Born: June 29, 1946;

Died: June 20, 2021.

WHEN reflecting on the life of Isla Dewar it would be easy to assume that this prolific and hugely successful Scots author was a hermit writer straight out of the JD Salinger, Emily Dickinson, Harper Lee school of reclusion.

“I create a world and the people in it, and when they are gone from me I miss them,” she once said, with a real regret in her voice. “The only thing to do is start another book.”

It suggests that Dewar, who has died aged 74 after a heart attack, found the inside of her head an entirely comfortable place to live indeed. “I love telling stories. I love people who love stories,” she said.

But she wasn’t a shy isolationist, not at all. She lived to look outward, to discover character traits, to watch behaviours and to distil that essence into beings with a new name and sense of purpose.

A good example was the way that inspiration came to her for what would become her second book, Women Talking Dirty.

“I had just had a big operation on my knee and when we were coming home from hospital we had to go to Tesco for some food. I couldn’t get out of the car, so my husband went in and two women came out”, she told The Sunday Post.

“They were older but they were fabulous. One was dressed almost totally in black velvet with bright red shoes and the other was more hippy – but nobody even looked at them. They were engrossed in chatting, waving their arms about and laughing together. So I gave them a life and decided there were things they were ashamed of.”

As an example? “Like dancing naked on the steps of the National Gallery with dyed green pubic hair,” she chuckled.

“I just wanted to say older people have done stupid things too and I thought that was funny. The book is saying please see the person and not the age. Please don’t think this person has been old all their lives”.

The second of two daughters to Ian White, an income tax inspector, and Marjory (née Roberts), she was born and educated in Leith. Later, she would maintain that she learned to write “at the school of suburban bedroom dreamers and deluded teens who longed to become poets”.

The teenage Isla did not become a poet, but her heightened imagination was utilised when in 1965 she landed work with publishers DC Thompson in Dundee. Working for magazines such as Jackie, and Romeo, the 19-year-old became an agony aunt and created quizzes such “How to find your hunky fella”.

During this time, Dewar met her own hunky fella in the form of the artist, illustrator and cartoonist Bob Dewar, who realised he had found a woman who shared his love of laughter; he chanced upon her as she was imitating the Queen being imitated by Ked Dodd.

The couple married in 1966, and they went on to have two sons, Nick, who born in 1972, and Adam, six years later.

Having written her first novel, Keeping Up with Magda, Dewar simply didn’t see why others would wish to see the contents of the “cosy house” that was her head.

She couldn’t understand that ordinary people loved to read about the lives of seemingly ordinary people. She was wrong. When she was eventually encouraged to send her manuscript to an agent, the story of unusual life in a Scottish village café would go on to become longlisted for the Orange Prize in 1996

Success rolled on. The film rights to Women Talking Dirty were bought by Sir Elton John and David Furnish under the banner of Rocket Pictures, and made into a film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Gina McKee.

When she pitched up at Sir Elton’s mansion to write the screenplay of Women Talking Dirty, she took with her a copy of William Goldman’s book, Adventures in The Screen Trade, for support.

When Women Talking Dirty was released in 2001, the film company sent a car to take her to the premiere. Dewar saw the crowds gathered outside the cinema and declared: “Look at all those people, we’ll never get in!”

She appreciated the immense support of her fans, and wrote back to everyone who had taken the time to send her a note.

As Dewar’s confidence in her work grew – her other books included Giving Up on Ordinary, It Could Happen to You, Two Kinds of Wonderful, The Woman Who Painted her Dreams and Walking With Rainbows – she embarked upon tours of bookshops and literary events with relish, lighting up when speaking about her often humorous characters. She believed in them. They were real. And her readers believed that to be the case.

No life, however successful, is unaccompanied by tragedy and that proved to be the case with Isla Dewar. Her son, Nick, died at the age of 37 from cancer. “I don’t talk about it a great deal for obvious reasons, not that I don’t grieve,” she said some years later. “But when you realise you won’t ever get over it, you can heal. It is a hard thing to know that life goes on, but it does. What surprised me was that I started writing quite light-hearted books.”

She once said of her own life: “I think you realise you have all these regrets, but there’s not much you can do about them. It is about the letting go of guilt and living in the now.”

And the ultimate message? “It ain’t over until it’s over,” she said smiling. “You can still have fun. You can still laugh, and you can still do stupid things. None of it ends.”

Alison Rae, Senior Editor at Polygon, which published Isla’s last two novels, It Takes One to Know One and A Day Like Any Other, said: “She was a force of nature, a joy to work with and possessed of a daft sense of humour which endeared her to all. A woman’s woman, she will be sorely missed”.

In a recent interview with The Courier her husband Bob recalled: “What people don’t know about Isla is that she was an incredible cook, following people like Julia Childs and Elizabeth David.

“She would stand in the kitchen for hours, thinking of her next chapter. It was a holy time for her, not to be disturbed.”

Isla, he added, “wasn’t faux humble, she really was humble. She really didn’t think too much of herself at all.”