Alice Thomas Ellis was born in Liverpool, England. She wrote numerous novels and some non-fiction, including cookery books.
She spent some of her childhood as an evacuee in North Wales, a period she wrote about in A Welsh Childhood. In 1956, she married Colin Haycraft, owner of the publishing company, Duckworth. They were married until his death in 1995. Her best-known novel was Unexplained Laughter (1985), which was adapted for British television, as was her Summerhouse trilogy. Her novel The 27th Kingdom (1982) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Ellis was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.