Stuart Woods was born in Manchester, Georgia and graduated in 1959 from the University of Georgia, with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. After graduation he enrolled in the Air National Guard, spending two months in basic training before moving to New York, where he began a career in the advertising industry. Towards the end of the 1960s, Woods emigrated to England and lived in Knightsbridge, London while continuing to work in advertising. After three years in London, Woods decided to write a novel, based on an old family story which had been told to him when he was a child, and moved to Ireland. He moved into a converted barn on the grounds of Lough Cutra Castle near Gort, County Galway, and lived a near-solitary existence, except for spending two days a week in Dublin writing television commercials and print adverts.
Soon after settling in Ireland in 1973, Woods took up a new hobby of sailing, an activity that had interested him since the summer of 1966 in Castine, Maine when friends had taken him on their boat. He joined Galway Bay Sailing Club, and learned to sail in one of the club's Mirror. Woods purchased a Mirror for himself and named it Fred, after his dog. After tiring of cruising around bays he entered novice competitions around Galway Bay. Unable to find a reliable person to form his crew, Woods recruited any passing teenager to join him. He entered the week-long National Championships at Lough Derg, and finished thirty-ninth out of a fleet of sixty. It was Wood's best result of the season.
The following year, Woods sailed in as many races as he could leading up to the Mirror National Championships in Sligo; After retiring from the first race, he finished in twenty-fifth place out of seventy boats in the second race, and finished eighth in the third race. The fourth race was canceled due to high winds and the number of teenaged entrants. He finished the event twenty-ninth out of seventy boats and he and his crewmate were given a special prize for being the oldest and heaviest crew. For the rest of the season he sailed around Ireland with a friend on a Snapdragon 24, and decided to compete in the 1976 Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR).
In the fall of 1974, Woods's grandfather died and bequeathed him enough money to buy a yacht suitable for the race. He ordered a Golden Shamrock-based yacht from Ron Holland, and worked with him on designing the interior suitable for single-handeded racing and Woods' personal needs. Since his previous sailing experience consisted of "racing a ten-foot plywood dinghy on Sunday afternoons against small children, losing regularly", Woods spent eighteen months learning more about sailing and celestial navigation while his yacht was being built in Cork. He gained more boating experience by sailing from Ireland to England as part of the crew on STY Creidne, a training ship purchased by the Irish Government for the Irish Naval Service, Irish Mist II, Ron Holland's Golden Apple, and as many other yachts that would accept him, amassing 1200 miles of offshore experience. He entered the August 1975 Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association (MOCRA) Azores Race and asked fellow Galway Bay Sailing Club member Commander Bill King to join him.
In order to finance his MOCRA Azores Race and the OSTAR, Woods met with publishers about writing a book about his experience in the OSTAR, organized sponsorship for the races, and sent invitations and press releases about the launch of his yacht to the local and national Irish newspapers, RTÉ, The Observer, and Yachting Monthly. Golden Harp was launched June 4, 1975. "Golden" was chosen so it followed the naming tradition of Ron Holland's other designs, the Golden Apple, Golden Shamrock, and Golden Delicious, and "Harp" as it has long been used as a symbol of Ireland.
Woods, King, and their third crewmember, Shirley Clifford, left from Portsmouth, England for The Azores in August 1975. 85-98) Clifford, who had complained of feeling ill the day before the race began, continued to feel worse so Woods and King dropped her off on a coastguard boat near Plymouth, England on the second day of the race. They arrived in Horta after sailing 1400 miles for fifteen-and-a-half days. They were the smallest and last boat to finish, other than four boats that had retired from the race, but were disqualified for not completing with the full crew complement that had begun the race. King returned to Ireland almost immediately, but Woods spent a month in Horta before sailing Golden Harp the 1300 miles back to Ireland single-handedly in order to meet the OSTAR's qualifying cruise requirement of a minimum five-hundred miles.
Upon his return to Ireland in the late fall of 1975, Woods appeared on the Irish version of To Tell the Truth with Ron Holland and John McWilliam. All three men claimed to be Woods, and a panel had to guess who out of whom was lying. Only one of the four panellists guessed correctly. Preparing for his OSTAR race, he petitioning the OSTAR Committee to be considered an Irish entry, as although he is an American, he had been living in Ireland for some time, had learned to sail from Irish yachtsmen on Irish boats, and his yacht was Irish designed and built. The committee agreed to allow him to be entered under Irish colors.
