I haven’t been able to stay in with many authors this year although you’ll find some of those posts here. Today, however, I’m delighted to welcome Nicola K. Smith to stay in with me to tell me all about her debut novel.
Staying in with Nicola K. Smith
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Nicola. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I have brought my debut novel, A Degree of Uncertainty. I am a journalist based in Falmouth, in Cornwall and the last few years have seen the town’s art college grow into a full blown university, and the student population has bloomed exponentially. While the students have certainly added more colour and character (not to mention interesting fashion trends) to the town, as well as boosting the economy, the shift in dynamics has inevitably caused some tensions…
I imagine it has! Tell me more…
My novel was prompted by overhearing mutterings in local cafes, conversations (and heated discussions!) with friends, and letters in our famous local newspaper, the Falmouth Packet. There are two sides to every story, and it was a book just crying out to be written!
That’s very true. So, what can we expect from an evening in with A Degree of Uncertainty?
It is a character driven novel. While it explores a Cornish community that is increasingly divided by students — and is further under threat by the ruthless Vice Chancellor’s proposal to increase student numbers by 3,000 more — it is very much about people. It explores love, ambition, betrayal and loyalty.
That sounds really good. Is there anything you’d like to say about those characters?
Harry Manchester is the anti-hero of the tale. He is born and bred in the Cornish town of Poltowan and he vows to protect the community from being overrun by students, and to stop too many houses being bought by greedy landlords. Many residents are relying on him to protect their town, their way of life. Yet Harry is grappling with a number of additional problems, not least trying to reconcile himself with his broken marriage, and concern for his estranged wife, Sylvia, who suffers from depression.
Harry goes head-to-head with Dawn Goldberg, the sassy and ambitious Vice Chancellor who is determined to carve out her career legacy and make her late father proud. Dawn regularly seeks counsel from the statue of a naked man outside her office window, as well as the photo of her father on her desk, both of whom offer condemnation and encouragement in equal measure. As Dawn’s back story unfolds, we come to realise that behind her formidable exterior there are a number of frailties.
I think I’d rather like to see that statue Nicola. I may have a question or two of my own to ask it!
There are several twists and turns as relationships develop and unlikely friendships form – not least between Harry and Ludo, a charismatic Irish student.
Holistically, the story looks at how a community under threat brings out the best — and the worst — in people.
I think A Degree of Uncertainty sounds like my kind of book Nicola. I love character driven narratives and these characters certainly sound colourful!
What else have you brought along and why?
I have brought Queen’s Greatest Hits. Harry Manchester is a frustrated musician and a huge Queen fan. His Bohemian Rhapsody ringtone interrupts his live TV interview at the start of the book, and there are several times when he seeks solace and inspiration from a rousing Queen song when in times of need…
I’m quite partial to a bit of Queen myself. Hang on a minute and I’ll just set this up to play before we chat further…
I have also brought a bottle of Caspyn Cornish Dry Gin (and of course a bottle of tonic and half a cucumber). This wonderful tipple is produced in west Cornwall, near the fictional town of Poltowan, and it is Harry’s go-to drink… Make sure you garnish it with cucumber though! Harry likes his just curling around the rim… Cheers!
Regular Linda’s Book Bag readers will know I can’t tolerate wine as it makes me ill since I had whatever it was that caused me to pass out and hallucinate all over the place, but gin, however, that’s another story! Cheers Nicola, and thank you for staying in with me to chat all about A Degree of Uncertainty.
A Degree of Uncertainty
A Cornish community is divided by its rapidly growing university. Some residents see it as progress. Others see it as a threat to their town, an end to everything they know.
Ambitious Vice Chancellor, Dawn Goldberg vows to keep expanding Poltowan University, while businessman, Harry Manchester is committed to saving his beloved community from being overrun by students and greedy landlords. But Harry is also grappling with his broken marriage, while Dawn is consumed by making her late father proud.
It’s town versus gown. And something’s got to give…
About Nicola K. Smith
Nicola K Smith is a freelance journalist based in Cornwall. She contributes to a range of titles including The Times, guardian.co.uk, Coast magazine and BBC Countryfile. She has just written her first novel, inspired by life in her home town of Falmouth, and set in a fictional Cornish town…