Maurice Leitch, the Co Antrim-born writer and broadcaster, has died, aged 90, in England. His novels included The Liberty Lad (1965), Poor Lazarus (1969), which won the Guardian Book Prize, and Silver’s City (1981), which won the Whitbread Prize. For more than 50 years, Leitch explored the frustrations and tensions of Northern Ireland, “this cold, cynical northern province”.
He began writing children’s stories for the BBC while teaching in Co Antrim before joining the broadcaster full time in 1960, moving to London in 1970 and serving from 1977 to 1989 as editor of BBC Radio 4′s Book at Bedtime series. He was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 1998.
James Doyle, whose Turnpike Books published his last novel, Gone to Earth, in 2019, wrote that Leitch was “a Protestant but not a unionist writer”, observing and critiquing the tribe into which he was born with unflattering portrayals of preachers and paramilitaries and “our own particular brand of sour and stunted sexuality”.
One critic wrote that The Liberty Lad, with its depiction of the “terminal decay, sullen hatred and sour futility in his region”, anticipated the outbreak of the Troubles. John Hewitt, a left-wing, Protestant poet and critic, felt that Leitch “had let the side down”, a criticism that rankled decades later. Fellow Belfast writer Robert McLiam Wilson, however, praised his “glorious, inconvenient voice”.