Born: April 5, 1941;

Died: April 4, 2023

Carl MacDougall, the novelist, playwright, critic, journalist and former president of Scottish PEN, was one of the leading members of the second renaissance of Scottish writing.

After a personal crisis in 1972, he found a new freedom and happiness and his first book, A Cuckoo’s Nest, was published shortly thereafter. From then, he was at the forefront of a revolution in Scottish writing, his novels hailed by writers including Iain Crichton Smith, Douglas Dunn, George MacKay Brown and other artists such as Billy Connolly. He edited The Devil and The Giro, the first collection of classic Scottish short stories, promoted the work of unfairly neglected Scots poets such as William Soutar and created and presented two popular television series, Writing Scotland and Scots: The Language of the People.

Carl’s career probably reached its height with three novels published by Secker and Warburg between 1989-96. Stone Over Water is the memoir of the fictional Angus McPhail, whose origins are mysterious, especially to himself. The Casanova Papers explores the way the historical facts of a life hide an elusive, saddened individual. In The Lights Below, Andy is an ex-prisoner who has to piece things together as he recovers from physical attacks, privation and mental illness. Andy is a characteristic MacDougall protagonist, finding things tough but persevering, trying to build a new existence in the face of hardship, his predicament reflected in his city.

Carl was also an organiser of Scottish writing. Words Magazine, established in Fife in 1977, was launched to disprove publishers’ belief that nobody in Scotland wanted to read or write short stories. Alasdair Gray’s Five Letter from an Eastern Empire, James Kelman’s Charlie and Agnes Owens’ Gentlemen of the West all appeared in its early editions. These tales, which became some of the best-known in Scottish literature, appeared alongside poems by MacCaig, Joan Ure, Alan Sillitoe and Susan Boyd, to name a few. They were illustrated by Gray, Alan Mason and Gerald Mangan.

Carl also worked extensively in education and the community to promote other people’s work. Indeed, the greatest part of his legacy may be the encouragement he gave others. He edited Cutting Teeth magazine in the early 1990s, held Writers in Residence posts across Scotland, won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2013 and taught regularly at universities despite having no formal qualifications himself, a fact which was a source of pride. Many writers who emerged in the early 21st century were mentored by him. He was a regular speaker at schools and conferences. As an editor, he went far beyond offering feedback to hopeful contributors, taking note of writers he considered promising and offering them encouragement throughout their careers.

Born in 1941, Carl’s first job was as a copytaker with The Daily Express, rising first to journalist, then a freelance writer. Later, he ran and administered Glasgow’s Glasgow: The Words and the Stones, an exhibition/performance event at The Arches theatre for the European City of Culture. His response to devolution was Painting the Forth Road Bridge (2001), which treated assertions of national identity with scepticism but still found a way towards national self-esteem.

He edited New Writing Scotland, the short story anthology, for three years, and became a familiar voice and face on radio and television. Meanwhile, he worked as fiction reviewer for The Herald and produced a constant flow of other publications about art, architecture, trade, history and, of course, literature. In later years, as fashions changed, he published less but broke through again in the new millennium with his short story collection Someone Always Robs the Poor (2017).

Carl loved food, laughter, any kind of social gathering, folk music (he co-wrote the song Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice with Ron Clark), films, exhibitions, good company and his family, especially his children, Kirsty and Euan, and his four grandchildren.

He was personally known to almost everyone in Scotland who works in writing, television, art, theatre or journalism. He helped many people in those fields to free their own creative abilities. He was no stranger to controversy, had no fear of conflict and always fought his corner. His life force was so strong that he seemed indestructible, and it is difficult to believe that his astonishing energy is gone. He may well have had more influence on the Scottish writing scene than any other author.

What has never been widely known are the details of Carl’s childhood and the challenges he faced during those years. The title of his new book – perhaps not his last, since he was composing follow-ups until his death – says everything about what made Carl MacDougall who he was. Already, Too Late: a boyhood memoir is scheduled to be launched in the near future. He is survived by his family, his friends and his many former students.

Ricky Monahan Brown, president of Scottish PEN, said Scottish PEN was fortunate to have Carl as its president during a difficult period for freedom of expression. "Carl was respected by the members of our colleague PEN International chapters and the people who worked with and for Scottish PEN. He will be sorely missed."

Jenni Calder, former president, said: "As president from 2016-20, Carl steered the organisation with measured authority. He took over at a challenging time, when Scottish PEN’s growing profile and increasing activity brought more work and considerable pressure. Scottish PEN won’t be the same without him."

Dave Manderson