My thanks to Kim Nash for including me in the blog tour for Don’t Stop Me Now. For my turn today, I have an extract of Chapter One. Published by Bookouture, both e-book and paperback were available to buy on 22 March 2017
‘Poppy, have you got a moment?’ Dr Burley taps me on the shoulder as I wait outside his office. You better believe I have. I’ve been waiting for this moment for… ooh, let me see. The last decade? Two decades even. Perhaps it’s closer to forever. From my first spelling test in reception class to handing in my PhD thesis four weeks ago, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for; the moment I find out if I’m good enough, if it’s been worth it, if I’ve been accepted into the highest echelons of academic life. It’s a big moment. The moment.
‘I’m ready, Doc.’
He invites me in and closes the heavy mahogany door behind us.
‘It is with the greatest pleasure – and a healthy sprinkling of personal pride – that I inform you that you, Poppy Bloom…’ he shakes his chubby fists up and down like meaty little maracas, ‘are this year’s doctoral valedictorian of the psychology faculty of Banbridge University!’
He grabs me by the shoulders with his cocktail-sausage fingers and laughs with delight. Valedictorian: even more than I’d hoped for. WAY more than I’d hoped for. I knew I’d put in the hours, grafted hard, but the competition at this level is fierce. Half of my class is addicted to uppers, the other half to downers. Even in my very small circle, the stress, the pressure and the sheer volume of work took its toll. At least twice a week my boyfriend Gregory would have to be talked out of quitting at the final hurdle. Sometimes it would take hours to talk him down, sometimes whole days. And with deadlines and exam dates looming, whole days spent pressed up against a locked door were hard won. There were times he’d threaten to set his thesis alight or pack everything in and flee to a remote lighthouse off the Scottish coast so he’d never have to face a research paper, a professor or an exam ever again.
But we’ve made it.
In the end, we have all made it.
Here I am, relatively unscathed. And more than that, proud. Really bloody proud. Valedictorian. Holy shit.
‘I couldn’t have done this without you, Doc. Thank you so, so much.’ I give him a great big bear hug and see that he is beaming from ear to ear. Good ole Dr B, he really stuck with me. This achievement belongs to him as much as it does to me.
‘Poppy dear, I have loved every moment of it. You know that for me your thesis is a thing of great beauty; a work of hope and ambition; a real force for good in the world.’ He blinks back a little tear. ‘Forgive me, I must compose myself! We’ve got a big day ahead and I have more to tell you.’ He skips over to the small coffee table and whips off a tea cloth to reveal a bottle of port and a cheeseboard. ‘But first, indulge me, one last toast.’
I laugh. This is so fitting. My entire thesis was fuelled by cheese – lengthy discussions, debates, questions posed and solved over chunks of Cheddar and gallons of port in Dr Burley’s snug little book-lined den.
He pours us two fingers each and I pop a creamy yellow wedge in my mouth.
‘A girl’s Gouda do what a girl’s Gouda do,’ he chuckles.
‘Oh Doc, I Camembert bad cheese puns,’ I laugh back as we throw down our ports like they’re Jägerbombs.
He pours us another. ‘Now, this time a proper toast. In vino veritas.’
I bow my head in mock solemnity.
‘As the great father of psychology Carl Jung said, let us be loved for who we are, not just what we do. And what you choose to do next, Poppy, well, that’s the million-dollar question. Whatever it is, I hope it brings you not just what you want, but everything you need too.’
‘In that case, what I need is the fellowship,’ I tell him.
Dr Burley crosses his fingers. ‘Obviously there are no guarantees in this world, and the final decision lies with Dr Winters, as Dean, but let’s just say…’ he gives me a wry smile and drops his tone to a hush, ‘I am quietly confident.’
Quietly confident? That’ll do me.
We raise our glasses one last time as tutor and student and knock back our port.
Traditionally, the ‘first among firsts’ is offered a fellowship at the university –lodgings in Ivy Court, an office on the original grounds beside the Old Library and the chapel, not to mention the most amazing research, teaching and travel opportunities. A Banbridge fellowship; a prickle of heat travels up the back of my neck. Charlie Bucket, you know how I feel.
Dr Burley pours himself a third glass; I decline. Another would go to my head, and I’m a lightweight at the best of times. Burley holds his finger in front of his face.
‘One final matter I need to discuss with you, Poppy.’
I lean on the edge of the solid oak desk to steady myself. I can tell by the twitch of his lips that it’s something big. He leans in towards me. ‘Ninety-six per cent, Poppy. Ninety… six… per cent: you know what that means?’
I shake my head.
‘It’s a new record! You have smashed Dr Winters’ record.’ His purple tongue glides over his hairy upper lip. ‘Your mark is the highest we have ever awarded to a woman under thirty years old.’ Meaty maracas pump at his sides again. ‘Highest EVER.’
I pour myself that third port. It’s not even midday yet, but as far as days go, this one is playing an absolute blinder.
‘So the fellowship? You really think it’s a possibility?’ I ask.
‘I know what it means to you, my little prodigy; I kid you not when I say that I’m confident. How could they pass you up with this result? I think they’d be crazy, even for a bunch of psychologists, and that’s saying something.’ Smiling, he nods to the heavy wooden door. ‘If I was a gambling man, Poppy, I’d put my money on you calling the office across that corridor home, and slipping into a bright future as part of our Banbridge family.’
Home, family, Banbridge, bright, future. I hold my face; this is a like a haiku of everything I have ever wanted.
‘I so look forward to working alongside you as a colleague and as a friend – may you have many, many happy years surrounded by the sweet scent of leather, mahogany, fresh coffee, stinky Danish Blue and the occasional whiff of an undergraduate.’
This is actually happening. I’m going to live in Ivy Court. I’m going to share my thesis with the world. Dr Poppy Bloom will be engraved into the small brass plaque on the door beside Dr Burley’s. My mother will explode with pride. Frank will cry. My best friend Harriet will party and Gregory will be utterly blown away. My ex-dad may nod and turn up one corner of his mouth and claim that he knew best all along; that I belong tucked away in the safe, cosy enclave of academia and out of harm’s way. I steady my velvet graduation cap squarely on my head and blow the red tassel away from my nose. I hear the bells of the chapel chime the hour. This is actually happening. And it’s happening now.
About the author:
Colleen Coleman is an Irish-Canadian novelist. She is the winner of the much-coveted Novelicious Undiscovered People’s Choice Award launched to find the next ‘chick-lit star’. She spent over ten years working as a teacher of English and Philosophy before finally taking a deep breath, scrunching her eyes shut, putting her pen to paper and vowing not to lift it again until she wrote the words The End. As a result, her first novel was born. Colleen lives between London, Ireland and Cyprus with her very patient husband and very, very chatty twin daughters. Don’t Stop Me Now is her first book and will be released in March.