Kate Atkinson was born in York in 1951 and studied English Literature at Dundee University, gaining her Masters Degree in 1974. During her final year of this course, she was married for the first time, although the marriage lasted only two years. She subsequently studied for a doctorate in American Literature which she failed at the viva stage. After leaving university, she took on a variety of miscellaneous jobs from home help to legal secretary and teacher. She lived in Whitby, Yorkshire for a time, before moving to Edinburgh, where she taught at Dundee University and began writing short stories.
She initially wrote for women’s magazines after winning the 1986 Woman’s Own Short Story Competition. She was runner-up for the Bridport Short Story Prize in 1990 and won an Ian St James Award in 1993 for her short-story Karmic Mothers, which she later adapted for BBC2 television as part of its Tartan Shorts series.
Atkinson’s breakthrough was with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year award, ahead of works by Salman Rushdie and Roy Jenkins. The book has been adapted for radio, theatre and television. She has since written several more novels, short stories and a play. Her latest two novels, Case Histories and its sequel One Good Turn, have heralded a return to form and success – described by Stephen King as “the best mystery of the decade”.
Stylistically, Atkinson is a comic novelist whose style often juxtaposes mundane everyday life with fantastic magical events, a technique that contributes to her work’s pervasive magic realism.