novelist, born in Liverpool, and educated at Merchant Taylors' School, Liverpool. She began her career as an actress, and her first novels were little noticed, but in the 1970s a series of original and idiosyncratic works established her reputation. These include The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), Young Adolf (1978), and Winter Garden (1980). Short, laconic, and rich in black comedy, they deal with the lives of characters at once deeply ordinary and highly eccentric, in a world where violence and the absurd lurk beneath the daily routine of urban domesticity: in Injury Time (1977), for example, a quietly illicit dinner party becomes headline news when invaded by a gang of criminals on the run who take its guests hostage. The juxtaposition of the banal and the bizarre is also a feature of the dialogue, which shows a fine ear for the oddities of contemporary speech. Other novels include Harriet Said (1972), Watson's Apology (1984), Filthy Lucre (1986), An Awfully Big Adventure (1989), and Birthday Boys (1991, based on R. F. Scott's Arctic expedition). Her short stories appeared in Mum and Mr Armitage (1985), and in a collected edition (1994). Later novels include Every Man for Himself (1996), a recreation of the fatal voyage of the Titanic; Master Georgie (1998), set during the Crimean War; and According to Queenie (2001), based on the life of Dr Johnson.