Charlotte Eliza Lawson Cowan was born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland, on 30th September 1832, the youngest daughter of James Cowan, a High Sheriff for the County of Antrim, and Ellen Kilshaw from Liverpool, England.
In the winter of 1855, four years after her father's death, she and her mother moved to London. Sadly, within the year, her mother also passed.
In 1857, she married Joseph Hadley Riddell, a civil engineer. The marriage was happy by all accounts but produced no children.
Her first novel, ‘The Moors and the Fens’, was published in 1858 under the pseudonym of F. G. Trafford, which she used until publishing under the moniker ‘Mrs Riddell’ from 1864.
Charlotte was a prolific, respected and popular author. In her literary career she published over 50 novels and short stories. The most notable is perhaps ‘George Geith of Fen Court’ (1864), for which she was paid £800. It was later dramatised in 1883 by Wybert Reeve.
From 1867, Charlotte ventured into new territory, becoming the co-proprietor and editor of the well-regarded St. James's Magazine, which had begun publishing 1861. She also edited the magazine ‘Home in the Sixties’, and wrote short stories and tales for the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Routledge's Christmas annuals.
Charlotte was a prominent writer of ghost stories; ‘Fairy Water’, ‘The Uninhabited House’, ‘The Haunted River’, ‘The Disappearance of Mr Jeremiah Redworth’ and ‘The Nun's Curse’, all deal with buildings occupied by supernatural phenomena. Charlotte also wrote several short ghost stories, such as ‘The Open Door’ and ‘Nut Bush Farm’, which are regularly anthologised.
In 1880 Joseph died. She now withdrew from society and became a recluse. From 1886 this was in Upper Halliford, Middlesex.
In 1901 Charlotte became the recipient of the first pension, £60 a year, from the Society of Authors.
Charlotte Riddell died from cancer in Ashford, Kent, on 24th September 1906.