Mary Alice Downie was born in Illinois to Canadian parents and grew up in Toronto. She graduated from the University of Toronto in English, despite spending most of her time at The Varsity. She had the usual range of jobs: steno pool, editorial assistant for a medical journal, and publicity management for a publisher. In 1959 she married John Downie; they moved to Pittsburgh where she produced film, play, and book reviews, and two daughters, Christine and Jocelyn. In 1962, they moved to Kingston, Alexandra was born in 1967. She hopes to continue writing and editing in a 103-year-old house in Kingston and 107-year-old cottage on an island on the Rideau, and to travel to as many places as possible.