Rachel Stainer was born in Islington, north London, and attended secondary school at Newbury. She moved to Vienna, originally to work for the Four Power Commission and later as the Central Europe correspondent for the Spectator. In 1947, she married Antony Terry, a journalist; this ended in divorce. In 1964, she married Kenneth Ames, also a journalist. Her fiction works were published under the pen name of Sarah Gainham, which she took in honor of her maternal great-grandmother. Sarah Gainham set nearly all her novels in Central Europe, a region she knew intimately from her work and travels, and achieved a reputation as a perceptive chronicler of the immediate post-World War II years. Her reports of the early days in Berlin before the death of Stalin and before the Berlin Wall was built, when the espionage and propaganda battles of the Cold War were in full force, were especially appreciated by other journalists.