She grew up in Ilford "a rather nasty housing estate that [her] mother despised". After World War II broke out, she was evacuated at the age of fourteen to Aberdare, Wales. She spent school holidays at a farm in Shropshire along with her mother and her brothers.
Bawden attended Somerville College, Oxford, where she gained a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
Her novels include Carrie's War, Peppermint Pig, and The Witch's Daughter. A number of her works have been dramatised by BBC Children's television, and many have been translated into various languages. In 2002 she was badly injured in the Potters Bar rail crash, and her husband Austen Kark was killed.
She currently lives in London and Nauplion, Greece.