Obituary: Mollie Hunter, writer, 90

Mollie Hunter's acclaimed work focused on Scots history and legends
Mollie Hunter's acclaimed work focused on Scots history and legends
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Internationally acclaimed fiction writer Mollie Hunter has died at the age of 90.

She was born Mollie McIlwraith in Longniddry, East Lothian, in June 1922 and educated herself by getting a job working in an Edinburgh flower shop and studying at the National Library.

One of her finest books, the semi-autobiograpical A Sound of Chariots, told of a young woman working in the city, struggling to educate herself and meeting the man she would marry.

Her writing became internationally renowned, especially The Kelpie’s Pearls, The Thirteenth Member and The Lothian Run.

But her greatest literary triumph was winning the Carnegie Medal in 1975 for The Stronghold, a story of life and death in a prehistoric Orkney broch.

She produced most of her books from her home in Milton, a small village near Drumnadrochit in the Highlands, becoming totally immersed in her characters, as her husband Mike found one day when returning from work.

Mollie once explained: “I had been aware of someone else in my study. I looked at him, my husband of 30 years, and said, ‘Who are you?’ The story had taken over. I was there. I was living it.”

Mollie spent a great deal of her time touring schools and libraries and was made particularly welcome in the United States. Devoted husband Mike would accompany her, his kilt always going down a treat with her fans.

Most of her books were based on Scottish history and legends – including selkies and characters both famous and infamous.

Her research could sometimes lead her into danger, as on one occasion visiting Orkney for The Stronghold. Tramping over the island to find a suitable site for her imaginary broch, she came to a grassy knoll on a cliff top.

She once said: “The sea was thrashing and churning several hundred feet below over great rocks when I noticed a cormorant flying into a cleft in the rock. I attempted to see if she was nesting, so, laying down, I looked in. There was the hen bird. Oh, she was so black and beautiful. Her eyes were golden and she looked at me serenely. I rose to go – and found I was six inches from the cliff edge.

“A voice in my head shouted, ‘Throw yourself backwards,’ and I did, landing on my back at the very edge of the cliff. The grass was slippery and I began to slide until my feet projected over the edge. I dug my hands in, eventually, hauling myself away from what would have been certain death.”

Friends said Mollie was known to be provocative, demanding and infuriating but would electrify audiences she read for. A portrait of her by Elizabeth Blackadder hangs in the National Portait Gallery in the Capital.

Mollie died in Inverness on July 31.