Excerpt “A Degree of Uncertainty” Nicola K. Smith

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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…


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(From Chapter 9)

This extract features the character of Dawn Goldberg, the ambitious Vice Chancellor of Poltowan University, as she recalls her late father.

Her memory of that day was a blur, almost to the point that she sometimes questioned whether she had been in the car with her father at all. He had been taking her to her entrance exam at the nearby girls’ school, something he had perceived as a formality for the brilliantly academic Dawn – not that she possessed the same level of confidence in herself. Until then she had been unduly tainted by her mother’s unrelentingly gloomy outlook, believing that her father was, in contrast, overly ambitious on her behalf, riddling her with a desperate anxiety that she would fail him.

Bramley Hill was a twenty-five-minute journey, along roads that her father had driven numerous times. He loved to drive his green Cortina Mk4, purchased from his savings when it rolled off the production line the year before. She often helped him to wash and polish it on Saturday afternoons, and sometimes he would let her top up the oil and check the water. On occasion she would lie under the car next to him as he worked on the underside, revelling in the dark intimacy they shared, her mother tutting and berating her from the kitchen window. It was during these times that his faith in her began to permeate Dawn’s mind, nourishing her self-belief and feeding her courage; letting her dare to dream. He was a man of few words, often quiet and reserved, but he chose those few words carefully, and she treasured every one of them. How she had longed to know all his thoughts.

Other times he would stand with his head under the bonnet for hours, removing parts and replacing them, humming to himself. It was when he was at his happiest; it was when he was at his kindest.

She had insisted on sitting in the back seat that day. She wanted to do some last-minute, uninterrupted revision on her French verbs. Her father had sat silently in the driver’s seat, his oversized brown suit jacket looking faintly ridiculous on his narrow shoulders. He had bought it when he was promoted to factory manager some two years before. It had always been slightly too big for him, almost as if he thought the higher rank, the improved status, would in itself take up the slack. His hair had been slicked across his head in the way he wore it on important occasions. His very demeanour suggested he had finally arrived, that his life’s journey had been about this moment.


Author BioNK Smith

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.



Social Media Links  

Twitter: @NicolaKSmith

Instagram: Nicolaksmith740

Facebook: @NicolaKSmith74



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