Nina Allan

Writer - Fiction

Add to shortlist

Photograph: Diana Patient


Associate: Seren Adams


Nina Allan was born in East London. She studied German and Russian at Exeter University and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where she completed an MLitt and monograph on madness, death and disease in the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov. With her short fiction appearing in many magazines and anthologies, Nina’s story collection THE SILVER WIND, a meditation on time, memory and the nature of reality was awarded the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire (France) in 2014. Her debut novel THE RACE, set in an alternate Britain and dealing with themes of identity and loss, was shortlisted for the Kitschies Red Tentacle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2015. She also won The Novella Award for THE HARLEQUIN. THE RIFT, a tale of two sisters separated as teenagers and reunited in mysterious circumstances twenty years later, was published in July 2017 by Titan Books and won the British Science Fiction Award and The Kitschies Red Tentacle. Nina lives and works on the Isle of Bute, together with her partner the writer Christopher Priest.

Nina's latest novel, THE DOLLMAKER, was published in early April 2019 by riverrun (UK) and is forthcoming from Other Press (US).

Her latest novel, THE GOOD NEIGHBOURS, was published by riverrun in March 2021. Her new novel, CONQUEST, is forthcoming from riverrun in 2023. 

Praise for THE GOOD NEIGHBOURS (2021):

'Allan is best known for speculative fiction, and there is certainly an element of fantasy in this wonderfully atmospheric novel, which references schizophrenic patricidal artist Richard Dadd as well as folklore and mathematical theory. However, it is also a splendid crime narrative of memory, compulsion and the effects of trauma.' Guardian

Praise for THE DOLLMAKER (2019): 

‘In clean, beautiful, agile prose, Nina Allan is able to conjure a recognisable England and a place of deep enchantment. The world of THE DOLLMAKER is not only one we know, it seems to know us, and readers will lose and find themselves inside Allan’s wonderful creation. A fantastic book, revealing a zone of wonder and a world of truth.’ Andrew O’Hagan

'As uncanny and disquieting as a Hans Bellmer sculpture, yet rooted – like all of Nina Allan’s superb novels – in a minutely observed everyday reality that feels almost too familiar. This is a masterful and multi-layered haunted toy shop of a novel, but who exactly is playing with who?' Tony White

'Amazing experiments are still possible with the form of the novel! I was deeply impressed by the complexity of this elegant, beautiful and subtly scary book.' Daniel Kehlmann

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan is narrated by dollmaker and collector Andrew Garvie, born with proportionate dwarfism. A solitary character, Andrew answers a personal ad in a dollmakers' magazine and later becomes consumed. The novel itself is like a babushka doll, slowly uncovering stories within stories and it's absolutely spellbinding.’ Irish Independent

'[Allan's] literary sensibility fuses the fantastic and the mundane to great effect.' Guardian

'Mesmerising, richly layered and wholly original - worthy of a modern Grimm.' Andrew Caldecott, author of Rotherweird

'Two unusual people with a very real love story. A uniquely beautiful read.' Image Magazine

'Beautifully written and deeply strange... Allan writes about neglect and transgression very well... Wonderfully taut.' Leaf Arbuthnot, Sunday Times

'This is a very singular book indeed, one punctuated by dark, strikingly densely imagined fairytales, which share disturbing parallels with Andrew's own life. Blurred boundaries are, in part, what this unsettling, intricately constructed and teasingly elliptical tale of misfits, outcasts and outsiders is about... The award-winning sci-fi writer's talents are evident.' Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

'Haunting and beautifully written, the plot unfolds as a story within a story.' Candis Magazine

'Sometimes, all you can really do is applaud... So achingly clever and well constructed it's a bit like a magic trick. A dazzling little puzzle box of a novel, one that interleaves multiple voices, moods and genres. Intricate, measured and subtly creepy, this is the sort of book that invites you to find your own path, and decide for yourself just what the story is.' Nic Clarke, SFX

'There's something wonderful about taking a step into an uncertain world. Especially when you're in the hands of someone as capable as Nina Allan . . . There's more than a touch of Angela Carter to it... It's really rather magical... It's the two characters at The Dollmaker's centre that makes it such a compelling read. Allan offers the narrative skill we've come to expect, accompanied by a real tenderness and heart.' Jonathan Hatfull, SciFi Now

'An unusual love story full of magic.' Good Housekeeping

'A compulsively unsettling story and hypnotic prose make this a must read.' Literature Works

'The Dollmaker is the sort of novel that speaks to the power of fiction and the possibilities it contains: I couldn't shake the thought that my imagination was playing an active role in shaping the narrative. I won't read a better book this year. Every character is beautifully drawn and every moment feels both authentic and magical; this novel is an enchanted castle of stories upon stories, a dizzying labyrinth. I wanted to go on reading it, and living in its world, forever.' Blair, Goodreads

Praise for THE RIFT (2017):

'[A] bleak but no less beautiful follow-up to The Race, [The Rift] is ostensibly about the mystery surrounding the 20-year disappearance and eventual reappearance of a girl named Julie Rouane, and the pain her family goes through during while she’s missing, and after she’s returned, claiming to have visited an alien world. But rather than get caught up in questions asked by those around Julie, Allan gives her subject a central role and agency in the plot, making her an active participant rather than simply a victim-shaped hole or a walking plot device in others’ lives... Her character journey makes The Rift a wrenching read, offering a “missing person” story with more depth and emotion than the plot normally allows, with a layer of speculative unreality that makes it into something else entirely... Allan refuses to definitively answer the questions posed by her narrative, instead offering us all possible solutions, and allowing us to choose what we think happened. It’s a more honest, realistic exploration of closure than most books offer—there’s no growing out of it, no definitive moment of healing, just people trying to decide for themselves what they are willing to accept.' Barnes & Noble 

