Author and journalist

Author and journalist

Born: August 6, 1934; Died: October 5, 2014

Margaret Macaulay, who has died aged 80, was a journalist, poet and teacher and the author of the acclaimed The Prisoner of St Kilda.

She wrote throughout her life, including keeping a daily diary for more than 60 years. As a young woman she worked as a journalist and in later years wrote poetry and contributed to several Scottish periodicals. Finally at the age of 75 she published her first book The Prisoner of St Kilda (Luath Press), which was shortlisted for the Saltire Society first book award.

She was born in Campbeltown, Kintyre, on August 6, 1934, the daughter of John McDougall, a joiner, and Jessie Laird. She was dux of the local grammar school, and the first of her family to go to university, graduating from Glasgow with an honours degree in history in 1956.

Determined to write, she joined The Glasgow Herald, initially as a librarian, but then working her way to where she really wanted to be - the reporters' room. The period from 1958 to 1964 was a happy one - she was doing a job she loved and she met and married Colin Macaulay, also a journalist.

She made her way in the male dominated world of reporters, but when her first child was born in March 1964, it was clear that she was expected to stay at home with the baby. Women's lib was for the 1970s.

Despite caring for three children and coping with a husband who suffered from that journalistic occupational hazard - an over-fondness for drink - she continued to write. She freelanced for The Herald for many years (often using the pen names Kate Hamilton or Elizabeth Laird), and wrote a food column, features on family life, and TV reviews.

This despite sometimes having no home phone, dictating her copy each night from the nearest call box. Money was always tight.

The family moved to Campbeltown in 1968 when Colin became editor of the Campbeltown Courier and then settled in Penicuik in 1970 when he was employed as a sub-editor by The Scotsman. They divorced in 1983.

At the age of 40, she retrained as a teacher, keen to find a way to earn regular money that would fit around childcare.

Although a successful primary teacher for 10 years, it was never something she enjoyed and she finally had the courage to resign. She found her niche as a buyer for the antiquarian books department in the eccentric family-owned bookshop James Thin.

She continued to write, publishing poems and articles in a variety of outlets including The Scots Magazine, and the Scottish Book Collector. Often her subjects were women who had been overlooked by history such as Esther Inglis, the 16th-century calligrapher, or Lydia, wife of geologist Hugh Miller, or the child writer Marjorie "Pet" Fleming.

Lady Grange, the subject of her book, was wife of the Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland in the 1730s. She had the temerity to fall out with him: Lord Grange had her carted off in the night from her Edinburgh townhouse and held captive on St Kilda for seven years.

Though she was not always likeable, she was a woman for whom Margaret had a great deal of sympathy.

Sitting in the National Library of Scotland, holding Lady Grange's handwritten letter from St Kilda bemoaning her situation, was, Margaret said, an unforgettable experience.

The book was the culmination of seven years of original research, including a visit to St Kilda, and to Lady Grange's grave at Trumpan on Skye.

She always maintained that she was shy as a teenager, but no-one knowing her in later life found this easy to credit. She made friends easily - and kept them - and a wide circle of people of all ages enjoyed her wit and her company.

A note on her fridge said "age does not matter - unless you are a cheese" and that was her maxim. She welcomed into her home people from many different cultures and unofficially adopted a young Italian colleague from Thin's as an additional daughter.

She was an active supporter of Amnesty International and a lifelong campaigner for Scottish independence, helping to run the local SNP branch. Recently she wrote about how at the age of 16 she was one of the two million who signed the National Covenant demanding more power for Scotland - she was just as proud to be one of the 1.6 million in 2014.

A founder member of the Penicuik arts association, Scottish literature, history and culture were her passions, and not just as a writer.

Many weekends were spent scraping tombstones to record their inscriptions. Latterly she enjoyed attending the Neil Munro Society, and many Edinburgh-based organisations including the Carlyle Society, the Scots Language Society, the Robert Louis Stevenson Club and the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society.

She is survived by her brother Wylie and her three children, Christina, Henri and Niall, by Annamaria Sacco, and by her grandchildren.

She had been undergoing chemotherapy for secondary breast cancer but contracted a lung infection. When she was in hospital, she was still writing short stories.

We have lost a woman who was an inspiration - and also a treasured friend to many.