Phyllis Dorothy James (Baroness James of Holland Park) was born in Oxford on 3 August 1920, the eldest of three children. She was educated at Cambridge Girls' High School but was not given the option of attending university. At sixteen, she followed in her father's footsteps and worked in a tax office in Ely. In 1940 she met Connor White, a young medical student. They married and moved to London, and after qualifying he was drafted into the Royal Army Hospital Corps, serving abroad before returning home mentally ill. With two young daughters to support, James worked as a clerk in the NHS for £5 a week and went to evening school to attain her hospital administration diploma. After qualifying she quickly moved up the civil service ladder. She also began writing - getting up at 5am and working at weekends to complete her first novel, Cover Her Face, which was published in 1963. The book was critically praised but didn't provide enough money to live on. The following year, her husband died. James continued working in the civil service, and in 1968 she took a job at the Home Office, where she was initially involved with forensic investigations and later moved to the criminal policy unit. These positions contributed to the strong factual detail for which her books are well known. She built up a following with a string of novels including A Mind to Murder (1963), Unnatural Causes (1967), Shroud for a Nightingale (1971) and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972). But it was the American publication of her novel Innocent Blood, in 1980, that pushed her onto the bestseller lists and gave her the financial freedom to support herself solely through writing. Her later books include The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982), Devices and Desires (1989), Original Sin (1994), A Certain Justice (1997), Death in Holy Orders (2001), The Private Patient (2008) and Death Comes to Pemberley (2011). She did not, however, give up her interest in the public sphere. She served as a BBC governor, Booker Prize judge and chair of the literature panel of the Arts Council. In 1983, James was awarded an OBE, and in 1991 she was awarded her barony. She has also received a number of honorary university degrees, and was awarded the Silver Dagger three times from the British Crime Writers' Association - as well as the Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1987. In 1997 she was appointed Chairman of the Society of Authors, a post she held until 2013. She died in November 2014, aged 94.
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