rescue helicopter to this desolate spot.

That section of the book is utterly compelling and, hopefully without revealing any spoilers, it focuses on every parent’s worst nightmare.

As a mother herself, this must have been painful territory for Wark. “It was quite a difficult thing for me to write,” she admits. “I didn’t want to be melodramatic and I also wanted to be mindful that it hasn’t actually happened to me.”

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Although Wark’s two children are now flourishing adults who’ve long flown the nest, in earlier days she experienced her fair share of those blood-chilling moments when a toddler momentarily vanishes into a crowd.

Nor will she ever forget an incident from her own childhood, when the extended family were holidaying in an old house and her father lit a fire in a chimney that turned out to be stuffed with newspapers.

In life, she explains, what separates a near-miss from a catastrophe is often nothing more than a whisker of luck. “What I’m saying is that really in this story, no-one’s guilty but everyone is.”

Terrible accidents do happen. “I’m very conscious that on the news, you see it all the time. And I wanted to think about how that would impact on a family which already, unbeknownst to us, has tragedy in it.”

As in her first book, closely-guarded secrets turn out to have consequences that reach down the generations. “All families have things that are unsaid and sometimes that’s for a good reason,” says Wark, who recently made a discovery about a hidden sadness in her own ancestral past.

Although she’d known that her grandmother spent the first eight years of her life in Brooklyn, “it was only when I did some research on the family tree that I found out that my great-grandparents’ first child died at sea on the crossing from Glasgow to New York. We can’t find a grave in New York. Presumably he was put overboard. I know my father died not knowing that and I’m sure my grandmother didn’t know”.

Walter MacMillan’s secret concerns his alcoholic wife, Jean and in fact, drink plays a wider role in The House By The Loch, since the central accident happens on the watch of characters who are sleeping off their hangovers.

“We all drink casually more these days and that’s my point – there but for the grace of God,” says Wark.

Jean MacMillan grows up in a well-to-do, nouveau-rich family in Ayr – a place Wark recalls from her childhood as having “a kind of fast set. They had a lot of money and they were the ones who drank heavily”.

From aged 12, Wark was educated at Ayr’s fee-paying Wellington School, which is clearly the inspiration for the granite-towered establishment attended by the young Jean.

Founded in 1836 as “a school for young ladies of quality” it was, says Wark, “the most misnamed school I can think of”. Really? “Oh, absolutely.” In what way? “In that kids would escape from the boarding house and go out with gangs in Ayr sometimes; there would be lots of misdemeanours and carry-ons. There were families whose kids were there because they thought it would give them a certain cachet.”

Although Wark thinks she’d have done better academically at the state-run Kilmarnock Academy, her parents wanted her to go to Wellington.

“I was happy to go because I had friends there and we would go on the bus from Kilmarnock every day. At that time it was all-girls and one thing it did give me was a certain confidence in terms of debating. I’m not sure I’d have had that at the Academy.

“There were lots of other downsides,” she adds, and her own children (with TV producer husband Alan Clements) attended a Glasgow state school.

Another Ayr landmark featured in the book is the Carnegie Library, where Jean – a clever woman stifled by domesticity and rural isolation – finds an outlet for her creativity.

“If there’s one thing I managed to sneak into the novel it’s my adoration of libraries,” says Wark. “Honestly, we close libraries at our peril, not simply because they are places where people can get books but they are massive places of community.

“The Dick Institute in Kilmarnock was one of my favourite places to go. When my father died, the first thing I did was take his library books back. We had a house full of books but Dad would get his library books out every fortnight because he believed in the library. I loved the Carnegie Library and I wanted that to be part of her [Jean].”

The House By The Loch is not a gloomy book. Wark was interested in “the remaking of family in the event of tragedy” and her novel explores the part moving away from your roots can play in that process. “I wanted the idea of going away to be cathartic or at least, offer a way out of an impasse,” she says.

Many Scots were forced to emigrate during the Clearances and Wark is interested in that aspect of our history: a fact symbolised, in the book, by her characters’ visit to Andy Goldsworthy’s Striding Arches sculpture – itself dedicated to those who went abroad and those who remained during that period of upheaval.

Ensuing generations of Scots have continued to seek their fortunes in the New World, and Wark’s family tree contains many who emigrated – and others who resolutely stayed put.

The character of Elizabeth Pringle in Wark’s first novel, for example, was inspired by her great aunt Berta, who decided not to follow her beau to New Zealand. But two of Wark’s great aunts did leave, for Rhodesia and New South Wales. More recently her own son, James, moved to New York aged 18 to study drama, and it’s this city that proves to be a magnet in The House By The Loch.

Echoes of Wark’s family history – and her distinguished career – recur throughout the novel. One character gets an internship with a famous Catalan architect. Would that be Enric Miralles, the Spaniard who designed the Scottish Parliament building? (Wark served on the building design selection panel.) “Yes, I think it would be,” she laughs, as she steers the car expertly along the winding, loch-side roads. (She learned to drive before she was 17, on the old Turnberry airfield’s disused landing strip.)

Wark is an entertaining travelling companion: a mine of information on the landscape and wildlife and disarmingly friendly with everyone we meet. On-screen, of course, she is a formidably accomplished interviewer, equally at home grilling cultural icons and prime ministers (Margaret Thatcher was famously skewered by Wark over the poll tax).

Her working schedule sounds punishing. Determined to stay in Glasgow despite her London-based job, she commutes several-hundred miles each week, at one time, routinely catching the sleeper home after Friday’s Newsnight Review to be there for her children on Saturday morning. And now, at 64, she has written two novels,while continuing her broadcasting career and taking on seemingly endless commitments such as judging literary competitions.

How does she do it? “Well, you know ... everything comes at a cost. The truth is I’m privileged, I earn enough to ... I couldn’t have done it without a brilliant nanny. That was my choice to raise my kids in Scotland, though I love London. I have quite a strong work ethic. But I really like to relax too.”

And her favourite place to relax is in her new garden shed. “When I was little I used to send away for catalogues for sheds. I know that’s really weird!” she laughs. That childhood longing for a hut of her own inspired the MacMillan family cabins and, having finally acquired one, she likes nothing better than to sit out there and read. “I’ve got a big house, but there’s something so special about being in a shed. It’s just wonderful.”

Now the children are grown, James living in New York and daughter, Caitlin, in London, Wark has more time to spend in her shed, and she is currently plotting her third novel (set in Glasgow this time, but again with an historical theme). “Sometimes I think it would be amazing to write full-time,” she says, “but I enjoy my broadcasting career.”

Having always worked in teams she used to think the solitary business of being an author might not suit her, but she adores writing.

“I love that place you go to ... it’s almost other-worldly: you manage to get inside some other part of yourself.”

It’s time for Wark to make the long drive home to Glasgow before commuting back to London and her fast-paced working life. Before leaving, she takes a last look across the loch.

She can’t understand why this beautiful part of Scotland remains under-explored and when I suggest people might soon be flocking here on the Kirsty Wark literary trail, she laughs.

But who knows: her bestselling debut had some readers following in Elizabeth Pringle’s footsteps around Arran. Soon, tourists could be seeking out Walter MacMillan terrain, the spot where he built his cabins … the place where a real Second World War Spitfire plunged into the loch.

If they travel a little further, to the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum in Dumfries, they can see the reconstructed plane, which was finally raised from the waters in 1982.

But if they ask about the unfortunate pilot, who vanished without trace on that October day in 1941, they will learn that his body has never been found; and that what happened during his final moments remains a secret that may never be revealed.

The House By The Loch by Kirsty Wark is published by Two Roads on June 13