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Isla Dewar, Novelist, “19–(I forget)” – 2021

  28 Jun '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn
Isla Dewar, who said, ‘I look better in black and white. This is something I share with Humphrey Bogart.’

Novelist Isla Dewar lived in Fife with her husband of more than fifty years, Bob, an artist, illustrator and cartoonist.

She had pheasants outside her kitchen window and described herself as a writer and daydreamer. She stayed safe during the pandemic lockdowns but could not survive a heart attack.

Isla died on Sunday 20 June 2021, aged 71. Her age was a secret she guarded with wry good humour, replying ‘you’re kidding’ or ‘19– I forget’ when asked for her date of birth.

While she listed her pleasures as cooking, drinking coffee and daydreaming, the Times called her ‘a realist, observant and needle-sharp and very funny’. It was her combination of wit and warmth, her understanding of big dreams and her appreciation of simple pleasures that won her legions of devoted readers.

Edinburgh born and bred, Isla was educated at Leith Academy. She said, however, that she ‘learned to write at the school of suburban bedroom dreamers and deluded teens who longed to become poets. I didn’t succeed with the poetry thing.’

She became a journalist, working on DC Thomson’s teenage magazines and newspapers for many years before becoming a freelancer and turning to fiction.

She was the author of 17 novels, the last two – It Takes One to Know One (2018) and A Day Like Any Other (2020) – were published by Polgyon.

She wrote the screenplay for the 1999 film of her second novel Women Talking Dirty, which starred Helena Bonham Carter and Gina McKie.

A loving mother to two sons, Nick and Adam, she was also a much loved grandmother to Ida and Sonny. Her oldest son Nick died in Los Angeles in 2013 at the age of 37. With her characteristic wisdom, she said last year, “I don’t talk about it a great deal for obvious reasons, not that I don’t grieve. But when you realise you won’t ever get over it, you can heal. It is a hard thing to know that life goes on, but it does. What surprised me was that I started writing quite light-hearted books.”

Alison Rae, Senior Editor at Polygon said, ‘Everyone at Birlinn was saddened to hear of Isla Dewar’s recent passing. She was a force of nature, a joy to work with and possessed of a daft sense of humour which endeared her to all. A woman’s woman, she will be sorely missed.’


Isla Dewar’s books included –

  • Keeping Up with Magda (1995)
  • Women Talking Dirty (1995)
  • Giving Up on Ordinary (1997)
  • It Could Happen to You (1998)
  • Two Kinds of Wonderful (2000)
  • The Woman Who Painted her Dreams (2002)
  • Dancing in a Distant Place (2003)
  • Walking with Rainbows (2003)
  • The Cherry Sundae Company (2004)
  • Secrets of a Family Album (2004)
  • Rosie’s Wish (2004)
  • Getting Out of the House (2005)
  • The Consequences of Marriage (2006)
  • Izzy’s War (2010)
  • A Winter Bride (2011)
  • It Takes One to Know One (2018)
  • A Day Like Any Other (2020)

She also wrote a novella for young adults, Briggsy, and contributed to a number of short story collections including Scottish Girls About Town (2004) and Crimespotting, published by Polygon and the OneCity Trust (2009).

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