Well known for her novels The Wives of Bath, The Western Light, and The Biggest Modern Woman of the World, she also penned the Commonwealth Writers' Prize-nominated work What Casanova Told Me.
After earning her bachelor's degree from McGill University, she worked as a Toronto-based journalist and also spent a period of time creating performance art.
Her novels, which she describes as "sexual gothic" or "gender gothic" in terms of tone and content, stirred some controversy upon their publication.
The children of Jane Cowan and Churchill Swan, she and her brother John were raised in Midland, Ontario. Before ending in divorce, her marriage to Barry Haywood produced a daughter named Samantha.
Her novel The Wives of Bath was loosely adapted into a film titled Lost and Delirious and starring actress Piper Perabo.