Ethel May Dell was born on 2 August 1881 in Streatham, a suburb of London, England, UK. Her father was a clerk in the City of London and she had an older sister and brother. Her family was middle class and lived a comfortable life. Ethel Dell was a very shy, quiet girl and was content to be dominated by her family. She began to write stories while very young and many of them were published in popular magazines. Beneath her shy exterior, she had a passionate heart and most of her stories were stories of passion and love set in India and other old British colonial possessions. They were considered to be very racy and her cousins would pull out pencils to try and count up the number of times she used the words: passion, tremble, pant and thrill. Pictures of her are very rare and she was never interviewed by the press.