Kate was born in Yorkshire, the daughter of historians EP Thompson and Dorothy Thompson. After school she worked with racehorses for several years, then spent time in India, studying history and Hindi at Santiniketan University and later training at the Bihar School of Yoga. Kate settled in Ireland in the 1980s where she taught yoga and worked a smallholding while her two daughters were growing up. Her first publication, There is Something, was a collection of poetry, but she soon turned to writing speculative fiction for children and adults.
In the late 1990s, she began playing the fiddle and went on to complete an MA in Irish Traditional Music Performance at University College Limerick. She also apprenticed herself to a violin maker and learned to refurbish old instruments. She has since set up a workshop, which she calls Wild Goat Fiddles, from which she repairs and sells fiddles . www.wildgoatfiddles.com
Her passion for playing the fiddle gave rise to her most well-known YA book to date: The New Policeman, published in 2005. It won multiple awards, including the Whitbread (Costa) Children's Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The book is set in modern day Kinvara, where she now lives. Others include the Children's Books Ireland book of the year award, which she won four times, for The Beguilers, The Alchemist's Apprentice, Annan Water and The New Policeman. She was also shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for her book Creature of the Night.
In 2006, Kate did a six month house swap with friends from Melbourne, and since that time she has been a regular visitor to Australia, following up her interest in Aboriginal art and culture. Over time, her interests led her closer and closer to the central desert area of the country and, despite the setback of a serious riding accident there, she was presented with the opportunity to spend time in a Warlpiri community in the Tanami desert, and has since returned there several times. Possession of a good 4-wheel drive vehicle meant she was able to make trips out on country with a number of traditional owners, to visit their homelands and significant sites.
Her latest book, a novel called Provenance, has arisen out of these unforgettable experiences and her research into the ethics and practices of the market in Aboriginal art. It is published by her own imprint, Liminal Books, where she is also reissuing some of her earlier books.