Born Anna Margaret Lindholm, she was half-Finnish, half-Welshian and spent part of her childhood as an evacuee in North Wales, a period she later wrote about in A Welsh Childhood. She later moved to North London.
Haycraft's 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, 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 was killed in an accident while still in his teens.
The Birds of the Air is dedicated to her son, Joshua, 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.
Haycraft published her first novel, The Sin Eater, in 1977 under the pen name of Alice Thomas Ellis, which she used in all her subsequent writing.
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 often in and out of the Haycraft home.
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.
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 led to a watering-down of the faith.
As a regular columnist of the Catholic Herald newspaper, she launched a sharp attack in 1996 on Derek Worlock, the former Archbishop of Liverpool, shortly after his death, accusing him of being responsible for a strong fall in Mass attendance in the previous decade. After protests from readers of the newspaper she was sacked as a columnist, though the staff and some others took her side.
A smoker, Haycraft died of lung cancer at age 72, in 2005.
In early 2009, it was announced that an adaptation of The Inn at the Edge of the World by Charles Dance is to be made into a feature film with a cast including Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon and Penelope Wilton. The plot involves the main characters responding to an advertisement to spend Christmas on a remote Scottish island. Shooting at an undisclosed location in the west of Scotland is expected to commence in May 2009.
Alice Thomas Ellis's Books on Amazon: Alice Thomas Ellis