William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the son of a successful and popular painter. Collins himself demonstrated some artistic talent and had a painting hung in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1849, but his real passion was for writing. On leaving school, he worked in the office of a tea merchant in the Strand but hated it. He left and read law as a student at Lincoln's Inn but already his writing career was flowering. His first novel, Antonina, was published in 1850. In 1851, the same year that he was called to the bar, he met and established a lifelong friendship with Charles Dickens. While Collins' fame rests on his best known works, The Woman in White and The Moonstone, he wrote over thirty books, as well as numerous short stories, articles and plays. He was a hugely popular writer in his lifetime. Collins was an unconventional individual: he never married but established long term liaisons with two separate households. He died in 1889.