Duncan McLean was born in Aberdeenshire and has lived in Orkney since 1992. While based in Edinburgh in the 1980s, he started writing songs, stand-up routines, and plays for the Merry Mac Fun Co, a street theatre and comedy act with agitprop tendencies. The Merry Macs won various awards, and were twice nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award.
In 1992, McLean published his first book, a collection of short stories called Bucket of Tongues, and since then has published several more books, including two novels and a collection of plays, entitled Plays:One. Around this time, he also set up and ran the Clocktower Press, a small but influential publishing house, which helped bring a new generation of Scottish writers to wider attention. In 1995 he published the novel Bunker Man and in 1998 his travelogue Lone Star Swing was published, which saw McLean tracing the roots of country music precursor Bob Wills.
In recent years, he has divided his time between writing, music, and selling wine. In 2006, he won the prestigious trade award, UK Restaurant Wine Supplier of the Year, and in 2007 founded the annual Orkney Fine Wine Festival, to date the only wine festival in Scotland.
Recent literary work includes a translation of Aalst, a Belgian play by Pol Heyvaert, which toured the UK and Australia for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2007. McLean leads a western swing band called the Lone Star Swing band, which in 2009 and 2010 toured Scotland in a new McLean play, "Long Gone Lonesome." Telling the story of the reclusive Shetland musician Thomas Fraser, the play was produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, and directed by Vicky Featherstone.