Winifred Watson was born at Whitley Bay near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, to a prosperous family. With her sisters, she was educated at St. Ronan's boarding school at Berwick-upon-Tweed. She attended a commercial college and went to work as a typist to help support the family during the Great Depression. She had enough spare time in the office to write her first novel Fell-Top, which was published in 1935. It was adapted into a BBC radio play. A year later, she published her second novel, Odd Shoes. Her comic masterpiece Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (1938) was her third novel and is the book for which she is best remembered. It was initially rejected by her publisher and only accepted after she promised to produce another rustic novel similar to her previous work. This was Upyonder (1938). However, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was an instant hit in the UK, USA, and Australia. In 1936, she married Leslie Pickering, manager of a local timber firm, with whom she had a son. She gave up writing during World War II after her sixth novel, Leave and Bequeath, was published in 1943. Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day was republished in 2001 and was popular again with a new generation of readers, becoming a Persephone Classic. A Hollywood film adaptation appeared in 2008 with Frances McDormand in the title role.