Siobhan Dowd was born in 1960 to Irish parents. She was brought up in London, but spent much of her youth visiting the family homes in County Waterford, then Wicklow town. She attended a Catholic grammar school in south London, and went on to receive a BA in Classics from Oxford University and an MA with distinction in Gender and Ethnic Studies from Greenwich University.
In 1984, she joined the writer’s organisation International PEN, becoming Program Director of PEN American Center’s Freedom-to-Write Committee in New York City. Her work there included founding and leading the Rushdie Defense Committee USA and travelling to Indonesia and Guatemala to investigate local human rights conditions for writers. During her seven-year stay in New York, Siobhan was named one of the ‘top 100 Irish-Americans’ by Irish-America Magazine and Aer Lingus for her global anti-censorship work.
On her return to the UK, Siobhan co-founded English PEN’s readers and writers program. The program takes authors into schools in socially deprived areas, as well as prisons, young offender institutions and community projects.
During 2004, Siobhan served as Deputy Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Oxfordshire, working with local government to ensure that statutory services affecting children’s lives conform with UN protocols.
Siobhan edited two anthologies in the Threatened Literature Series for the Freedom to Write Committee of the PEN American Center: This Prison Where I live: The PEN anthology of imprisoned writers (Cassell, 1996) and, jointly with Ian Hancock and Rajko Djuric, The Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy writers (University of Hertfordshire Press, 1998 and 2004).
An invitation by Tony Bradman to contribute a story about a ‘Pavee’ (an Irish Traveller) to his collection of short stories for children about racism, Skin Deep (Puffin, 2004), led to a new career as an author of children’s books. It was through Tony that Siobhan was introduced to Hilary Delamere. Hilary became Siobhan’s agent and continues to represent her titles, both as her agent and also as the executor of her literary estate. In 2007, Waterstone’s identified Siobhan as one of the top ‘25 Authors of the Future’.
Siobhan died in August 2007, aged 47. In the very last days before she died, Siobhan set up the Trust. It was the final act of someone who had spent so much of her life working on behalf of others.