New Zealand novelist, poet, and short‐story writer, born in Oamaru of Scottish parentage, educated at Otago University and Dunedin Teachers' Training College. Her childhood was overshadowed by the death (by drowning) of her two sisters. She was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and spent several harrowing years undergoing treatment, including electric shock therapy, experiences that coloured her writing.
Her first book, The Lagoon (1952, short stories), was followed by a novel, Owls Do Cry (1957, pub. UK 1961), in which circumstances of her own life are mirrored in those of the Withers family, who are also the subject of Faces in the Water (1961) and The Edge of the Alphabet (1962). On a grant from the New Zealand Literary Fund she travelled to Europe and spent several years living in England before returning to New Zealand after the death of her father. Subsequent novels, all of which display her gifts as a stylist, include The Adaptable Man (1965), A Stage of Siege (1966), The Rainbirds (1968), the futuristic Intensive Care (1970), Daughter Buffalo (1972), Living in the Maniototo (1979), and The Carpathians (1988). She published three volumes of autobiography: To the Island (1982), An Angel at My Table (1984), and The Envoy from Mirror City (1985); these were the subject of the film, An Angel at My Table, by Jane Campion. Two further collections of short stories are The Reservoir and Other Stories (1966) and You Are Now Entering the Human Heart (1983). The Pocket Mirror (1967) is a volume of poems.