Sarah was born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, and went to school locally before going to university in Canterbury (PhD in English Literature). She has been an associate lecturer with the Open University
Her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, won a 1999 Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday / John Llewelyn Rhys Prize. She was inspired to write it while working on her PhD thesis on lesbian historical fiction that underlined the inadequacies and potential of the contemporary lesbian historical genre.
Sarah's second novel, Affinity, was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, as well being runner up for the Welsh Book of the Year Award, all in 2000.
Her third novel, Fingersmith, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2002 and for the Man Booker Prize 2002. It won the CWA Historical Dagger prize for historical crime fiction and was picked more than any other novel as a Book of the Year 2002.
In 2003, Sarah Waters was named as one of Granta's twenty Best of Young British Writers. She is recipient of the South Bank Award for Literature 2003 and was named Author of the Year at the 2003 British Book Awards. She now lives in South London, where she is currently working on her next novel.