Paula was born in Birkenhead in 1967, the third daughter in a large working-class Catholic family. She studied English and Theology at the college that is now Chichester University and then taught English and Drama at Wirral Grammar School for Boys and Wirral Metropolitan College. She then completed her MA and PhD in English Literature at the University of Liverpool. She is now a full-time writer, living with her husband, the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, and their three young children (Tom, Ellie and Harry) in an old farmhouse in a South Warwickshire village near Stratford-upon-Avon.
Paula is represented by The Wylie Agency. She is an Executive Trustee of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Warwick.
Paula is the author of the top ten bestseller Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson (HarperCollins UK, Random House USA). A selection for the 2005 Richard and Judy Book Club and a British Book Awards 'Best Read' nomination, Perdita was also long-listed for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize. It tells the extraordinary story of the eighteenth-century actress, poet, novelist, feminist, celebrity and royal mistress Mary 'Perdita' Robinson (1757-1800).
Paula's first book, shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize, was Jane Austen and the Theatre, published in 2002 and reissued in paperback in 2007 by Hambledon Continuum. Paul Johnson of The Spectator chose it as his best-ever book on Jane Austen and the Times Literary Supplement described as a 'definitive and pioneering study of a wholly neglected aspect of Austen's art.' She has also edited a Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Jane Austen's Emma.
Paula has published essays on a wide range of women authors, reviews for the Sunday Telegraph and the TLS, and in her new book tells the story of Evelyn Waugh's friendship with the extraordinary aristocratic family who inspired Brideshead Revisited. Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is published worldwide by HarperCollins, with the UK edition out in August 2009 and the USA edition forthcoming in early March 2010.