Cecil Blanche FitzGerald was born in Tenby, Wales, to an Irish family. She graduated from Oxford University in 1917 and then went to work as a typist and copywriter for an advertising firm in London. In 1928 she married George Woodham-Smith, a solicitor. She began her literary career in her forties with potboiler novels published under the pseudonym Janet Gordon.She then moved on to serious works of history and biography. She produced four critically-acclaimed and popular books, each dealing with a different aspect of the Victorian era: Florence Nightingale, 1820–1910 (1950), The Reason Why (1953), The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845–1849 (1962), and Queen Victoria: Her Life and Times (1972). In 1960, she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1969 she received the A.C. Benson Medal for her contributions to British literature.