It’s true that when we start a project we have little idea of who we’ll interview, whose stories we’ll document and what shape our final artwork will take. It’s an exciting yet daunting process; for me it’s literally a massive blank page. And although it’s scary, I do kind of love it because it means I say no to nothing. Every ‘Oh, you must talk to my friend!’ becomes a possibility, a story about to be unearthed, and is a step closer to finding something to fill that blank page.

So, when the husband of an old friend got in touch to say he knew someone who might be interested in our project, I was ready. ‘Of course,’ I typed in the LinkedIn message box. ‘Please do put me in touch. Can I interview you?’

He said no thanks. But that’s how I met Hannah. We talked over zoom at an hour which suited both of our time zones because she was in Vancouver and I was in Glasgow and we were joined by Mitch. So there we were, three heads on the screen, Glasgow–Vancouver via Cumbernauld.

Hannah hasn’t lived in Cumbernauld for several decades but she has visited regularly each Spring since the Covid-19 travel rules were relaxed. Lifted straight from the transcript of her interview, here is what she told us:

‘I was born in Malawi. Back in the 1980s they were giving scholarships to Malawians who wanted to study in Scotland, and that was my father. We moved to Cumbernauld when I was three years old, and we initially lived in Carbrain. I lived there until I was turning six. After that we moved to Ravenswood. We moved back to Malawi just after primary school. I went to a Scottish high school there. Then we moved to Vancouver. I was hoping to go back to Scotland, actually, because I still thought it was my home, and I still missed it.’


Hannah Mondiwa alongside her mum and baby sister in the Town Centre in the 1980s.


‘The Town Centre seemed to be a very important part of my life,’ she said. ‘We were there quite a lot. There are lots of pictures of me as a three-year-old with my younger sister. The Town Centre just seemed to be a good place to take pictures, I guess,’ she said and promised to dig out the photos and send them to me.

She talked with fondness about the library, Santa’s Grotto at Christmastime, the smell of coffee on the floor that housed the Town Hall, ‘aunties’ from St Mungo’s church who looked after her and her three sisters while her mum did her shopping, a friend’s mum who worked in the Kestrel pub and fed the girls at lunchtime, comics, magazines and sweeties, iced raisin bread from Greggs. Gateway. Farmfoods. What Everyone Wants.

Not only could Hannah remember names and shops and floorplans with unnerving accuracy, she could identify and pin emotions and feelings onto them. The thoughts and feelings she shared with us have come to define for me the connection some people have with the New Town.

‘Have you heard of psycho geography?’ she asked us. ‘I do a lot of reading on psycho geography. Thinking about how place can affect your psychology and how you see the world. Because obviously Cumbernauld has affected how I see the world. When I moved to Blantyre in Malawi, I was expecting it to be a little bit like Cumbernauld. Like where is the Town Centre? I should be able to walk here and there on my own! All those expectations.’

Even through the computer screen I could see a change in Mitch. ‘I have to say, psycho geography is a big part of what influences these.’ He pointed to one of his unfolded Dialectograms. ‘You’re the first person I’ve talked to on a project who’s heard of psycho geography.’ Hannah told him:

‘I think a lot about connection to place and why we have a connection to place. As a child my world was very small. It was definitely concentrated around the Town Centre. But I didn’t think of it as small. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I became so connected to Cumbernauld.’

As the interview unfolded, as well as the stand-alone memories and details Hannah shared with us, she revealed a rather lovely story – one with a beginning, a middle and an end – which the writer in me seized on. I had an idea for an essay. Gold.

We ended the interview with promises to keep in touch. I told Hannah I’d type up her interview and send her the transcript. We arranged to meet when she visits in Spring so that Chris can take her portrait. She said she’d send me names and contact details of people she thought would be interesting for us to speak with.

And so the chain goes on: the proffered names, the promise of stories, the interviews in the diary, the filling up of the blank page. It feels exciting, fortuitous, encouraging, and not so daunting. The success of projects like ours rely on the generosity of our participants along with a sprinkling of good luck. We were lucky to have met Hannah and I hope we do her memories justice.