She took up writing in the 1880s with the guidance of an in-law relative, Thomas Fairman Ordish. Her first novel, The Parish of Hilby (1883) began a career lasting some 35 years during which she produced 40 works that focused on the experiences of Norfolk yeoman farmers during the late 19th century agricultural and economic upheaval.
After her husband's death in 1913, she moved to Sheringham, where she died aged 70. Her grave is in Shropham churchyard.
Her work has recently been rediscovered as a major contributor to East Anglian literature, championed among others by A. S. Byatt, who in 1998 included her story Little Brother in The Oxford Book of English Short Stories.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography considers her best work to be not her novels but short fiction written in the 1890s such as Ben Pitcher's Elly, Dora o' the Ringolets and The Lost Housen, arguing them to be the equal of Hardy's but based on a matter-of-fact mood rather than Hardy's "vengeful determinism" Some of her novels are still in print.