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Obituary: Elizabeth Taylor, author and journalist who drew heavily on the rich and varied life of the Borders

Born: 25 April, 1931, in Fife. Died: 6 March, 2012, in Melrose, aged 80.

Even although she lived outwith the Borders for more than 20 years, Liz Taylor will long be remembered as a lover of the region. In a career embracing journalism and fiction, she did as much as any writer of recent years to recount the history and stories of the Borders.

She was born in Fife, but the Pennie family moved to the Borders, where her father for many years ran a hotel in Earlston. He quickly became a popular figure in sporting circles.

When Liz came from Earlston to school at Galashiels Academy, she at once made a strong impression on the staff. Like several others, she came under the influence of the principal English master, Tommy Davidson. He introduced her to a wide range of authors whose work, much to her delight, often strayed beyond the rigid restrictions of the curriculum of the day.

Her first ventures in journalism came with the editing of The Reiver, the Academy magazine, showing a fluency in writing which marked her later work. As recently as a few months ago, she was working on an article for an anniversary publication recalling her lively days at the Academy.

Her university education took her to Aberdeen, where she graduated before joining the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, the sister paper of The Scotsman, in the mid 1950s. Another strong influence was the former Fleet Street editor Jack Miller, now in charge of the Dispatch, and she relished the breath of the big wide world outside Scotland that he brought to the then douce corridors of The Scotsman building.

The Dispatch at that period was staffed by a lively team of journalists, with Liz only one of several women who were given licence to report and write with an abundance of freedom.

Their engagement with the paper was total, and Liz used to recall with some glee the occasion when a seriously compromising misprint in the Dispatch saw her sent off round the North Bridge and the High Street to buy back from the vendors the copies which could have seen the paper in serious legal trouble.

But it was to Miller’s sorrow that Liz announced she was leaving to get married and would be moving to India with her husband, who was in the oil business. With four children her writing was curtailed, but on the death of her husband she returned to the UK and quickly dusted off her typewriter.

Freelance journalism occupied her for some time, but she found her true niche when she turned to the writing of fiction. Over the next 25 years she wrote mainly under the name of Elisabeth McNeill, producing a string of historical novels, ranging from chronicles of Indian life to stories of the often turbulent life of the Borders.

Her non-fiction work attracted critical acclaim. Her book on bereavement, written with the sensitivity that marked so much of her writing, drew on the sorrow of her own loss, but she was too good a journalist to dwell overmuch on the personal story.

Liz loved the Borders and when she returned north from London, she lived first near Ancrum and then latterly in Newstead, a locale on which she drew heavily for such novels as A Bridge in Time”, the story of the building of the Leaderfoot viaduct. In all, she wrote more than 30 novels and non-fiction books.

She embraced life in the Borders, joined in the social and literary scene, and then continued her lifelong interest in books by becoming part-owner of The Talisman bookshop in Melrose. Her joy in drawing up the lists of new books that might interest the folk of the Borders was matched by the pleasure she took in talking about them.

She loved research and for several years contributed a regular feature to The Scotsman, looking back in time to social and historical dates and events.

A regular supporter of the Melrose Literary Society and other cultural bodies, she was much sought after as a speaker and could be relied upon to contribute to panel discussions with uncompromising and forthright views. She held strong opinions on the way language should be used and without being a purist she could be strict in her comments on sloppy writing.

She loved horses, dogs and the countryside, but it was her family and friends who gave her the greatest pleasure. She is survived by her children, Pennie, Sarah, Adam and Eleanor. There are also nine grandchildren and a great-grandson.

She requested that her burial be at the Hundy Mundy Burial Ground near Mellerstain in the heart of the Borders.

LAING SPEIRS

 
 
 

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