Hawkins was born and raised in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). Her father was an economics professor and financial journalist. Before moving to London in 1989 at the age of 17, Hawkins attended Arundel School, Harare, Zimbabwe then studied for her A-Levels at Collingham College, an independent college in Kensington.
Around 2009, Hawkins began to write romantic comedy fiction under the name Amy Silver, writing four novels including Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista. She did not achieve any commercial breakthrough until she challenged herself to write a darker, more serious story. Her best-selling novel The Girl on the Train (2015), was a complex thriller, with themes of domestic violence, alcohol, and drug abuse. The novel took her six months, writing full-time, to complete, at a time when she was in a difficult financial situation and had to borrow from her father to be able to complete it. The novel was adapted into a film in 2016.
She lives in South London.