Book launch at 23 Seats

And finally, the big night arrived…

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The Wild Weather Blues were in the air. But despite predictions of snowmageddon, a large crowd of family and friends turned out for the launch of Talking’ Squirrel Blues at 23 Seats in Dundalk this evening.

A huge word of thanks to everyone who showed up and made it such a memorable evening. And thanks also to everyone who sent messages of support and encouragement on social media.

Here’s the speech I gave, introducing the book and setting it in context. I’ll upload a video of the event in the coming days.

In the meantime, it’s only words…

“Welcome everybody! I’d like to thank you all for coming out on such a cold evening. Be sure to get some warm beverages into you!

Let me begin by thanking Alan and Ulrika for providing the venue tonight here at 23 Seats. As you may know, they have hosted book launches in the past. Indeed, they are doing their bit to create a literary café society here in Dundalk to rival the culture of Vienna in 1890s, Paris in 1920s, New York in 1960s, or even Ardee in the 1980s.

And of course my contribution to world literature is the reason we’re all here tonight. Welcome to the official launch of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues, a surreal comedy novel about love, life and blues music.

This novel had its origins a few years ago when I, like the main character in the book, was walking into work in Dublin. As I made my way down a deserted early-morning suburban street, a rustling in the fallen leaves ahead of me caught my attention.  Out of the leaves popped a squirrel, full of business and merrily getting on with its day. I didn’t have much excitement in my life in those days, so my immediate thought was “Wow! Today I saw a squirrel walking into to work.” Then I corrected myself. A squirrel walking into work? That didn’t sound right. The squirrel wasn’t walking into work, obviously. Or was he? With this slightly sleepy thought, the germ of a story idea was planted in my brain.

I had been interested in creative writing for many years, since my school days in fact. Over the years, my parents patiently waited for me to become a best-selling millionaire author, a goal I’m still working on, word by word, letter by letter. But this was the first time I’d embarked on a novel. Having explored the traditional publishing route for a while, a few years ago I started to explore the growing world of ebooks and self-publishing. In 2013, I self-published A Blanket of Blues, a collection of short stories based on blues lyrics that I had written. In the character of Fingers Flaherty, a dead blues singer, I’d found a hook that I could hang other creative projects on as well. So, in 2014, I followed up the short story collection with Dimestore Avenue Blues, a novella. And then I felt that the time was right to return to that walking, talking squirrel I’d met in the suburbs.

As the book neared the target date for self-publishing, I found myself sitting in the cinema in Dundalk watching the Monty Python reunion show from London. Then something completely different happened. I got a phone call from Australia. My friend Colm wanted to know if I’d like to be godfather to his son Michael. Of course, I was delighted to be the godfather. You could say it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse. I had dedicated my novella to my goddaughter Faye, down in Co Wexford. And so this novel is dedicated to that very special little boy, Michael McGee, in Melbourne, who one day is going to grow up and read this book and realise that this father has some very strange friends in Ireland…

Given that I spent five years studying English literature in college, it would be nice if I was able to say that this book was inspired by reading Tolstoy, Joyce, Shakespeare and Hemmingway. In fact, I was probably more inspired by reading comic strips and listening to blues music. We all grab our ideas wherever we find them.

Although writing is usually a solitary endeavour, it is not a solitary journey. Many people help you along the way. When I started this journey, the invaluable support and feedback from Eleanor McNicholas and Pat Carroll helped ensure that I didn’t get too lost in the wordy woods. Other colleagues have provided input and encouragement for my writing over the years too: Helen McVeigh; Paul Nash; Joyce Hickey; Eamon Mag Uidhir; Deirdre Clancy; Meaghan Dowling; Christine Doran; Sandra Hopper; Orla Donoghue and Kevin Stevens. I’d like to particularly thank Emma Dunne, my editor, whose expertise and insightful suggestions helped me get the final manuscripts ready for publication.

Family and friends too numerous to mention individually have supported me in countless ways in this project. A special mention to the Rathmines contingent, who were with me in the trenches back in the day.

And of course my late parents – who ironically were never late for anything in their lives, a trait I have rarely managed to live up to. They never stopped believing in me and my weird writing. They set me on this road and I’m proud to continue walking along it.

Finally, a word of thanks for the local support in preparing this book launch. Margaret Roddy in The Argus helped get the ball rolling with coverage in the papers. Dundalk Tourist Office has been doing great work with the publicity on the twitter machine. And I’d also like to thank the local library for helping to promote this event. A number of local businesses have kindly stocked the book: McAteer’s Food House; Roe River Books, that wonderful bookshop just down the road; Ruby Ellen’s in Carlingford; and McCrystal’s in Jenkinstown. And again, thanks to 23 Seats for hosting the event tonight.

So now I’d like to read a short extract from the novel. The extract is only about 90,000 words long, so – assuming my false teeth don’t fall out – we should be able to wrap up around midnight.

Just a little background. The main character in the book is a twenty-something marketing assistant. He doesn’t really understand his job, and he doesn’t really understand his life. Therefore he endures a constant vague sense of confusion and frustration as he bumbles his way through the day. For him, the low point in any day is when he trudges into work and sits down to have breakfast with his colleagues. And that’s where we meet him in the opening chapter…”

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Stay tuned for the video!

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