A Degree of Uncertainty written by Nicola K Smith, publisher Compass Publishing, is available NOW in ebook and paperback format. The ebook is also included in the kindleunlimited scheme.
A Cornish town is slowly fracturing under the weight of its growing university…
Prominent businessman, Harry Manchester will not stand by and see his beloved hometown turned into a student ghetto — and many residents and students are relying on him.
But Harry’s stance sets him on a collision course with Dawn Goldberg, formidable Vice Chancellor of Poltowan University, who is set on doubling its size and cementing her career legacy.
As Harry’s marriage falls apart, his business comes under threat, and fellow traders accuse him of halting progress, Dawn is battling her own demons, not least the need to live up to her late father’s expectations and erase the memory of his tragic death.
There can only be one victor in this battle for the soul of a close-knit community…
I am so pleased to be involved in the blogtour celebrating and promoting the launch of Nicola K Smith debut novel: A Degree of Uncertainty. I have the pleasure of sharing an extract.
A DEGREE OF UNCERTAINTY by Nicola K Smith
(Extract from Chapter 3)
This extract shows Vice Chancellor, Dawn Goldberg in her element as she sets out her plans to push through the expansion of Poltowan University.
Dawn Goldberg took four deliberate paces towards the corner of her well-appointed office, over-looking the gardens between her and the digital animation studios. In the middle of the lawns, white-tinged under a thin covering of frost, stood a huge statue of a naked man, paint brush held over an imaginary easel, chin angled, deep in thought.
She had commissioned it the year before from a former student who had recently won a prize from some well-respected arts body looking to recognise future talent. It had caused quite a stir, and not only within the walls of the university. The Poltowan Post had featured it on its front page under the headline ‘Naked Ambition?’, and run it alongside a photo of a smiling Dawn Goldberg with the quote, “It is art, not porn.” The furore that followed had only served to highlight the ignorance of so many people, she thought, who worked themselves into an irrational frenzy when presented with the magnificent male form.
She looked at it, a seagull perched audaciously upon the statue’s head, and smiled. She liked to call it Michael, for reasons she could not now recall. The statue was angled in such a way that she could fully appreciate his ample manhood, almost as if he were standing there for her pleasure alone. She would often practise her speeches on him, looking to him for some sign of en-dorsement, which he invariably gave.
She twisted around to face the three actual men sitting before her, tossing her head in the shaft of winter sunlight and imagining how the newly applied golden-red colours – “bur-nished gold” her hairdresser had called the shade – would be lending her an almost angelic hue. Her father’s photograph gazed up at her from the wooden frame on her desk, his characteristically am-biguous expression suggesting that he too thought the men in front of her were buffoons, hardly worthy of her time, and certainly not deserving of her patience.
Slowly she began to launch into what she called her “future strategy”, outlining her plans to win over the people who mattered, changing hearts and minds. It was, after all, only a mat-ter of time before her plans for the enlargement of the university received the go ahead.
Andy Hornblower shifted in his seat, mouth visibly twitching, occasionally opening for a few seconds before slowly shutting again like a soft-closing bin. Each time his fat lips threat-ened to utter a sound, Dawn raised her voice slightly, sometimes lifting her finger in the air as if leading a dog obedience class.
The other two men listened enraptured, the angle of their heads mimicking hers as her curls danced around her bespectacled face. Andy cleared his throat during one of Dawn’s rare pauses for breath, summoning the courage to speak.
‘I’ve prepared some detailed plans along the lines of the actions you suggested, Dawn.’ He raised the carefully bound document he had been clutching in his lap. ‘I’ll leave it with you, but I think you’ll find it adds a bit of meat to the bone, shall we say, dots the i’s, crosses the t’s. And I’ve provisionally scheduled a meeting with Carrie Menhenick at Poltowan Council, she’s—’
‘I don’t think that will be necessary Andy.’ Dawn spun around to see the seagull hop down to Michael’s nether regions, its tiny eyes darting left and right as if it knew it was pushing the boundaries of social acceptability.
‘I have just outlined exactly how the manifesto will take shape, and we needn’t waste our time on the local Council. It’s the County Council who will have the final say. Luke, you get on to the local press, gauge the mood, see what they’re planning. Jowan, you research every pos-sible line of objection and find a rebuttal as to why it’s unsound. Andy, you oversee both and report back to me once we have a watertight strategy. I, meanwhile, am leveraging my contacts in the na-tional press and at the County Council.’ She rolled the l seductively and brought her hands together as if in prayer when she’d finished speaking.
‘I really do think you should reconsider holding a meeting with Harry Manchester…’ muttered Andy.
‘I saw him last week,’ said Dawn, her voice rising an octave. ‘And I don’t need to see that loathsome gawping man from that snivelling little industry again.’
‘But, Dawn, we should remember he wields considerable local influence, and after contriving to let him find out about our expansion plans on live TV, I think it might be wise to…’
Dawn crossed the office floor quickly, her sturdy legs striding into the shadows where Andy sat. Her painted finger was held aloft, her eyes wide. ‘And I rather think that this meeting is closed.’ She paused for a moment after she’d made her announcement, relishing her abil-ity to bring instantaneous quiet upon the room.
‘One other thing—’ Andy said, exhaling as if a captor had finally removed tape from his mouth. Dawn glared down at him, her finger still raised. He seemed unaware of quite how close to the wind he was sailing. ‘Dave White has written an open letter to Kernow Click. It’s online now. Might be a good idea for you have a look – in case you want to respond?’
She glowered at him.
‘When I was in the police,’ he continued, ‘it was always considered best practice to—’
‘You are not in the force now, PC Hornblower.’
Jowan coughed. Luke studied the worn-down heels of his shoes.
‘Well, I wasn’t actually a PC, as you know, I worked—’
‘Off you go, gents. No time to waste.’
Dawn sat behind her desk as the last of them filed out. It pleased her to see Luke and Jowan’s admiring glances, their eyes dipping towards her cleavage as she spoke. Sometimes she wondered if this was how an actor felt, strutting across the stage in front of a worshipful audience, everybody hanging on their every word, eyes unable to disguise the marvel they felt at the genius before them.
Nicola K Smith is a freelance journalist contributing to a number of titles including the The Times, Guardian.co.uk, BBC.co.uk, BBC Countryfile and Sainsbury’s Magazine. She lives in Falmouth, Cornwall, a town which inspired A Degree of Uncertainty, although it is set in the fictional Cornish town of Poltowan.
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