Paterson was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, and brought up in Banff, where his father practised law. From Banff Academy he went on to Edinburgh University, and then to sub-editing and spinning boy-meets-girl yarns for women's magazines in Dundee for D.C. Thomson-Leng Publications.
At this time Paterson's other big passion was football. A keen player at university, he was recruited by Buckie Thistle and Leith Athletic soon after leaving. He went on to play for Dundee United and in 1936 was nominated skipper by the players. They were a shadow of the team they were to become - they were in the Second Division of the Scottish League, their civic rivals Dundee being in the First - but it was nevertheless quite something for an amateur to lead the professional side. However Paterson had no interest in taking up the game as a professional and left soon after his captaincy to try and become a sports journalist.
The Second World War interrupted his career and was spent afloat mostly on minesweepers. Back in civvy street he won an Atlantic Award in Literature in 1947, an endorsement of his proficiency and potential. His short stories were by now appearing on both sides of the Atlantic and were published in French, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian and braille.
Then came The China Run. Published in 1948 and sub-titled ''the biography of a great-grandmother'', the book chronicled the adventures of Christian West, captain of a tea-clipper. It was assumed, until very recently, that Christian West was Paterson's great-grandmother, particularly as in the introduction Paterson describes staring at two portraits of her and deciding, as they did her no justice, to paint a third portrait of her in words. In fact Christian West was fictitious, but so convincing was the ''biography'' that historians have since attempted to research her life further. China Run was voted book of 1948 by Somerset Maugham in the New York Times.
Next came Behold Thy Daughter (1950), a rags-to- riches-to-rags-again tale of another buccaneering woman, Thirza Gare, set against the backdrop of the seatown of Kaysie on the Moray Firth. Acclaimed as book of 1950 by the Evening Standard, it became a best seller in a dozen languages. A year later a volume of short stories, And Delilah, appeared. Here, as in The China Run, the writing is taut and tense. One of the stories, "Scotch Settlement", the tale of two boys in the Canadian backwoods who, denied a dog by their Calvinist grandfather, steal a baby, transferred to the big screen as The Kidnappers and became the tear-jerker of 1953. The film won Honorary Oscars for the juvenile actors Jon Whiteley and Vincent Winter.
After Man on the Tightrope (1953), a political thriller, Paterson concentrated on screenplays. Three of these were selected by the Cannes Film Festival in the Fifties, and one, Room at the Top (1959), won him his Oscar and an Oscar for Simone Signoret as best actress.
Soon after Paterson moved to Perthshire and "the best story-teller Scotland has produced since Stevenson", as one reviewer hailed him, retired from writing and took up golf, salmon fishing and sitting on the boards of Grampian Television (1960-86), Films of Scotland (1954-81), the National Film School (1970-80), the Scottish Arts Council (1966-76), the Arts Council for Great Britain (1974-76), the Pitlochry Festival Theatre (as governor 1966-76) and the British Film Institute (as governor 1958-60).
James Edmund Neil Paterson, writer, footballer, screenwriter: born Greenock, Renfrewshire 31 December 1915; married 1939 Rose MacKenzie (two sons, one daughter); died Crieff 19 April 1995.