Jean Cantlie Stewart was born in Edinburgh in 1927, the daughter of the equally feisty Admiral Sir Colin Cantlie who ran Rosyth naval dockyard during the war. Jean was also the granddaughter of Sir James Cantlie who was a pioneer of first aid and influential in the study of tropical diseases.
Some say she was expelled from her school after squirting a tray-carrying chamber maid with a water pistol. This was a charge she always denied but perhaps so as not to encourage her son into rebellious ways. Bright and passionately focused, she matriculated into St Andrews aged only 16. Anxious to make a contribution to the war effort, she took a three-year Ordinary degree rather than a four-year Honours course. Her early career was in teaching and in the Red Cross. She married a retired Army officer in 1952 but shortly after the birth of their son, Hugh, they divorced.
Being a single, divorced mother was not easy in the early fifties. Jean buckled down to earn a living as a freelance journalist in gentlemanly magazines while living in a remote and primitive cottage in the Highlands without electricity. Determined to improve her lot, she moved to Oxford to read for a diploma in teaching. Typically, it was when she was asked to teach a course on mining law that she wrote the first major text on that subject.
Jean was a traditional, one-nation Conservative. She decided to study law, as much as a way to enter politics, and qualified as a barrister. Jean then stood for the Conservatives in Kirkcaldy, not noted for their Tory sympathies (it later became Gordon Brown’s seat). Though she failed to win the seat, she did increase the Conservative vote substantially by getting to know the people of the constituency in a sympathetic and passionate way. She then devoted herself to writing full time.