Harriet MacMillan

Thesis title: “The Stories We Tell Ourselves to Make Ourselves Come True”: Feminist Rewriting of Mythology in the Canongate Myths Series


Born and bred in the city, Harriet graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2010 with an MA in English Literature (First Class Honours). Between 2011-13 she read for a Master of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. In 2015, she returned to Edinburgh to begin her PhD in English Literature under the supervision of Dr Carole Jones.

Harriet is co-founder and co-convener of the LLC Fantasy and Folkore reading group. She is a reader for the James Tait Black prize and a peer-reviewer for FORUM journal. She also edits and contributes to Inciting Sparks. For the 2016/17 academic year, she was the co-convener of the English Literature Work-in-Progress seminars.

A published writer of poetry and prose, her work has appeared in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual, The Lamp, The Lumen, Inkapture and in other publications. She was a runner-up in the 2014 Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize for her poetry collection A Natural History. Her short story ‘Wittewievenbult’, a rewritten myth for young adults, was included in the Arcanum Anthology. She was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2016 and 2018; she was also shortlisted for the Jane Martin Poetry Prize 2018. She is a part-time Literature Officer at Creative Scotland.

Harriet, along with Anahit Behrooz, was awarded funding from the Researcher-Led Initiative to organise and chair a postgraduate conference. 'Deeper than Swords: Fear and Loathing in Fantasy and Folklore' hosted an international delegation in the department in January 2017. She led a creative writing session on worldbuilding as part of the interdisciplinary conference and later that year, was part of the 'Spaces of Belonging' creative writing programme. In 2018, she ran a creative writing workshop for students, entitled 'Wewriting/Rewriting Mythology', based on her research. She received funding from the Festival of Creative Learning to run this workshop. 

She teaches English Literature 2.

Undergraduate teaching

English Literature 2

Current research interests

In 2005, Canongate, an Edinburgh-based publisher, launched the first volumes in the Canongate Myths series, a project which commissioned renowned authors to retell ancient mythologies for contemporary audiences. Securing novellas from authors including Su Tong, Philip Pullman, A.S. Byatt and thirteen others, the project explores what is understood by myth today and how mythology remains relevant for a 21st-century audience. It also asked female writers to engage directly with ancient mythologies which have perpetuated misogynistic narratives for millennia, encouraging those writers to self-consciously consider representations of gender contained within their selected source myths. This thesis uses the female-authored Greco-Roman mythologies in the series, from Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith and Salley Vickers, as a unique corpus in which to locate arguments regarding the efficacy and repercussions of a ‘feminist’ approach to rewriting mythology. Critical opinion has been split regarding whether a ‘feminist rewriting’ is, in fact, attainable, with some detractors asserting that any revision necessarily replicates the language and structure of the original. Yet by looking at the individual retellings and at the project as a whole, this project will argue that when viewed as a collaborative, ongoing process, engagements with ancient mythologies may in time yield results which are beneficial for representations of femininity and may, in turn, help to destabilise the masculinised model of the subject. The thesis contends that mythology can act as a framework through which female authors can evaluate the gendered implications of the personal, public and meta aspects of mythmaking and storytelling more generally, by considering the time and context-bound production of both the source myths - from Homer to Ovid, Sophocles to Freud - as well as the revisions themselves. The Canongate Myths series also serves as a distinct source for considering the character of rewriting within a post-postmodern literary landscape. With all four texts indicating a preoccupation with questions of ‘truth’, ‘reality’, and ‘authenticity’, the Myths series contributes to ongoing critical discussions regarding the shifting critical climate of 21st-century literature. In particular, the texts selected from the series suggest an ongoing relationship with Modernism and its engagements with mythology; the thesis helps to advance current discussions pertaining to contemporary literature’s relationship with its Modernist past. These references, and each myth’s presentation of a distinct theoretical perspective, indicates that despite Lyotard’s assertions, we have not yet seen the death of all metanarratives. These self-consciously constructed novellas show that questions around metanarratives of patriarchy and mythology are ongoing and that feminist rewriting continues to have a relevant role to play in their dismantling

MacMillan, Harriet. "Stealing Fire: Political Re-Appropriation of Verse Drama in Tony Harrison's Prometheus and Liz Lochhead's Medea". FORUM. Vol 22. 2016.

Conference Papers:

"'Witty Desecration': The Canongate Myths Series and De/Constructions of Femininity". Re-Reading Myths at the Beginning of the 21st Century. Hyperion University, Bucharest. June 9th, 2016.

"Translating Femininity in the Canongate Myths". Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) Annual Conference: The Languages of the Book. Paris. July 18th-22nd 2016.

"Subversions of Feminine Mythological Archetypes in “Orphan Black” and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad".  Messenger to the Stars: Science Fiction and Fantasy International Conference. University of Lisbon. 16-19 November 2016.

"Funeral Flowers and Femininity: Brutal Botany in Angela Carter's Fairy Tales". Fireworks: The Visual Imagination of Angela Carter. Royal West of England Academy. 9-10 January 2017.

"Brutal Botany and Fateful Femininity in the Fairy Tales of Angela Carter". Deeper than Swords: Fear and Loathing in Fantasy and Folklore. University of Edinburgh. 19-20 January 2017.

"Disentangling Penelope's Web: Feminist Rewriting in the Canongate Myths Series". British Federation of Women Graduates. 10 June 2017.

"The Stories We Re-Tell to Make Ourselves Come True: Rewriting, Reception and Representation in the Canongate Myths ." Literary Studies Convention 2018. Australian National University, Canberra. July 4-8, 2018. 

"'Ness I Said Ness I Will Ness': Ecofeminism and Myth in Ali Smith's Girl meets boy'". Seduction Conference. Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. November 15-16, 2018.



"Lessons I Learned Torturing Tourists: Academic Applications for Storytelling". LLC Blethers. University of Edinburgh. February 2016.

"Feminist Rewriting in the Canongate Myths". GenderJam. University of Edinburgh. Feburary 2016.