Alanna Knight obituary

Prolific author of romantic and crime fiction, and active supporter of new Scottish writing

The popular novelist and crime writer Alanna Knight, who has died aged 97, had a career that extended over 50 years and encompassed more than 60 books in numerous genres. Yet her writing life only began with recovery from a severe illness, and the gift of an electric typewriter.

In 1964, while living in Aberdeen with her husband, Alistair Knight, and their two young sons, she was struck down with polyneuritis, a rare nervous disorder that paralysed her from the neck down. As therapy to aid her recovery, Alistair bought her an electric typewriter, and she began writing.

The disorder lasted for almost five years, yet in 1969, under the name Alanna Knight – her given name was Gladys – she published her first novel, Legend of the Loch, and it won the Netta Muskett award for outstanding new writers of romantic fiction.

Alanna Knight wrote extensively about Robert Louis Stevenson, both non-fiction and fiction
Alanna Knight wrote extensively about Robert Louis Stevenson, both non-fiction and fiction Photograph: None

The career of Alanna Knight was launched and over the next 20 years, with 18 books, some under the pen name Margaret Hope, her output ranged across various genres from romantic and historical fiction to gothic suspense and non-fiction. These included Estella (1986), a novel that explored the “missing years” of the character from Dickens’s Great Expectations, later reissued as Miss Havisham’s Revenge (2014). She also incorporated her love and extensive knowledge of Robert Louis Stevenson into both her fiction and non-fiction and in a play, The Private Life of Robert Louis Stevenson (1983).

In 1988 Knight turned to crime with Enter Second Murderer, the first of 19 novels to feature her detective Inspector Jeremy Faro, whose beat is 19th-century Edinburgh. The family had recently moved to the city and Knight said that seeing a stranger wearing a deerstalker hat walk by her window had given her the idea of a Victorian detective.

Crime fiction, always with a historical setting, was to cement her reputation as a popular novelist and make her books some of the most borrowed from public libraries. She followed the success of Inspector Faro with novels featuring his daughter, Rose McQuinn, and a time-travelling hero, Tam Eildor, as well as some young adult fiction.

Born Gladys Cleet in Jesmond, Newcastle, she was the only child of Herbert Cleet, a master butcher, and Gladys (nee Allan). She left Jesmond high school aged 16, then studied shorthand and typing skills at a commercial college before working as a secretary in various offices in the city.

In the late 1940s she met Alistair, a scientist, on a blind date. They were married in 1951 in Aberdeen, where Alistair had taken up a post at the Macaulay Institute of Soil Research, and had two sons, Christopher and Kevin. In 1963, Alistair’s work took them to Beirut on a six-month secondment, and it was shortly after their return to Aberdeen that Knight was afflicted by polyneuritis.

Following her own success, she immersed herself in the professional bodies representing writers, helping to establish some of them in Scotland for the first time. She was the honorary president of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club, an honorary president and a founder member of the Scottish Association of Writers, and was active in both the Society of Authors and as convenor of the Scottish chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. She was made MBE in 2014.

In total Alanna Knight wrote 62 novels. The last finished work, Murder at the World’s Edge, is to be published posthumously
In total Alanna Knight wrote 62 novels. The last finished work, Murder at the World’s Edge, is to be published posthumously Photograph: None

Regarding herself as a mentor for new writers, she taught creative writing classes for the Workers’ Education Association, St Andrews University’s summer school and the Arvon Foundation, among others, and adjudicated numerous writing awards. She regularly gave talks at crime-writing festivals, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the annual Bloody Scotland conventions established in 2012.

Also a gifted amateur artist, Knight painted landscapes and made pastel portraits of fellow writers including Ian Rankin, Nigel Tranter and Dorothy Dunnett. Rankin, a friend and former neighbour, described her as “a stalwart of the crime-writing scene, generous in her praise of other practitioners, indefatigable and wise”.

In total she wrote 62 novels, six of them in her 90s, with Murder at the World’s Edge to be published posthumously next May. She was working on a new novel at the time of her death.

Alistair died in 2008. Her sons survive her, as do two grandchildren, Julia and Chloe.

• Alanna Knight (Gladys Allan Knight), author, born 24 February 1923; died 2 December 2020

Contributor

Mike Ripley

The GuardianTramp

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