'[A] fractured postmodern drama of a pair of separated sisters... Allan crafts mirrored portraits of two women at odds with their own lives coming into a more stable orbit around each other.' Publishers Weekly 

The Rift is a novel marketed in the genre of literary science fiction, however, as soon as I began reading it, it became clear that there were multiple genres at work here: science fiction, mystery, thriller and psychological fiction to name but a few.A novel that asks and raises many more questions than it answers, The Rift is a compelling story of humanity’s existence, of love, loss and the nature of belief. An utterly captivating read.’ Literature Works

'[It] leaves us wondering about the nature of stories themselves.' Chicago Tribune 


Publication DetailsNotes




The facts of the case were straightforward, or at least they appeared to be…

Cath works in a record shop in Glasgow and has an unorthodox hobby: in her spare time she photographs ‘murder houses’. The root of her fascination with buildings in which sinister deaths have occurred can be traced back to her teenage years on a Scottish island, when her best friend Shirley Craigie was murdered in August 2001, along with her mother and her three-year-old brother, in their family home. They died from gunshot wounds, and the fact that Shirley was found in the garden, with scratches on her limbs, suggested she had tried desperately to escape. The obvious suspect, at the time, was Shirley’s father – a belligerent, strange and controlling man who was found dead in his pickup truck having crashed into a stone wall on the A844 on the island’s west coast; it was this discovery which led the police to the other bodies. It seemed to be an open and shut case: John Eamon Craigie, a violent eccentric who believed in kelpies, redcaps, fairies and elves, murdered his wife and children in cold blood; but Cath never quite bought this version of events and wonders, too, if the distraction caused by the events of 9/11 meant the police failed to look elsewhere…

Over ten years later, seeking closure and still reeling from the end of an affair with a married photography tutor, Cath takes a three-month break from work and returns to the island. She takes her camera and rents an apartment on the island. She goes to Shirley’s house, intending to photograph it and befriends its current resident – a woman named Alice, who guesses that Cath’s interest in the place is linked to the murders. Alice doesn’t believe in ghosts, and isn’t bothered by the history of the house, but she is troubled in other ways. Cath begins to re-investigate alternatives to the accepted story of the Craigie deaths, and starts to seriously doubt that John Eamon Craigie was a murderer. But if he didn’t kill his family, who did?



Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive, but graceful, unique and with surprising depths. Perhaps that's why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector's magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped; and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England he reads the fairytales of Ewa Chaplin - potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice - to remain alone with their painful pasts or break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew's quest and Bramber's letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll's eyes, tricks our own . . .


Titan Books

Selena and Julie are sisters. As children they were closest companions, but as they grow towards maturity, a rift develops between them. There are greater rifts, however. Julie goes missing at the age of seventeen. It will be twenty years before Selena sees her again. When Julie reappears, she tells Selena an incredible story about how she has spent time on another planet. Selena has an impossible choice to make: does she dismiss her sister as a damaged person, the victim of delusions, or believe her, and risk her own sanity in the process? Is Julie really who she says she is, and if she isn't, what does she have to gain by claiming her sister's identity? The Rift is a novel about the illusion we call reality, the memories shared between people and the places where those memories diverge, a story about what might happen when the assumptions we make about the world and our place in it are called into question.


Mass Market Paperback

A child is kidnapped with consequences that extend across worlds... A writer reaches into the past to discover the truth about a possible murder... Far away a young woman prepares for her mysterious future...
In a future scarred by fracking and ecological collapse, Jenna Hoolman's world is dominated by illegal smartdog racing: greyhounds genetically modified with human DNA. When her young niece goes missing that world implodes... Christy's life is dominated by fear of her brother, a man she knows capable of monstrous acts and suspects of hiding even darker ones. Desperate to learn the truth she contacts Alex, who has his own demons to fight... And Maree, a young woman undertaking a journey that will change her world forever.


Sandstone Press

The armistice is months past but the memories won't go away. 'A harlequin, leaning against a tree stump and with a goblet of ale clasped in one outstretched hand. Beaumont felt chilled suddenly, in spite of the fire...Most likely it was the thing's mouth, red-lipped and fiendishly grinning, or maybe its face, which was white, expressionless, the face of a clown in full greasepaint.' Dennis Beaumont drove an ambulance in World War One. He returns home to London, hoping to pick up his studies at Oxford and rediscover the love he once felt for his fiancee Lucy. But nothing is as it once was. Mentally scarred by his experiences in the trenches, Beaumont finds himself wandering further into darkness. What really happened to the injured soldier he tried to save? Who is the figure that lurks in the shadows? How much do they know of Beaumont, and the secrets he keeps?



SPIN is a 2014 British Science Fiction Association Award winning story. Nina Allan is acclaimed as a short fiction author and SPIN brings you an opportunity to try her longer fiction. SPIN is a 20 thousand plus word novella which weaves Greek mythology, science fiction and alternate history into Layla Vargas'. journey across an alternate modern Greece.
In the myth Arachne was the awesomely skilled weaver whose tapestries challenged the gods and eventually resulted in her being transformed into a spider. In Nina's novella Layla is our surrogate for Arachne and her fate and destiny, powers of prophecy and possibly those gods are implicit in her story and the stories of the people she meets.


Eibonvale Press

Martin Newland is fascinated by time. Watches and clocks are for him metaphorical time machines, a means of coming to terms with the past and voyaging into the future. But was his first timepiece a Smith, given to him on his fourteenth birthday, or the Longines he received four years later? Was it the small brass travelling clock unearthed in the run-down house for which he is to act as estate agent? And who is the maker of these time machines?