Paula was born in Birkenhead in 1967, the third daughter in a large working-class Catholic family. She studied at the University of Liverpool and now lives in Oxford with her husband, the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, and their three children (Tom, Ellie and Harry). She is a Fellow of Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.
Paula is represented by The Wylie Agency.
Her most recent book, published in January 2013 to mark the bicentenary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice, is an innovative biography from HarperCollins called The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. Her previous book, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, told the story of Evelyn Waugh's friendship with the extraordinary aristocratic family who inspired Brideshead Revisited. It was published worldwide by HarperCollins, with the UK edition reaching the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list in August 2009 and the USA edition published in 2010, following a serialization in Vanity Fair.
Paula is also 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 by Bloomsbury. Paul Johnson of The Spectator chose it as his best-ever book on Jane Austen and the Times Literary Supplement described it 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.
In her next book she will be returning to the 1930s and the war years.