Born in Bromley, she was raised in Tonbridge, Kent and attended Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls. She read English at St Hilda's College, Oxford and worked in publishing and as a journalist before becoming an author. She lived in London for over 20 years, and now lives in Sissinghurst.
She married Private Eye editor Ian Hislop on 16 April 1988 in Oxford. They have two children, Emily Helen (born 1990) and William David (born 1993).