CARL MacDougall was born April 5, 1941, and died April 4, 2023. He lost his father when he was only six: Archibald MacDougall was hit by a train while crossing the tracks on his way home.

After that, Carl and his mother, Marie MacDougall, were supported by the wider family and Carl grew up mainly in Springburn, Glasgow, but spent some seasons in the Highland hotels where his mother worked, in Oban and Fortingall.

So although there was often a lot of Glasgow’s gallus humour in Carl, fast-thinking and wordplay, a quizzical smile and a half-raised eyebrow, there was also a trace of the north and west, a sense of the tidal shores and the endless leave-taking and returning of ferries, and of an ancient Scotland, the nation’s oldest living traditions – these were in his character, too.

He was a confidant, jovial, companionable, graceful, eloquent, witty and perceptive presence, but there was also a poignancy at times, a sadness, a sense of the unanswerable.

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After the independence referendum in 2014, he told me: “I voted yes, of course. I had to. I could do nothing else. But I’m still not certain what it was I was voting for.” If only more folk had his courage and honesty.

His childhood is the subject of his new book, poignantly entitled Already Too Late: A Boyhood Memoir, to be published by Luath Press in June 2023. Inevitably, it will be carefully observed and crafted, warm and funny but, even more than intended now, heartbreaking.

His forte was a caring immediacy. That is, he could think, write and talk with a sharp fluency that was always characterised by a thoughtful sensibility and a caring heart.

He was tall, slim, could look slightly piratical but also helplessly benign, and he moved fluently and sensitively.

That sensitivity and fluency was perhaps what made him such a good dancer, singer, and songwriter. In the 1960s, he co-wrote the song “Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice” with Ron Clark, which achieved greatness by becoming anonymous and being performed by folksingers of all shapes and sizes for decades.

It’s still in the repertoire. “Oot o’ the East, there came a hard man – Oho, ho – a’ the wey frae Brigton – Ohoho ho – Glory Hallelujah! – Cod liver oil and the orange juice!” Nobody but Carl could have characterised life in the Foreign Legion as “Sahara under a camel” or suggested such strength, poignancy and resilience in the character of “Hairy Mary, the Floo’er o’ the Gorbals.”

He met and fell in love with Fiona MacDougall, who died January 4, 2023, and they had two weans, Euan and Kirsty. Carl spoke of them both with great love and fondness and evident pride, and he loved his grandchildren dearly.

After he and Fiona separated in the late 1990s, he lived and worked across Scotland, including positions as writer-in-residence at universities (despite never having been to one!) and taking the writer’s residency at Soutar House in Perth, and at Brownsbank Cottage, near Biggar.

It is appropriate that these positions place him in the company and legacy of two of his literary heroes and two of Scotland’s finest modern poets, William Soutar and Hugh MacDiarmid. But Carl’s literary stature is not that of a poet.

He was a storyteller. And a novelist, playwright, journalist, and an energiser of slow institutions. Appropriately, he won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2013. And as an editor and encourager, whether through writing or in person, he was a great enabler of others.

In recent years, Carl had lived with his long-term partner, Heather McCabe, in Fife, but he kept roots in Glasgow and never really lost sight of the city. A couple of years ago, he recounted to me with enormous pride and delight the story of how Heather, after a long, long day’s work as a vet, was phoned by a friend who had also only just finished her day’s work.

They were both tired out and ready to head home but decided they should get to the polling booth before it closed, to vote. And they did, only just in time. And the next day it was revealed that the SNP candidate had been returned by a two-vote majority.

I asked Carl to write that up as a story himself, but I don’t think he ever did. I can imagine how he’d have done it though: you wouldn’t know the outcome or where the tale was taking you, until the end. That was one of his great skills – letting the story encompass its own unpredicted directions. He did this in fiction and in life. Both had their governing principles.

In all his writing, the essential element is a quality of patient understanding. A Cuckoo’s Nest (1974) and A Scent of Water (1975) are charmed and eloquent collections of stories ostensibly for children built on traditional tales, lavishly, comically and sometimes scarily illustrated by Alasdair Gray.

The short stories in Elvis is Dead (1986) centre on Glasgow life in its variety of strange capacities. The Casanova Papers (1996) begins in Glasgow with a widower taking stock of his situation after the death of his wife, his own sense of life’s worth and his own mortality, his children, their lives, and his relationships with them.

Then he moves to Paris where he discovers a set of manuscripts relating to Casanova, which takes the narrative in entirely unexpected directions.

The One-Legged Tap Dancer (1981) is both funny and serious, presenting the efforts of a working-class man simply to earn a living. Stone over Water (1989) tells of Angus MacPhail, conforming to work while his adoptive brother attempts to rescue Scotland by robbing banks. Lightly written, it gently deepens a sense of family, social and political responsibilities, the tensions and balances of comfort and risk.

AT the heart of the novel The Lights Below (1993), in a vivid Glasgow cityscape, a sensitive and resilient central character, who moves through a grim tale culminating in an entirely credible sense of redemption. Andy Paterson, an innocent man imprisoned on drugs charges, is released from jail, and sets out to discover who framed him.

It’s a classic “noir” structure, brilliantly handled.

Of the stories in his most masterly collection, Someone Always Robs the Poor (2017), style is the key. This is not to say style overtakes substance, characters, relationships, or situations but rather that the form of address in each story is perfectly matched to its subject.

The stories require the reader’s patience but offer ample reward.

The words work quietly, unobtrusively, because the drama and tension (and there’s plenty) come from what’s being written about. When things go beyond the power of adequate exclamation, you have to make good use of persistence.

In “Is this the place you now call home?” the plot twists and develops, taking you somewhere different from where you thought you were going, yet delivering the perfect conclusion.

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The last piece of writing he published, I believe, was an essay on short stories for the Association for Scottish Literature’s online magazine The Bottle Imp (No 30, August 2022). He took that essay seriously and discussed it with me closely. It’s worth rereading and going back to.

He says there: “Stories are almost always more than the sum of their parts and can carry a collective consciousness that informs us about ourselves.” They carry “life in all its variances with our twin identities of voice and place”. And that’s a crucial identification: “voice” and “place” or language in speech or writing and geography, locality, terrain, in whatever region or village or town, archipelago or heartland, city, farm or wild moor or coast.

This has built up a vast corpus of material that created a multi-faceted identity across the entire nation. “I seem to have spent most of my life arguing that we are a nation who need to be educated about ourselves,” he writes.

He praises the writers-in-residence schemes, sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council (as was) and a university, college or local authority, where an appointee could start up writers’ groups “where people who otherwise had no access to their birthright and had since school considered themselves excluded from any kind of writing, quickly found a voice.”

And publishing followed from that. The anthology Carl edited, The Devil and the Giro (1989) was to have been followed by another, prioritising women writers, but that didn’t happen.

Before that, Carl had edited the groundbreaking magazine Words, two issues a year from 1976 to 1980. The funder, Kirsty Adam from the Arts in Fife, supported the magazine’s existence and was justified by having an educational element by publishing work by pupils in Fife schools.

This successfully secured a circulation base. But the inclusion of more established writers ensured another readership – Alan Spence, John Herdman, Norman MacCaig, Tom Healy and Tom Leonard.

There was fiction from Alasdair Gray and Archie Hind, “simply because I was friends with them both and asked for contributions”.

There were stories by James Kelman and Agnes Owens and the first outing of one of Edwin Morgan’s best poems, “Cinquevalli”. The magazine also included work by Fife artists, the occasional Bud Neill cartoon and “anything quirky that came along”.

Carl draws his essay to a close with questions – where are the voices now? “Where are the people who danced in George Square? Have the fat bullies who kicked food around the Square the evening after the referendum result won? Where are the voices of protest against the status quo?”

He worked as a co-editor on the Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS), now the Association for Scottish Literature (ASL), annual anthologies, New Writing Scotland (2010-13) and with Douglas Gifford to produce Into a Room: Selected Poems of William Soutar (2000).

This had been preceded by his literary and cultural history: Painting the Forth Bridge: A Search for Scottish Identity (1999). The book is leavened by anecdotes. He tells of his leaving a similar position at another university, after being summoned to an audience with what’s termed these days as a “line manager”.

He was told he needed to forget about workshops and readings and write a bestseller set in Stirling that would bring tourists’ money to the university, or to bring in Catherine Cookson or Jeffrey Archer to do a guest turn. (Carl pointed out that at the time Cookson was bed-ridden and he wouldn’t invite Archer because Archer would probably come.) He was then asked to write “a pageant to be performed when the Christmas lights were switched on”. At the time, Carl needed that job.

He handed in his notice and left.

Carl was an advocate. He was chief fiction editor for The Herald newspaper back in the days when it carried in-depth reviews of works of real value that could be justly called “literary”. He was President of Scottish PEN, from 2016-21, the international organisation for the rights of writers, especially valuable in states where censorship is brutally enforced, but an essential association for endorsing and enhancing the global company of writers of all kinds, from all social strata.

He was made an Honorary Fellow of the ASLS in 2017 and spoke persuasively and insightfully at its Schools Conference in 2013 on a favourite topic, “The Short Stories of Iain Crichton Smith”.

His assembled thoughts for his role in the Scottish Writing and Publishing Parliamentary Cross-Party Working Group were crystalised in a sparkling, passionate essay “Notes for a Manifesto” published online by the ASL at: Here, he complements the Inuit peoples’ 50 words for snow with more than 50 Scots words for drunkenness, conclusively demonstrating the language’s undeniable utilitarian value!

For many years through the 1980s and 1990s, Carl wrote and presented TV shows, working for STV in the 1980s and BBC 2 in the 2000s. His series Scots: The Language of the People and Writing Scotland: How Scotland’s Writers Shaped the Nation were groundbreaking popular presentations to as broad an interested public as could be addressed of the sheer variety and distinctiveness of the Scots language and of Scottish literature.

In one sense, this is the answer to Carl’s question about what he had been voting for in 2014. Not the shameful spouts, greedy squirrelling or dispiriting droning of so many politicians, but a nation where creative arts, language at large, the storyteller’s world, was paramount and pervasive, a medium in which one could live and breathe deeply, freely and enjoy each person’s movement through the air.

We were together in Orkney every midsummer for a number of years, while Carl was Creative Writing tutor there and I was an external examiner for the University of the Highlands and Islands. We travelled together, had meals and conversations, going back to the same hotel in the long, long twilight evenings.

Once, walking through one of the UHI buildings, we both paused at the same time for no reason, looking out through the tall window, looking over the landscape and seascape, the gently undulating, breezy green fields and farms, the sea, the inlets running up the shore and the streams running down. “Do you think,” I said, “that if you lived here all the year round, you would simply get used to this, that you’d take it all for granted?” There was a long pause. “No,” Carl said. “You would never take it for granted.”

The pleasure and the replenishment would always be there, freely given.