About

Birlinn Ltd – Passionately Independent

Birlinn Limited is an independent publishing house based in Edinburgh, Scotland. The company is built on traditions of the written and spoken word and is constantly looking to the future.

Established by Hugh Andrew (2022 recipient of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society Shackleton Medal for leadership and citizenship in publishing) in 1992, Birlinn publishes books under a number of imprints: 

Birlinn; Polygon; Arena Sport; BC Books; and John Donald.

The team at Birlinn are proud of the company’s reputation and prominence in Scottish publishing. We constantly challenge and nurture the talent of our authors and we push the boundaries of the imagination. We never rest in our search for what comes next. 

Stay a while, take a look around the site: look, listen, read.


What we stand for:

Open and honest, welcoming and inclusive

The long-standing aim of Birlinn Ltd is to create an inclusive staff team and nurture writers and illustrators who together reflect the diversity and stories of our nation and the audience who will read them. Whilst we sit at the heart of cultural life in Scotland, our authors are known far beyond, and we are proud of what we have achieved together since we started out in 1992.

In order to deliver on our aim, and as we move forward, we are working to remove barriers. We seek out new talent and new collaborations and welcome the opportunities they bring.

Who takes us forward:

Our leadership team is made up of a working Board – four women and three men – from a variety of educational and social backgrounds. We are not shy of embracing a wide range of influences.

None of our books would be published without the dedication of our small but highly skilled team. We are committed to providing an inclusive, supportive and flexible working environment which acknowledges that work is only one aspect of life, promotes equality and diversity, values the contribution of all staff members and encourages everyone, regardless of gender, age, religion, identity or experience, to grow and realise their potential.

A word on our own story:

Today’s impressive Polygon list, grew from radical beginnings in the 1970s ­– a time of vibrant interest in Scotland’s place in global politics, renewed confidence in our voice and a keen ear for those of other nations – and continues in that vein today, pushing boundaries, giving voice, inspiring conversation.

Students at the University of Edinburgh gave birth to Polygon as a small book-publishing platform and gradually it grew in reputation and importance. It was bought in 2002 by Birlinn Ltd. Today’s Polygon books are published by a team rooted in Scotland, renowned for innovative and independent publishing, shouting out to the world. 

Through the decades, the aim has always been to publish the leading voices of the day and we are proud to have at the heart of our publishing the foremost writers in fiction, literary non-fiction, poetry, music and drama.

Great names pepper our history from editorial initiatives to the writers and who made us:

A few from the back room…

  • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as student editor
  • Bill Campbell, the intrepid publisher who went on to build Mainstream Publishing
  • Neville Moir, until recently the publishing director of the imprint who had been with Polygon on and off since student days
  • Alison Rae, the gifted, trusted, unseen hands shaping the nation’s reading for the last thirty years ­– bringing rigourous editing, support, confidence
  • Edward Crossan, keeping poetry firmly at the heart of Polygon. Scotland’s only, active poetry editor.

To the best-seller charts with stories told, retold and reimagined, startling truths, accumulated lives

  • Alexander McCall Smith and his masterpieces, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Scotland Street and his stand-alone novels, short stories and poetry.
  • Stuart Cosgrove’s Soul Trilogy and social histories told through world- music and world-changing personalities
  • Jan Philip Sendker – best-selling writer of The Art of Hearing Heart Beats
  • Denzil Meyrick’s outstanding crime fiction, now more than 1 million sold
  • Muriel Spark’s Collected Novels –Dame Muriel redux for her home nation in her centenary year
  • Liz Lochhead – the beloved poet and playwright
  • Roseanne Watt, award-winning poet and creator of the magnificent and Moder Dy collection, built from the sight, sound and heartbeat of the land and the sea
  • The richly lauded biography, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin, written by his friend James Campbell
  • Norman MacCaig
  • The Darkland Tales series – bringing fresh interpretations of history through magnificent tellings in fictional shots, imbibed around the campfire – Denise Mina and Jenni Fagan
  • Sorley Maclean and through his work and those of his generation of greats, building the memories from which our nation can continue to grow
  • Edwin Morgan and the honour to publish the Twenties to mark the centenary of the first modern Makar.

To today’s writers, poets, illustrators, designers, editors and publishers.

Birlinn – Scottish and general UK interest books, from biography to history, military to politics, and Scottish Gaelic. The name comes from the old Norse word ‘birlinn’, meaning a long boat or small galley used especially in the Hebrides and West Highlands of Scotland in the Middle Ages.

Polygon – literary fiction and poetry, both classic and modern, by writers as highly acclaimed as Liz Lochhead, Agnes Owens, Norman MacCaig, Robin Jenkins, George Mackay Brown, Denzil Meyrick and the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith. High profile music journalists Stuart Cosgrove, Tom Doyle, Vic Galloway and Zoë Howe all publish non-fiction with Polygon.

BC Books – Bold Books for Curious Kids – writing and illustration of the highest quality for young readers throughout the UK and beyond. BC Books is dedicated to nurturing young readers and helping them discover a passion for reading that will last a lifetime.

Arena Sport – sports books for the general trade ranging from football and rugby to golf and cycling. These books have an international as well as national appeal.

Birlinn eBook – eBooks across all imprints. Birlinn has taken full advantage of technological strides forward in digital publication. We publish nearly all of our books in eBook format as well as the print editions which lie at the heart of our business.

John Donald – our academic books on all aspects of Scottish culture, from architecture to philosophy, specialising in Scottish history.

Publishing and the Environment

Birlinn is a large, dynamic, Scottish-based publishing house with international sales and reach. Large in Scotland may still be small elsewhere – we are certainly still small in terms of the biggest London and international-based companies and groups – but we take our responsibilities seriously nevertheless. As a team we have taken full advantage of technological strides forward in digital publishing over the last decade, but we are still in love with the physical book and we do all we can to make sure that our production values are second to none. Words, ink and paper make up our books. And although wood is a renewable resource when drawn from forests that are properly managed, we work hard to make sure that the paper we use is from these managed sources.  Like all publishers, booksellers, readers and writers, we are aware of the impact on our world of losing the forests that cover almost a third of the world’s surface. We are concerned at the rate of deforestation and are determined to reduce our impact.

So…
Wherever possible, we source our paper from sustainable sources, following the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines and using FSC Certified printers. The FSC certification can only be used by a company with a valid FSC Chain of Custody certificate – meaning that everyone in the supply chain to that company holds Chain of Custody Certification. FSC ‘provides global standards for forest management, which cover environmental, social and economic aspects. The well-being of forest communities and ecosystems is as important as replacing trees and FSC is the only wood certification scheme endorsed by WWF, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust’. When it is not possible to obtain FSC Certified papers we apply the same high standards in our search for substitutions.

In the office
We have moved to fully recyclable packaging for all media copies of our books distributed directly from the office. We have recycling facilities for plastics, paper and card and encourage all staff to use these facilities. We do not use single use cups in the office or at our hosted events.
For our authors
Wherever possible and practical we encourage our authors to travel by train to events and festivals.