Shena Mackay

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Shena Mackay FRSL (born 1944) is a Scottish novelist born in Edinburgh. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1996 for The Orchard on Fire, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2003 for Heligoland.


Mackay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. After the war her family moved to Hampstead, London, and eventually settled in Shoreham in Kent, from where she attended Tonbridge Grammar School. Her writing career started with her winning a poetry competition in the Daily Mirror at the age of 16, while still at school.[1] After leaving school she began working in an office, before getting a job at an antique shop in Chancery Lane. The antique shop was owned by the parents of art critic David Sylvester, with whom Mackay had her daughter Cecily.[2]

Mackay's first publication, in 1964, was a volume of two novellas, Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumburger and Toddler on the Run.[3]

In 1965 she published her first novel, Music Upstairs, set in London in the early 1960s.[4]

She won the Fawcett Society Fiction Prize in 1986 for her novel Redhill Rococo and the Scottish Arts Council Book Award for her 1991 novel, Dunedin.[3]

Her novel The Orchard on Fire was published in 1995 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.[4] The novel is set in the 1950s and focuses on April, an eight-year-old girl from Streatham who is forced to move to Kent when her parents decide to run a tearoom.[5]

Her 2003 novel Heligoland was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.[6]

She holds a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature and is also Honorary Visiting Professor at Middlesex University. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2004 Mackay explained that she is synaesthetic and "sees words as colours", her own name being yellow.[7]

She married Robin Brown in 1966 and they brought up her three daughters, Sarah Clark, Rebecca Smith and painter Cecily Brown. Her daughter Cecily was not told that Sylvester was her father until she was an adult. Mackay and Brown later divorced and she moved back to London.[2] As of 2008 lives in Southampton.[8] She is in favour of an independent Scotland.[9]



Short story collections[edit]

  • Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumburger/Toddler on the Run (1964)
  • Babies in Rhinestones (1983)
  • Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags (1987)
  • The Laughing Academy (1993)
  • Collected Short Stories (1994)
  • The World's Smallest Unicorn (1999)
  • The Atmospheric Railway (2008)
  • Dancing on the Outskirts (2015)

As editor[edit]

  • Friendship: An Anthology (1997)

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ Hamilton, Ian (10 July 1999). "Bohemian rhapsodist". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b Cooke, Rachel (9 November 2008). "Interview: Shena Mackay". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b Weber, Katharine (18 December 1994). "Living on Vodka and Asparagus". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Shena Mackay – Literature". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  5. ^ "In hot water at the Copper Kettle". The Independent. London. 9 June 1996. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  6. ^ Ezard, John (13 November 2003). "Curious incident of writer's literary hat trick". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  7. ^ "A writer's life: Shena Mackay". The Daily Telegraph. London. 4 January 2004. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  8. ^ Rachel Cooke, "It all began with Freud and Bacon...", The Observer, 9 November 2008.
  9. ^ Reiner Luyken (19 October 2011). "Wo jeder Brite als Verräter gilt". Die Zeit (in German). Zeit-online. Retrieved 3 January 2012.


External links[edit]