Glasgow-born Alistair MacLean was the hugely successful author of adventure thrillers and spy books, many of which have been filmed. A native Gaelic speaker, MacLean was raised in Daviot in the Highlands before attending high school in Glasgow. In 1941 he joined the Royal Navy, becoming a torpedo operator in the Home, North Sea and Mediterranean theatres during WWII. He also served in the far east.
After the war, MacLean studied English at Glasgow University and became a school teacher after graduating in 1953. His first novel, HMS Ulysses, was published in 1955. A lone cruiser battles German U-boats, a mutinous crew and the harsh North Sea weather in a doomed attempt to protect a convoy – a novel which set the template for many of his later novels. His most famous novel is The Guns of Navarone, the 1961 film of the novel won several Golden Globe awards and an Oscar for Best Special Effects. Force 10 from Navarone, written in 1968, was a sequel to the film and not the book.
MacLean also wrote two novels under the pseudonym Ian Stuart, The Dark Crusader and The Satan Bug. When Eight Bells Toll was the only novel set in Scotland.
Alistair MacLean never considered himself a novelist, and appeared not to enjoy writing. He once told the New York Post “I’m not a novelist, I’m a storyteller. There’s no art in what I do, no mystique”. He has also said “I’m not a born writer, and I don’t enjoy writing. I wrote each book in thirty-five days flat – just to get the darned thing finished.” Despite his reticence, he sold 30 million novels.
HarperCollins are republishing many of his novels in collected form.