Alice Thomas Ellis was the pen name of Anna Haycraft, née Lindholm, born in Liverpool, England to a family of mixed Celtic and Russian origins, and raised in north Wales. At age 19, she converted to the Roman Catholic faith and entered a convent intending to become a nun, but had to leave due to ill health.
In 1956, she married Colin Haycraft, owner of Gerald Duckworth & Co., a publishing company, with whom she had seven children. She published her first novel, The Sin Eater, in 1977 under her pseudonym, and went on to write further books under this name, including The 27th Kingdom (1982) and Unexplained Laughter (1985), which was adapted for British television, as was her Summerhouse Trilogy. With her friend Caroline Blackwell, she co-wrote the food book Darling, You Shouldn't Have Gone to So Much Trouble (1980). In addition, she wrote a memoir, A Welsh Childhood (1997), and published four collected volumes of Home Life, her weekly column in The Spectator. As Anna Haycraft, she was the fiction editor of Duckworth & Co., and was famous for her parties at the Duckworth offices and at home. She came to epitomize north London literary bohemia, along with friends such as Jonathan Miller, Kingsley Amis, Beryl Bainbridge, and Oliver Sacks. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.