Read an extract from How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney

Read the prologue from the uplifting tale of community How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney.


Jamie said: When I grow up I will be as tall as these trees and he sprawled fast like a salamander along a trunk. He climbed to the first branch when Eoin said: Whoa, Jamie, careful, and lifted the boy back to the ground.

Eoin, Jamie said, did you know that resin from trees makes arrow tops and they are so hard they can go right through you?

No, I didn’t know that, Eoin said.

Jamie nodded furiously then dragged his damp nose along the red sleeve of his anorak, saying: Did you know that trees turn into all the things?

Tall trees were Jamie’s current favourite: the Scots pine matured fast, lived for centuries and housed red squirrels. Jamie loved the colour red. He also loved patterns, books with dust jackets, cats, rain that came with wind, the cur­vature of objects, Edgar Allan Poe and rivers.

Jamie hated sunny days and the red sky that slung about the trees today was a good sign that a shower threat­ened. He liked rain pelting his face, soaking the layers of his clothes until they were sopping and heavy on his skin. Winter was Jamie’s favourite season, November his favourite month, for November was predictable: nothing happened but a heavy darkness covering the town like a weighted blanket, and the sideways rain was ferocious. Winter was bare and unburdened, leaves disappeared from the big oaks and the River Brú, an unspectacular river, grey on a grey day, blue when the sun shone, became so white on a day of blanket fog, you could not see the opposite bank, an infinite and uninhabitable space.

The white fog excited Jamie, like an infinity of ghosts (though he did not believe in ghosts) infinity excited him (he believed in infinity) and ferocious things terrified him, setting alerts flash­ing in the crevasses of his busy brain. Soon Jamie and Eoin passed the stone corbelled ice­ house. Its earthen domed roof was overgrown with tufts of grass and knotweed. Here, the river bends and carves into the horizon and Jamie liked to walk this far to get close to the estuary. And though he had never been on a boat to feel its energy beneath him, suddenly he was filled with an urge to do so.

They watched a man sail past in a currach and wave at them. Jamie considered whether the boat looked more like a black slug or an upside ­down sea monster. He set­tled on likening it to a pirate hat he had to wear last year at Terry’s sixth birthday party, just shortly after Terry arrived in Emory. The party hat’s thin elastic pinched Jamie under his chin until it burned his skin. He ran outside scream­ing and eventually sat in silence at the end of their garden, watching rumbling cement trucks roll past to new estates until Eoin came and rescued him. And in turn, rescued the party. Terry’s mam was saying: I am so sorry, and trying desperately to hug Jamie, his face mashed up against her. He spun on the heels of his wellies and said: Can we come back tomorrow and go swimming in the river, Eoin? I think if we swim out far, he said, busy waving his arms behind his head, we can get to America. I’ll wear armbands . . . Then suddenly he grabbed Eoin by the back pocket of his denims: Watch out, Eoin, your laces are open, and he thought about kids in school who called them lacers.
Thanks, Eoin said, now ssshhh or you’ll wake the river, and he put his finger to his lips and felt a sudden tightness across his chest. He unzipped his jacket and bent down to tie up his runners.

Jamie said: Rivers do not sleep, not the River Brú any­ ways and he blew his lips out and said Brú again. He liked the way it vibrated. It bursts sometimes, did you know that? My teacher said when that happens it makes a mess. And did you know that Brú means crushing? Jamie said, slamming the heels of his hands together. Did you know that? My teacher said that is what it means and that it is good because rivers are important, but also bad, because if it is strong, he dragged the nose again, it might crush fish and rocks and boats and that’s not good, way way not good if everyone is gobbled up. He looked at the river and said: Or crushed.

Eoin was distracted by the band of pressure across his chest.

And I looked up Brú in the irishenglishenglishirish dictionary and it means hostel too, Jamie said, stopping abruptly and pulling at some eyelashes catching his eye. We have never been to a hostel, Eoin.

Jamie spoke to Eoin at length about various scenarios in any given moment, yet for a chatty child, his teacher said he did not like being among other children for sus­tained periods of time. She also said that when he had something to say, it was important he spoke fast in that very moment. Eoin argued that this is the way of all chil­dren, but nevertheless monthly targets were drawn up: Turn ­Taking. Wait and Listen Time. Develop and Main­tain Peer Relationships. Still, Jamie was often captured by something and blown off-guard and there were numerous events in his life that while often beautiful and spontan­eous, were intense.

Eoin said: We’ve never been to a hostel because there’s many people crammed together in dorms. You’d hate it.

How would you know if I have never been? Jamie replied.

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