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Alice Thomas Ellis (born Ann Margaret Lindholm, 9 September 1932 – 8 March 2005) was a British writer and essayist. She was the author of numerous novels and of some non-fiction, including cookery books. Although her married name was Anna Haycraft, she is best known by her nom-de-plume. Ellis was born in Liverpool. Her father was half Finnish, and her mother Welsh. She spent some of her childhood as an evacuee in North Wales, a period later wrote about in A Welsh Childhood. She later moved to Camden in North London.



Ellis' parents belonged to the positivist and atheist Church of Humanity founded by Auguste Comte, but she left to become a Roman Catholic at the age of 19. Shortly afterwards, she entered a convent as a postulant, but had to leave due to a health condition.

In 1956, she married Colin Haycraft, owner of the publishing company, Duckworth. They were happily married until his death in 1995. The couple had seven children (William being the oldest, and an enthusiastic player of Avalon Hill war games), raised in Anna's religion, but they were also struck by tragedy: their daughter Mary died in infancy at the age of two days, and their son Joshua spent ten months in a coma after an accident and died at the age of nineteen in 1978. To him is dedicated The Birds of the Air, with the following inscription:

All his beauty, wit and grace
Lie forever in one place.
He who sang and sprang and moved
Now, in death, is only loved.

She published her first novel, The Sin Eater, in 1977 under the pen name Alice Thomas Ellis, which she used in all her subsequent writing.

She was well known as a hostess; her skill at cooking and entertaining was a considerable asset to the Duckworth company. Her cookery books include All-natural Baby Food (published Fontana/Collins, 1977) and Darling, you shouldn't have gone to so much trouble, co-written with Caroline Blackwood. Caroline Blackwood and her husband, the American poet Robert Lowell, were frequent visitors to the Haycraft home. She was also a close friend of Beryl Bainbridge.

Her best-known novel was probably Unexplained Laughter (1985), which was adapted for British television, as was her Summerhouse Trilogy. Her novel The 27th Kingdom (1982) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her Home Life column in The Spectator was published in four volumes. All her work was livened by a dry, dark sense of humour. One of her most famous witticisms is: "There is no reciprocity. Men love women. Women love children. Children love hamsters. Hamsters don't love anyone".

As a conservative Roman Catholic who was unhappy with the changes in the Church triggered by the Second Vatican Council, she became a sharp polemicist in the press against what she believed were abuses of liturgy and practice that, she believed, led to a watering-down of the faith. Though her fiction often seems feminist, with women usually the leads, she opposed radical feminists' activism in the Church, and claimed that since the change from the Tridentine Mass she could barely bring herself to attend on Sundays. A regular columnist of the Catholic Herald newspaper, she criticised Derek Worlock, the former Archbishop of Liverpool, shortly after his death in 1996, accusing him of being responsible for a strong fall in Mass attendance in the previous decade. Cardinal Hume demanded and achieved her sacking. Thereafter she was the Catholic Herald's cookery columnist.

Ellis was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.[1]

She survived a bout of lung cancer but later developed secondary complications and died a year later, on 8 March 2005, at the age of 72.


  • The Sin Eater (1977)
  • The Birds of the Air (1980)
  • The 27th Kingdom (1982)
  • The Other Side of the Fire (1983)[2]
  • Unexplained Laughter (1985)
  • The Clothes in the Wardrobe (1987) (Summerhouse Trilogy I.)
  • The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1988) (Summerhouse Trilogy II.)
  • The Fly in the Ointment (1990) (Summerhouse Trilogy III.)
  • The Inn at the Edge of the World (1990)
  • Pillars of Gold (1992)
  • The Evening of Adam (1994) (stories)
  • Fairy Tale (1996)
  • Hotel Lucifer (1999)


  1. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  2. ^ Briefly reviewed in The New Yorker (14 January 1985) : 118.

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