Nigel Pickard, novelist, poet and highly respected head teacher at Nottingham Academy’s Ransom Road site in St Ann’s, passed away on Tuesday 8 November after a short illness. He was forty-five. Nigel was born in West Germany in 1966. The son of a soldier, he spent his childhood spread out across Germany, Hong Kong, the South of England and Yorkshire before settling in Nottinghamshire.
I first met Nigel about two years ago at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio. He was always upbeat, encouraging and someone you instantly warmed to. The last time I met Nigel he gave me a copy of his first novel One which drew upon his personal experiences of raising a child with autism. He was particularly proud of the glowing endorsement on the cover from Alan Sillitoe. I remember him tapping Sillitoe’s words and shaking the book with genuine pride.
One was published by Jane Streeter as part of the Bookcase Editions series. She knew Nigel when he lived in Lowdham and through his children, Jake and Lily who were regular visitors to her bookshop. She said, ‘When Nigel approached me - extremely modestly – to see if I would read the manuscript of his novel, I was very honoured. I took it on holiday, started reading it late at night and read through until 4am. I figured that if I couldn’t put it down then other people would feel the same. It was an absolute privilege to be Nigel’s first publisher. The launch was typically Nigel – great fun, very lively, surrounded by friends. Nigel was always incredibly supportive of the bookshop and of Lowdham Festival, where he appeared several times.’
Nigel was also a highly respected teacher, and supported local literature through the First Story
project where students were mentored by local authors. Jane Streeter attended some of these sessions and said the students ‘performed with confidence and a real sense of achievement. Nigel’s support for them and encouragement for their writing was key to the success of the project. We have lost a special person.’
Education was clearly close to Nigel’s heart. His first teaching post was at Ilkeston School in the early 1990s where he rose to head of English before moving on as deputy head teacher at Hadden Park School. He’d only been in his current post at the Academy since the summer but it was long enough to have made an impression. Jackie Simpson, executive principal of the Academy, said Nigel was ‘passionate about creative writing and his passion rubbed off on the students – we have anthologies of the pupils' poems and he loved reading them. The quality that people will remember him for the most is his approachability – both staff and students thought a lot of him and he had a fantastic relationship with the students.’
Education was the inspiration for his second novel, Attention Deficit, which tracks the parallel experiences of a middle-aged man struggling with mid-life challenges and a disadvantaged, semi-literate teenager in the same school. His publisher Ian Collinson said that when he and other Weathervane Press authors went on a Vocal Books Tour, Nigel was enthusiastic and humble and had ‘a presence, a sort of magnetism that lifted the mood.’ He was eager to get involved in events, even if the band of authors ‘outweighed the audience!’ But most importantly on such occasions, ‘he made people laugh. What a great asset that is on a rainy October afternoon.’
When news of Nigel’s death spread, Ian Collinson met up with fellow Weathervane
author Megan Taylor at Broadway to begin the impossible business of trying to come to terms with the news. When they arrived ‘Rosie Garner was already there, drawn on impulse to this place where we had so often met up in the past. We decided one thing: the next Weathervane reading on 24 November, fittingly at Broadway Book Club would have to go ahead. We might not feel like it but we knew we had to do it. We asked Rosie, would she read for Nigel? Of course she would. Of course.’
‘We talked with a strange kind of urgency about Nigel’s work in progress: a finished collection of poems and a novel that was nearly done. We had to rescue it, hack into his laptop, get it published before it was lost, as if it was somehow about to evaporate. It reminded me of the story of Michael Donaghy, my favourite poet who also died in his forties suddenly, unexpectedly, and whose last words to his partner were the name of the folder that contained what became ‘Safest.’
Nigel was also a poet. His first collection Making Sense
was published by Shoestring Press
in 2005. Our poetry editor Aly Stoneman had asked him to be one of our guest poets at our last ever Shindig! at the end of November. Instead we will have to remember him in these words or by purchasing one of his books and supporting the local publishers which meant so much to him. Our condolences go out to his two children, fifteen-year-old Lily and eighteen-year-old Jake, and his partner, Jane.