Born, April 23, 1932;

Died: July 12, 2022.

JOAN Lingard, who has died aged 90, could pinpoint precisely the moment she had the idea to write The Twelfth Day of July, the first of her immensely popular novels for teenagers.

It was 1970 and she was living in Edinburgh when a friend from Ireland came to visit with her new husband. The Troubles were then turning Ulster into a byword for sectarian violence and civil unrest and Lingard was somewhat surprised to discover that her friend had married an Orangeman. “In spite of that,” recalled Lingard, “I liked him, which made you think more about it [the situation in Ulster], and he also got along with my kids, who were under five.

He would tell them bedtime stories, and I could hear them laughing.” One night, standing by the bedroom door, she heard him ask: “‘Who’s the good man?’ And they said, ‘King Billy.’ ‘And what does King Billy ride?’ ‘A white horse.’ ‘And who’s the bad man?’ And they yelled, ‘The Pope’. He laughed and they laughed and I laughed. It was at this point, I thought, I’m going to write a book for young people. And The Twelfth Day of July was born.”

Its principal characters are Kevin and Sadie, who are the Belfast equivalents of Romeo and Juliet. 14-year-old Kevin is Roman Catholic while Sadie, a year younger, is Protestant. Both have been raised in a tradition based on division. When first introduced Kevin is preparing to deface a mural of William of Orange and Sadie is about to participate in a march to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne. But though they come from opposite ends of the religious spectrum they soon discover that they have more in common than not.

The novel’s message may have been simple but the crisp, unsentimental and elegant manner in which Lingard conveyed it resonated with countless readers sickened by the Troubles. Kevin and Sadie featured in four further novels, in which, to the horror of their families, they became a couple and left Belfast for Britain where they married.

The books’ success made Lingard one of the most loved and bestselling children’s writers of the time and she was often invited to schools to give readings and talk about life in Northern Ireland.

Ironically, she was not Irish herself, though she spent her formative years there and never entirely lost her accent. As she enjoyed recalling, she was born in a taxi in Edinburgh en route to the hospital. Her father, Henry, was English and served in the Royal Navy. Her mother was a housewife.

When Lingard was two the family moved to Belfast. For a while she was attracted to Christian Science, which had the benefit of keeping her apart from the warring factions. Her mother died when she was 16. Two years later Lingard left Ireland and returned to Edinburgh where she attended Moray House College of Education and trained as a primary school teacher.

That, though, was not to be her vocation. From an early age, she read avidly and soon wanted to write herself, producing her first unpublished novel when she was eleven. She was 32 when she made her debut.

Set in Edinburgh, The Prevailing Wind, published in 1964, features Janet, an unmarried mother who returns to the city and her family’s – especially her father’s –– disapproval. Other notable novels for adults included The Second Flowering of Emily Mountjoy (1979), The Guilty Party (1987), After Colette (1993) and Encarnita’s Journey, which appeared in 2012 when she was 81. In all, she wrote some 60 books, including 40 for children, a number of which were adapted for television.

Lingard’s first marriage failed but produced three daughters. Her second marriage, to Martin Birkhans, a Latvian-Canadian architect who taught at the University of Edinburgh, was altogether happier. They met in 1970 at a house party in Perthshire where within a matter of minutes the girls felt they had found the stepfather of their dreams. Their mother was no less smitten and from then on she and Martin were inseparable. They finally got round to marrying in 1996.

Holidays were spent abroad, often in France, to which they travelled, packed like sardines, in a small Renault. Money was tight. Lingard taught the children how to keep a budget, which they had to use to produce a family meal. This once led to each of them being served a solitary fish finger and a Kunzel cake. In later years, Lingard and her husband spent winters in an apartment by the sea in Spain.

“Life is limited,” she once said, “but by writing and reading, we can live in different worlds, get inside the skins and minds of other people.”

Her love of literature manifested itself in many ways. She was a member of Scottish PEN and the founder of Scottish Writers Against the Bomb. In 1998, she was award an MBE for service to children’s literature. Her most treasured prize was the prestigious Buxtehude Bull, which she won in 1986 for Across the Barricades.

She was also an enthusiastic and steely member of the much-missed Meet the Authors committee, whose raison d’être, in the days before – and after –– the Edinburgh International Book Festival, was to introduce writers of world renown to Scottish audiences.

Her flat in the New Town was a salon where all and sundry were welcomed by the most generous and genial of hosts. Joan Lingard died of Covid in a nursing home with a view of Edinburgh Castle.

She is survived by Martin, her three daughters – Kersten, Bridget and Jenny – and five grandchildren.