Educated at Gawler High School, Max Fatchen started work as a copy boy on the Adelaide News in the late 1930s. During the Second World War, he served in the RAAF and while in New Guinea wrote short stories which were published in the Sydney Sun.
From 1955 Fatchen wrote regular columns of verse and prose for the Adelaide Advertiser, and was literary editor of that newspaper from 1971, retiring in 1984. He continued, however, to write for the paper and filed his last news story on 6 October 2012, days before his death. Fatchen's books have been dramatised for radio and television, and some of his work has been translated into other languages.
Many of the experiences arising from his newspaper assignments were used in his children's books. Fatchen's books reflect a close attention to environment and the effect this has on the lives of his characters.
In 1980, Fatchen was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to journalism and literature. In 2003, he was awarded a Centenary of Federation medal for services to the community through his journalism, poetry and writing for children. In 2004, Fatchen was awarded Life Membership of the South Australian Writers' Centre.