The OSTAR race began at Plymouth, England on June 5, 1976. He completed his passage to Newport, Rhode Island in forty-five days, finishing 65th out of 125 boats, though after handicaps was declared 45th.
In August 1979 he competed in the 1979 Fastnet Race on a friend's yacht. The race was marred by a huge storm which resulted in fifteen competitors and four observers losing their lives. Woods and his host crew finished in good order, with little damage. In the fall of 1979 he skipper his friend's yacht back across the Atlantic Ocean, with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, and finishing at Antigua in the Caribbean.
Woods wrote an account of his OSTAR experience, and was introduced to Stanford Maritime, a London-based publishing house specializing in nautical books, by Ron Holland. Blue Water, Green Skipper was published in 1977. The American publishing rights were sold to W.W. Norton.
Woods' second book was to be written about the 1977 Round Britain Yacht Race but the book was canceled because of light winds and calms during the race. He persuaded his publishers to allow him to change the scope of the book, and spent the summer driving 12,000 miles around Great Britain and Ireland writing a guidebook to country restaurants, inns and hotels. He visited over 150 establishments, and included one-hundred-thirty-eight in the book; ninety-one establishments in England, thirteen in Scotland, eight in Wales, and twenty-six in Ireland. The two places in the British Isles that he did not visit were Northern Ireland, saying that he did not feel comfortable recommending any place where he was afraid to visit, and the Channel Islands due to a lack of available time. Originally titled A Lover's Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland Woods realised married couples may feel alienated, and changed it to A Romantic's Guide ..., defining a "romantic" as a person " who is susceptible to charm" in addition to The Concise Oxford Dictionary definition of someone "given to romance, imagination ... visionary ... professing grandeur of picturesqueness or passion or irregular beauty to finish and proportion."
Woods' first novel, Chiefs, was published in March 1981. The story was inspired by a police chief's badge Woods had found in his grandmother's home. The badge was stained with blood and pockmarked by buckshot. It had belonged to his grandfather, who died wearing it 10 years before Mr. Woods was born. He submitted the first one hundred pages and an outline to three publishers who all turned him down, before Norton bought the publishing rights for $7,500. He later stated it was a mistake to sell the book unfinished as he could have got much more money had it been completed. 20,000 copies of the book were printed in hardback, but Norton did little to promote the book. He contracted with Bantam Books to print the paperback edition. In 1983 Chiefs was adapted into a television miniseries of the same name, starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams, Stephen Collins and John Goodman. CBS broadcast the miniseries over three nights, and it was nominated for three Emmy Awards and one Eddie Award. Its success sparked interest in the paperback, and Woods was awarded the Edgar Award in the "Best First Novel" category from the Mystery Writers of America.
Woods' most prolific series of novels focus on Stone Barrington, a former NYPD detective turned lawyer who is of counsel to a prestigious law firm and handles cases with which the firm does not wish to be publicly associated. The novels are noted both for a strong cast of recurring characters such as Barrington's ex-partner Dino Bacchetti, frequent use of the New York restaurant Elaine's as a setting and Stone's frequent exploits with women, travel and fine dining. Stone, like Woods, is also an experienced pilot and frequent references are made to his aircraft.
In addition to Stone, Woods has written several other character-focused series. These characters include Holly Barker, a retired Army major and Florida police chief recruited to become a CIA operative; Ed Eagle, a Santa Fe defense lawyer; William Henry Lee IV, a Georgia senator who is elected President of the United States; and Rick Barron, a police detective who becomes a security officer and later chief of production for a Hollywood movie studio in the 1930s. All of Woods' novels take place in the same universe and characters frequently appear in other series.
Woods has published forty-one novels in a twenty-eight year career, and has now had twenty-six consecutive New York Times best sellers. In the past he has written two novels a year and has increased that to three novels a year, at the request of his publishers. He publishes each year in January, April and September.
Woods is a licensed, instrument-rated private pilot, and recently bought a new Cessna Citation Mustang, his first jet airplane. He owns a Hinckley T38 R power boat and is a partner in a 85-foot antique motor yacht, Enticer, built in 1935 and fully restored.