Hilary Spurling was born in Stockport, England, in 1940. Educated at Somerville College, Oxford, she was the arts editor, theatre critic and subsequently literary editor for The Spectator during the 1960s. She is a regular reviewer for The Observer and the Daily Telegraph.
Her first book was a biography of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett, published in two volumes in 1974 and 1984. Ivy When Young won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and Secrets of a Woman’s Heart: The Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett won the Duff Cooper Award and the Heinemann Award. She is also the author of a biography of novelist Paul Scott.
Her first volume of the life of painter Henry Matisse was extremely well received in 1998 and the U.S. edition was one of the New York Times‘s Ten Best Books of 1998. The second volume won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2006 and the U.S. edition won the Los Angeles Times biography prize in 2005.
Her biography of Pearl Buck, Burying the Bones was published in March 2010. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Samuel Johnson Prize and it won The James Tait Black Award in 2011.
In October 2017, Hamish Hamilton published Hilary’s biography of Anthony Powell entitled, Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time.