Cumbernauld: Meet Mike Nicholson

Ahead of a series of special workshops with the young and old of Cumbernauld, we asked our three resident artists to introduce themselves and share their thoughts on how they’d approach the questions they’ll bring to local people. First up is Mike Nicholson, a writer of books for kids who’ll be working with pupils from several Cumbernauld primary schools.

Mind’s Eye

I’m Mike Nicholson, an Edinburgh-based children’s author who enjoys writing for others to read, as well as working with others to create their own stories.

It took me a while to get into writing. I had worked in a few jobs with different charities before I twigged that what I really love is playing around with words and forming stories; the creative process gives me a buzz. Some of the writing I enjoy is in creating the types of stories I loved when I was growing up; Tintin, Dr. Who and Scooby Doo. I’m a big fan of secret passageways, memorable baddies, and meddling kids facing cliffhanger endings. Quite often it’s the place I’m in or the things I see around me that give me inspiration for stories. There’s no shortage of that in Edinburgh, a place I love for its nooks and crannies, its parks and coastline, its grand old buildings and its bikepaths which I’m often on. But I’ve found working with other people in writing workshops that even the most ordinary environments or objects can lead to great stories.

I’m really looking forward to being in Cumbernauld in 2017 with the task of working with primary school classes to write stories based on their town. Just as I’ve been inspired by the places around me, I’m looking forward to hearing what stories Cumbernauld might trigger for people. I’ll be getting people to think about where they live; places they might be in often and may even take for granted. I want to look at these in a new way and then watch stories emerge.

“It’s amazing how the places where you live become engraved in your memory.”

I find that I can think back clearly to where I grew up – a big old house on a busy road in Eskbank, half way between Dalkeith and Bonnyrigg. My immediate community were the houses along our road, particularly the ones between where we lived and Watson’s newspaper shop. Even in a short stretch of main road like that there were landmarks; the pine trees across the road, the distant chimney of the carpet factory, the camper van at number 57, the postbox in the wall in Muirpark, not to mention the people behind each of the front doors.

All of these are still clear in my mind today even though only the postbox and the doors remain. It’s amazing how the places where you live become engraved in your memory.

What I really liked about where I lived was that a short walk took you past hedgerows and fields to a disused railway and onto Newbattle woods and the River Esk. Once again that area has completely changed now. In fact the railway has now re-opened so everything is fresh and new. But I can still picture in great detail each of the paths I explored.

Opening your mind’s eye like this is how I would encourage people to start their own imaginary walk around Cumbernauld. You can do this whether you are sitting in a café, on a bus or in an armchair at home.

“Take a fresh look at what Cumbernauld has carved into your memory and take a moment to write about where you live.”

If you started such a mind’s eye walk through Cumbernauld, where would it begin? What’s your reason for choosing that starting point? Is it an important one for everyone or just somewhere that has particular meaning for you?

Where does the walk take you and what are the landmarks along the way, big or small? Do any of these have special significance or even your own made-up names for them? In the woodland I used to visit there was the ‘Bear Tree’. Only our family knew it as that.

As you go on your walk what else do you see? Strong memories that merit a plaque to let everyone know, or things that really need to change to make the place better?

If you sat for a moment on this imaginary walk and watched the world go by, who would go past? Are there conversations with neighbours or strangers? Are things fast paced or laid back? How does the atmosphere make you feel?

I can remember walking along the disused railway near our house in winter time as the frosted leaves underfoot crunched along with the rattle of the stone ballast where the tracks used to sit. Sometimes it felt like I shouldn’t really be there, particularly if I’d climbed around the fence which blocked off the high viaduct. But creeping around gave the reward of the best view and a feeling of danger.

Quite often a walk like this can refresh your view of somewhere you have become used to and you can have a rich source of material for developing a story, whether that be the memory of an incident on a street corner, the strange mark on a wall you’ve always wondered about or the house with the garden full of gnomes.

So why not take a mind’s eye walk at the start of 2017. Take a fresh look at what Cumbernauld has carved into your memory and take a moment to write about where you live.

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