Liz Taylor was a Borderer who loved the region and brought its history and traditions to thousands of readers through the series of historical novels she produced during her long writing life.
She emerged from an early career in journalism to become a writer whose more permanent work attracted and held a wide audience.
Originally from Fife, she came with her family to Earlston where her father ran one of the town’s hotels for many years. She was educated at Galashiels Academy where the head of the English department, the late Tommy Davidson, encouraged her in a love of literature. Even late in life she regarded this period of education as vital in the development of her writing skills.
One of her first sorties into journalism was editing the Reiver, the Galashiels Academy magazine, to which she brought some innovative ideas to brighten up a fairly conventional publication.
She completed her education at Aberdeen University before joining the Evening Dispatch, sister paper of the Scotsman, in Edinburgh during the mid-1950s. This was a lively period in the city when a circulation war provided journalists with the incentive to compete for stories, and she relished the excitement of helping produce the succeeding editions of an evening paper.
A long series of reports and feature articles flowed from her typewriter, ending only when she started married life with Adam Taylor and moved with him to India and a career in the oil business. When he died, after happy years in the sub-continent which provided her with material for future writings, she returned with her four children to the UK and once again took up journalism.
Her freelance work found a ready market in newspapers and magazines, and she broadcast on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. She accepted with a smile the fact that the passage of years now meant she could write for the Oldie.
When she returned to the Borders she was an established writer and a long series of novels proved popular. Under the name Elisabeth McNeill, she wrote about 30 novels, ranging from a series on India to the story of the building of the Leaderfoot Viaduct. The viaduct was close to her heart and she led a successful campaign to prevent it being demolished.
This work – A Bridge in Time – was based on the Newstead area, where she made her home. Other major successes were Flodden Field and Blood Royal.
She looked closely to the Borders for inspiration and her books on the Eyemouth fishing disaster were a vivid recording of a tragic day on the Berwickshire coast. In addition, her sensitive touch enhanced such books as the one she wrote on bereavement, a manual which brought comfort to many.
She became joint owner of the Talisman bookshop in Melrose, where she engaged in what she often said was the ideal job – the pleasant work of meeting other authors and publishers, and selecting the books which she felt would appeal to the Borders public.
Her love of dogs and horses was always strong, and she was frequently seen with her lively miniature dachshund which she cheerfully used to claim was living under the impression that he was a great Dane.
She kept up a strong cultural interest and was a member of the national body which organises talks for Borders audiences on arts and design. A member of the National Trust for Scotland, she travelled widely and was the most informed of guides on outings to the country’s historic places. She delivered several talks to Melrose Literary Society, on one occasion startling but delighting the audience with some of her reminiscences of life in the old Dispatch office in Edinburgh – which was never a place for tender souls.
Whether known to her wide public as Elisabeth McNeill, or as the Liz Pennie who livened up Galashiels Academy and the Edinburgh scene in the 1950s, or as the popular Liz Taylor, wife, mother and friend of so many, she made even the shortest time spent with her a constant pleasure.
She died last week in Melrose at the age of 80 and leaves four children – Pennie, Sarah, Adam and Eleanor, nine grandchildren and one great grandson.
The burial, at her specific wish, took place yesterday at the Hundy Mundy Wood burial ground near Mellerstain.
– L. S.