Georgette Heyer, born on August 16, 1902, was the oldest of the three children of George Heyer and Sylvia Watkins. Like the heroine of Helen (1928), one of her early novels, Heyer had a close relationship with her father, after whom she was also named. She received her education at various day schools and later attended The Study, a girls’ school in Wimbledon. She did not attend a university.
In her teens, she became close friends with Joanna Cannan, the daughter of a member of the Oxford University Press, and Carola Oman, the daughter of Sir Charles Oman, a historian. All three women became novelists and published their works under their maiden names. Heyer’s first book, The Black Moth (1921), was published when she was nineteen.
In 1920, she met George Ronald Rougier while their families were spending Christmas at the Bushey Park Hotel. Rougier had wanted to become a barrister, but family pressure prompted him to attend the Royal School of Mines and become an engineer. Heyer became engaged to Rougier in April of 1925, and they were married two months after her father’s death on August 18, 1925. After their marriage, Rougier went prospecting in the Caucasus while Heyer remained in London. She accompanied her husband on his next assignments to Tanganyika and Macedonia. In 1926, Heyer’s first popular success occurred with the publication of These Old Shades, which sold 190,000 copies without the assistance of advertising or reviews. In 1932, at the time that Footsteps in the Dark appeared, her son Richard George Rougier was born.
During the Depression, Ronald opened a sports shop, but with his wife’s encouragement he also studied to become a barrister. The income from Heyer’s books contributed to the support for the family, and she began to write a detective story and a historical romance every year. Rougier, the first reader of her books, also assisted Heyer in plotting her detective stories. Although Heyer’s books were consistently popular, at the time of her death, on July 4, 1974, she had not yet received the critical appreciation that her work merits.