Shena Mackay was born in Edinburgh. Her writing career began when she won a prize for a poem written when she was 14.
Two novellas, Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumberger and Toddler on the Run were published before she was 20. Redhill Rococo won the 1987 Fawcett Prize, Dunedin won a 1994 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, The Orchard on Fire was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize and, in 2003, Heligoland was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and Whitbread Novel Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Southampton.