Optically active point defects in crystals have gained widespread attention as photonic systems that can find use in quantum information technologies. However challenges remain in the placing of individual defects at desired locations, an essential element of device fabrication. Here we report the controlled generation of single nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres in diamond using laser writing. The use of aberration correction in the writing optics allows precise positioning of vacancies within the diamond crystal, and subsequent annealing produces single NV centres with up to 45% success probability, within about 200 nm of the desired position. Selected NV centres fabricated by this method display stable, coherent optical transitions at cryogenic temperatures, a pre-requisite for the creation of distributed quantum networks of solid-state qubits. The results illustrate the potential of laser writing as a new tool for defect engineering in quantum technologies.