Violet Needham was born in London to a British army officer on the fringes of the aristocracy and his Dutch wife, a wealthy heiress. Violet's father, who taught his daughters to ride and drive horses and to love poetry, was a compulsive gambler, and his family veered between affluence and relative poverty depending on his luck. According to the Violet Needham Society, "Perhaps it is little wonder that so many of Violet’s young heroines are rescued from precarious financial situations." When she was 19, she accompanied her father on a six-year posting as a military attaché to Rome. She learned to speak French, German, and Italian. She created adventurous bedtime stories for her nephews, which she eventually wrote down and submitted for publication, without success. In 1939, when she was 63, her first book, The Black Riders, was finally published; for the next 18 years she published a new children's novel each year. They were enormously popular in her lifetime and still have a devoted following. Many of the books were illustrated by Joyce Bruce, a Gloucestershire neighbor.