Charlotte Eliza Lawson Riddell (née Cowan) was born in 1832 in County Antrim, the daughter of a flax and cotton spinner. After her father died, she and her mother eked out a meagre existence before moving to London in 1855.
She tried to earn money for herself and her dying mother by writing, an experience which inspired her later novel, A Struggle for Life (1883). Her mother did not live to see her major successes, which included George Geith of Fen Court (1864), for which the publisher William Tinsley paid her an impressive £800.
In 1857 she married a patent agent by the name of Joseph Hadley Riddell. His business and health had collapsed by 1871, causing severe financial difficulties. This situation would explain Charlotte’s prodigious output during the 1860s, when she was editing St. James’s Magazine, in addition to writing fiction.
She is best known for her ghost stories, published as Weird Stories in 1882. Their success is partly due to the atmospheric setting which Riddell had drawn from her own experiences in Ireland and London. Although a popular author, she struggled to earn an adequate income. She was eventually paid a small pension by the newly-formed Society of Authors, before dying of breast cancer in 1906.
Victorian Secrets publishes Weird Stories.
Charlotte Riddell is also one of the interviewees in Notable Women Authors of the Day.