Carl MacDougall (1941 - 2023)
It is a great sadness to hear of the passing of writer Carl MacDougall, someone who is, in no small part, responsible for you reading this. Back in the mid-80s myself and three other Cathkin High School pupils were taken to Stirling University to see and hear a Scottish writer read their work. I think we all initially saw it as the chance of an afternoon out of school - always a good thing - but the trip proved to be hugely significant for me.
That day Carl MacDougall lit the spark which would lead to my becoming obsessed with Scottish literature and culture, and I doubt there would have been a Scots Whay Hae! if he hadn't. Seeing, and more importantly hearing, this man reading his witty, moving, but never sentimental stories, all told with a certain swagger, was enlightening. Here was someone who sounded like me, my family and friends, reading a book which he had written about people I could recognise and identify with. It's become a cliché - with good reason - that if you don't recognise you and yours in the arts you don't feel you belong. In the Stirling Uni Campus I felt I could belong, and wanted more.
That reading would lead on to Kelman, McIlvanney, Banks, the Welshs (Louise & Irvine), Kennedy, Gray, Galloway, Strachan, Warner... you get the idea. And with each new author discovered, and every book read, I learned more about where I lived, those who lived there, and myself.
Years later I was lucky enough to introduce Carl as one of the speakers at the Spinning Scotland Conference at Glasgow University where I was a Postgraduate at the Scot Lit Department with people - lecturers and students - who would become lifelong friends, individuals who shared my passions. In that introduction I was able to recount the Stirling story to the room, and I'm so glad I was able to let Carl know what a life-changing moment that was and what it meant to me. And now I'm telling you for similar reasons.
Carl was a central figure in Scottish writing throughout his life, not only having his own work published, but also editing important books such as the seminal short story collection The Devil & The Giro, and co-editing others. He was President of Scottish Pen, an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, presented TV and radio shows about Scots' literature and language, and so much more.
If you want suggestions as to where to start reading Carl MacDougall then there is his most recent short story collection Someone Always Robs the Poor, his novels Stone Over Water and The Casanova Papers, or Writing Scotland: How Scotland's Writers Shaped the Nation which was the basis of the TV show of the same name. Or you could seek out a copy of Elvis Is Dead, which was the book he read from on that fateful day.
A contemporary of the great and good in Scottish writing, such as those mentioned above, Carl MacDougall was a wonderful and warm communicator who wore his knowledge and expertise lightly, always ready to converse rather than lecture. He will be greatly missed, but the literary legacy he leaves is substantial and important.