With just a week to go until publication I thought I’d whet your appetites by sharing the opening paragraphs of ‘Paper Boats’. The first few reviews have started to trickle in on Goodreads with comments such as, “best by far”, “more books please!” and “a wealth of story that I loved”, with 4 star ratings across the board so we’re off to a great start.
PAPER BOATS by EJ Mack
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
Rebecca sat on the mildewed bench, her warm breath pluming in front of her, and watched the ducks. It was late November and the air was dank, earthy and smelled of decay. The piles of sodden leaves decomposing on the ground and the squelch of mud underfoot spoke of a world headed into the mire, apparently intent on dragging her along with it – if her current mood was anything to go by. Rebecca bit into her sandwich. A small wind picked up and as she shivered she wondered yet again how the ducks could bear to have their underbellies in such freezing, fetid waters. They seemed so at ease on the surface, not a feather out of place, whilst hidden down below, all that frenetic paddling. There had to be benefits to remaining semi-submerged otherwise surely they would get out? It occurred to her they had much in common, Rebecca and those birds.
Across the pond, a boy she had not seen before was crouched on the bank, attempting to launch a paper boat. He was no more than eight – nine at the most – his small hands reaching out to the water as far as they dare whilst his father held on to the back of his coat, just in case. When the boat was finally afloat, the boy stood proudly on the muddy bank, stick in hand, ready to poke the vessel should it make a bid for shore. It was clear there was only one place the boat was going and that was down.
Rebecca took another bite from her sandwich and returned her gaze to the water. A few glimmers of weak light glanced off its surface, making her squint and reminding her of the summer that had just passed. It would be a long time before she would feel the full strength of the sun’s rays on her face again and she wondered whether anything would have changed by then. She wasn’t sure she could bear another winter full of discontent and flaccid sandwiches yet, despite her malaise, as she peeled the two slices of bread apart to reveal the yellowing lettuce and smear of coronation chicken, she smiled to herself. They called themselves a ‘delicatessen’ and ‘purveyor of fine foods’ but Rosa’s was really nothing more than a village café run by the dumpy but unflappable Rosalind White, a 56 year old ex-dinner lady from Ealing, and her husband, Terry, who seemed to do little more than read the Racing Post and drink endless cups of tea. It was time to start bringing in sandwiches from home.
Rebecca tore off a chunk and absentmindedly threw it to the ducks. Before it had even hit the ground she knew she had made a huge mistake. Within seconds what had previously been a bleak yet bucolic scene exploded into a riot of squawks and flapping wings as the birds fought over her measly offering. She had not anticipated just how hungry the beleaguered birds might be so in an attempt to sate their voracious appetites she quickly tore off another chunk, hurling it amongst them. But it only provoked the birds further and before long, ducks were mounting the banks of the pond and beating a path for the bench, honking greedily at her. Rebecca jumped to her feet and started backing away, alarmed at the speed of their approach, and started tearing off pieces as fast as she could, tossing them into their snapping beaks as she went. In the back of her mind she knew there was something not right about feeding chicken to ducks but Rebecca had no time for a morality check now.
With birds massing around her ankles and pecking at her clothes, Rebecca panicked and let out a little cry, dropping what was left of her sandwich onto the ground. It was gone in seconds, torn to pieces by the unassailable throng. So, with nothing more to offer, Rebecca decided now might be the time to make a break for it. Turning her back, she scanned the village green for the fastest route to the road. At that very moment a flurry of wings went up behind her. Rebecca cowered at the sound, her eyes shut tight, and waited for the inevitable onslaught of wings and beaks. But instead all she heard was shouting. Snapping her eyes open, Rebecca turned and was relieved to see the birds scattering in all directions. Beyond them, the man from the other side of the pond was running towards her, flapping one hand above his head whilst he dragged his son along with the other.
“Get out of here!” he yelled.
She stalled, at once both confused and mortified. Was he shouting at her?