Debra Adelaide was born and raised in Sydney. She attended the University of Sydney, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Honours and Master of Arts Honours in English literature, followed by a Doctorate of Philosophy in Australian women’s literature in 1991. Her first book publications were based on research for her doctorate, and they included the edited collection of critical essays, A Bright and Fiery Troop: Australian Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century, and A Window in the Dark, the previously unpublished autobiography of the novelist and playwright, Dymphna Cusack (1902-1981). While studying, Debra Adelaide worked as a university tutor and research assistant, and afterwards became a freelance editor, author and book reviewer. She commenced writing fiction in the early 1990s and her first novel, The Hotel Albatross, was published in 1995. In 1996-98 she produced three successful collections of stories and memoirs on the theme of mothering — Motherlove, Motherlove 2 and Cutting the Cord — which included contributions from many well-known authors and personalities. In 1998 her second novel, Serpent Dust, appeared, and in 2003 she published the edited collection, Acts of Dog. For four years in the early 2000s, Debra Adelaide was the Sydney Morning Herald’s weekly In Short book reviewer — the perfect job for someone so devoted to reading — and she continued to write book reviews for the Herald as well as for The Australian until late 2007. Her latest novel, The Household Guide to Dying, was sold via auction in Australia to Picador in September 2007, and overseas rights were quickly secured at the Frankfurt Book Fair that October.
It was published in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in June 2008, and soon after appeared in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, the USA, Brazil, Portugal, China and Poland. Following the success of The Household Guide to Dying, Debra Adelaide took leave from her position as senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. She returned in January 2010, and now works full time teaching in the postgraduate program. She is currently completing a collection of shorter fiction, and is writing a new novel.