Margaret Elphinstone was born in Kent. She studied at Queen's College in London and Durham University. She was until recently, Professor of Writing in the Department of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, now retired. Her academic research areas are Scottish writers and the literature of Scotland's offshore islands.
Before becoming professor in Glasgow in 2003, she worked at a variety of jobs in different locations. Some of her experiences were later used in her books:
- Islanders is based on her participation in archaeological excavations on the Shetland island of Papa Stour.
- Two garden books emerged after her work as a gardener in Galloway.
- Voyageurs arose after a one-year stay at Central Michigan University and canoeing adventures on the Ottawa River.
- 1985 "Spinning the Green", short story
- 1987 The Incomer or Clachanpluck, novel. ISBN 0-7043-4070-4
- 1989 A Sparrow's Flight, novel. ISBN 0-7486-6025-9
- 1991 An Apple from a tree, short stories. ISBN 0-7043-4281-2
- 1994 Islanders, novel. ISBN 0-7486-6178-6
- 2000 The Sea Road, novel. (Ger 2001: Der Weg nach Vinland), based on the life of Gudrid of Iceland
- 2002 Hy Brasil, novel. (Ger 2004: Inselnotizen), based on the mythical island of Brasil
- 2003 Voyageurs, novel. (Ger 2006: Stromaufwärts)
- 2006 Light, novel. ISBN 978-1-84195-805-7
- 2009 The Gathering Night, novel. ISBN 978-1-84767-288-9
- 1990 Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary
- 1991 Scottish Arts Council Travel Award
for The Sea Road
- 1993 Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary
- 1994 Scottish Arts Council Travel Award
- 2001 Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award
for Hy Brasil
- 1997 Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary
- 2000 Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary