Scotsman Obituaries: Ruby McCann, award-winning Scottish writer
Ruby McCann was well known and treasured in the Scottish writing community for her exuberance and endless enthusiasm for organising events and helping writers, especially inexperienced writers. Along with the Glasgow poets Jim Ferguson and Derek J Brown and the artist Louise Malone, she ran a monthly group for writers and musicians called The Cheeky Besoms which met at the Calton Bar, aka The Glasgow Literary Lounge, in the East End of Glasgow until curtailed by the pandemic. She would attract writers from all over Scotland to always ensure a lively mix. Situated in the heart of working-class Glasgow, the ambience was different from the more refined salons of the West End and the Southside.
Ruby (Robina) McCann was born in Glasgow but spent the first part of her adult life in the United States where, after graduating from Trinity University, Washington, she became involved with creative writing and taught and developed courses in the capital, Maryland and Virginia. She worked at elementary, middle and high school level as well as colleges and universities.
She eventually returned to Glasgow and worked in libraries and prisons, including HMP Perth, YOI Friarton and HMP Glenochil, where she offered courses in new writing and Scottish literature and developed a prison magazine.
She was chair of the Scottish Writers Centre from 2014-2017 and promoted Scottish writers locally, nationally and internationally. As well as continuing her connections with the United States, she linked up with writers in Portugal and organised a celebration in Glasgow of the poet Álvaro de Campos (aka Fernando Pessoa) with translations of his poetry into Scots. She also completed a postgraduate degree in Playwriting & Dramaturgy at the University of Glasgow and ran drama workshops for the homeless at Lodging House Mission, Glasgow.
Ruby’s versatility in forms of writing was exceptional. She worked in poetry, prose, drama, copywriting and scripted a film celebrating Paisley Central Library. She was also involved in an the Eilean Nam Bam project, an exhibition celebrating the extraordinary lives of ordinary women.
In March 2020, Ruby, along with Ian Spring, founded the independent small press Rymour Books; unfortunately, just before the pandemic restricted its activities. Nevertheless, Rymour Books were Country Finalists for Small Press of the Year in the British Book Awards for that year. The output of books covered a wider range than perhaps Ruby had been used to and she found herself reading titles in crime fiction and true-life crime, as well as mountaineering. However, she took this all in her stride. Her special forte was in social media, and she was at home with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and used these to great effect.
Unfortunately, after Ruby took ill early in 2021 she was no longer able take an active part in publishing. However, Rymour Books did manage to complete an anthology edited by her, Calton Ceilidh, which was published in November 2021 and contains the work of nearly 50 writers who had contributed to sessions at the Calton Bar. These included writers in English, Scots and Gaelic, with a smattering of songwriters as well as writers in poetry and prose. One of Ruby’s last projects, which, sadly, will be completed without her, was to edit a collection of poetry in Scots by three eminent writers from the North-east: Sheena Blackhall, Sheila Templeton and Lesley Benzie, Norlan Lichts. This received a Scots Language Award from The Scottish Book Trust in association with the Scottish Government. It will be published in April 2022.
It is probably fair to say that Ruby sometimes neglected her own writing in order to help others with their work. She won numerous awards including the Mary Boyle McCrory Award for Excellence in Creative Writing and her work appeared in various magazines and anthologies. She was a regular performer at Glasgow’s Aye Write festival in the city’s Mitchell Library.
In February 2022, Red Squirrel Press published a volume of Ruby’s own poetry, Sown Seeds & Spinning Souls. Fortunately, Ruby received it a couple of days before her death and was delighted to see it. Her own work was based on her native city of Glasgow but expanded beyond it into the wider areas of Scottish tradition. Here is an extract from her poem "Home Grown In Glasgow”, written for International Women’s Day:
I am woman
a sister of Glasgow
a pale skinned, freckled-faced Scot
a she-child fae the sou’ side
a native Glaswegian
Mither Glasgow shaped me
I am a child of many
born into this city
I am Pict, I am Celt
I am Irish, Scottish, and Glaswegian
a city born, tenement-bred lassie fae the Gorbals
raised up in housing scheme-slums
an Irish Catholic, Scottish Protestant, non-believer
spawn of violence, poverty and alcohol
social services, children’s homes, foster care
I am woman...
Ruby lived in the Gorbals and loved the old parts of Glasgow and its people. After years in the States she was back home with family and friends. She will be sorely missed by them and fellow writers, some of whom had the opportunity to visit her in her last few months in the Marie Curie Hospice to share poems and stories about the literary scene.
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