Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. With tenderness and verve, Elaine Feeney tells the story of how one boy on a unique mission transforms the lives of his teachers, and brings together a community

Jamie O’Neill loves the colour red. He also loves tall trees, patterns, rain that comes with wind, the curvature of many objects, books with dust jackets, cats, rivers and Edgar Allan Poe.  

At the age of 13, there are two things he especially wants in life: to build a Perpetual Motion Machine, and to connect with his mother Noelle, who died when he was born. In his mind, these things are intimately linked.  

And at his new school, where all else is disorientating and overwhelming, he finds two people who might just be able to help him.  

The Booker Prize 2023
Published by
Harvill Secker
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Elaine Feeney

Elaine Feeney

About the Author

Elaine Feeney is an award-winning poet, novelist, short story writer and playwright from the west of Ireland
More about Elaine Feeney

The interweaving stories of Jamie, a teenage boy trying to make sense of the world, and Tess, a teacher at his school, make up this humorous and insightful novel about family and the need for connection. Feeney has written an absorbing coming-of-age story which also explores the restrictions of class and education in a small community. A complex and genuinely moving novel

— The Booker Prize 2023 judges

Elaine Feeney on writing How to Build a Boat

How to Build a Boat took many years, and several drafts. I was desperate to simplify it. I wrote much of it longhand and, as with all projects, there was a copious amount of research. But there was a moment where I said, it’s fiction, stop reading about boats.   

I am a ‘sudden burst of activity’ person, and then long naps. Much like my cat.

I live with my family in a small bungalow surrounded by fields and stone walls, it’s the house I grew up in. There’s a farm across the road and I look out the windows a lot. I write in the kitchen at a desk, watching the farmer’s cows grazing, or crows picking stones, or the rain – that’s never far away. I write with my back to the wall. But ultimately, I write anywhere. And when I get stressed, I take off for a walk or I jump into the sea.  

Read the full interview here

How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney