P.D. James was born Phyllis Dorothy James White on August 3, 1920 in Oxford, the eldest daughter of an Inland Revenue official. The family later moved to Ludlow on the Welsh border where the young Phyllis experienced a childhood which she says had more in common with a Victorian childhood than anything contemporary.
She was a well-behaved, quiet child who entertained herself and her siblings by telling and writing stories. When she was 11, the family moved to Cambridge, where she attended the High School for Girls. Her affection for the East Anglican countryside dates from family holidays in Lowestoft.
Because of financial pressures at home, she had to leave school at 16, first following her father into the tax office, then working in a theatre where she met her husband, who was training to be a doctor. She was 19 when World War II broke out, and she married Dr. Connor Bantry White less than two years later, just before his departure for the Royal Army Medical Corps.
The couple had two daughters, born during the war. Dr. White returned at the end of the war with a severe mental illness which was to last until his death in 1964, so Phyllis had to be the main breadwinner. She attended evening classes and found work as a hospital clerk. By sheer persistence and intelligence, she worked her way up to principal hospital administrator at the North West Regional Hospital Board, London, in charge of five psychiatric hospitals.
As a principal in the criminal policy department of the British Home Office, she was also responsible for the appointment of scientists to Britain's forensics laboratories and advising ministers on juvenile crime issues, experience which she used repeatedly in her writing. It wasn't until she was 39, while still working in the hospital, that Phyllis began her first novel, Cover Her Face.
"I knew it was something I was going to do, and it was just that life was so busy I didn't get round to it." She chose the name P.D. James because it looked good on a book jacket, and the crime genre because she didn't want to draw on autobiographical details. The book was immediately accepted by a publisher and became a bestseller. However, it was not until 1979 that she retired from full-time work to concentrate on her writing.
Her books have made 'P.D. James's a household name. Twelve of her 14 novels include a series of murder mysteries featuring the Scotland Yard detective Commander Adam Dalgliesh. She also created the female detective Cordelia Gray. She has written a science-fiction novel (The Children of Men), her autobiography (Time to Be in Earnest) and non-fiction. She has received major prizes for her crime-writing in Great Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia. She is published in many countries, including the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Argentina.
In addition to writing, P.D. James was a Governor for the BBC (1988-93), and Chairman of the Literature Advisory Panel at both the Arts Council of England (1988-92) and the British Council (1988-93). She was awarded the OBE in 1983 and created a Life Peer (Baroness James of Holland Park) in 1991. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She chaired the Booker Prize Panel of Judges in 1987 and has been President of the Society of Authors since 1997. She has received honorary degrees from the Universities of Buckingham, Hertfordshire, Glasgow, Durham and Portsmouth; and doctorates from the Universities of London and Essex. She is an Honorary Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge, St Hilda's College, Oxford and Girton College, Cambridge.
Cover Her Face, 1962
A Mind to Murder, 1963
Unnatural Causes, 1967
The Maul and the Pear Tree: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811 (with Thomas A. Critchley), 1971
Shroud for a Nightingale, 1971
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, 1972
The Black Tower, 1975
Death of an Expert Witness, 1977
Innocent Blood, 1980
The Skull beneath the Skin, 1982
A Taste for Death, 1986
Devices and Desires, 1989
The Children of Men, 1992
Original Sin, 1994
A Certain Justice, 1997
Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography, 1999
Death in Holy Orders, 2001
The Murder Room, 2004
The Lighthouse, November 2005
Many of P.D. James's novels have been adapted for television.
Prizes and awards
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