Talkin’ Author Blues: My Speech at the IWC

On 6 April, the Dublin launch of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues took place at the Irish Writers Centre.

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The IWC provides an amazing venue for book launches and other literary events. And tonight the spotlight was on my surreal comedy novel.

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I felt like I had finally grown up as a writer. Indeed, I almost felt like a walking antique.

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Before the main event kicked off, we had light refreshments in the reception area. An anxious author patiently awaited for the droves to descend.

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As friends, colleagues and well-wishers arrived, I finally began to relax and enjoy the evening.

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I also tried to remain unfazed by the fact that I still hadn’t finished my speech…

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I knew a stiff glass of still water would calm any pre-stage jitters.

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And then it was showtime! After a wonderful introductory talk by Chris Stevens, I took to the stage.

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And here is the speech I gave:

“Welcome everybody.

I’d like to start by thanking Kate and the wonderful staff at the Irish Writers Centre for providing this lovely venue this evening, here in the city of Beckett and Behan, Bono and Mrs. Brown.  As you may know, the centre’s mission is to support and promote writers at all stages of their development–whether they are experts, beginners, established writers, disruptive poets, thought provokers, legends, gurus, or of course complete chancers, like me. Seriously though, they do an excellent job and offer a rich and vibrant variety of courses and workshops to help writers hone their craft. They have become an invaluable resource centre for Irish literature.

And of course my humble contribution to Irish literature is the reason why we’re all here tonight. So welcome to the Dublin launch of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues, a surreal comedy novel about love, life and blues music!

Now, how did this novel begin? Well, James Joyce once said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. And Freud argued that mistakes can reveal repressed aspects of our subconscious. (You say one thing but mean your mother…) Sometimes mistakes can even be sources of inspiration.

A few years ago, I made a mistake. I saw a squirrel walking into work. When I shared this breaking news with a friend, I felt compelled to clarify that it was I, and not the squirrel, who was walking into work. However, the image of a squirrel walking into work took my fancy, and so Floyd the talkin’ squirrel was born. I pictured an executive squirrel scurrying to work, flash suit neatly wrapped around him, leather briefcase jauntily swinging by his side. And from that image would evolve Talkin’ Squirrel Blues.

I set the tale aside for a while, but I found it hard to forget that squirrel. Perhaps his furry tail could extend all the way to a full-length novel.

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 investigate the growing world of ebooks and self-publishing.

Because of recent technology advances, self-publishing had become a viable option for many authors. It’s not an easy route, of course. Technology rarely does what it’s supposed to do. Interfaces can be vindictive. Computer files can hold a grudge. Electricity is not always your friend. And a careless click of the wrong button can cause an aged computer to flounce into a smokin’ meltdown. To be honest, there are days when not even the bitterest blind bluesman could express the aching despair that you feel about the whole wretched project. Other days are somewhat better, though.

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 too. 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 walkin’, talkin’ squirrel I’d met in Dublin’s suburbs.

So I began to populate the story with a cast of eccentric characters: Moses, the lovelorn marketing executive whose career path was strewn with missed deadlines and abandoned goals; Jesse, the grumpy neighbour with little patience for Moses’s martyr complex; and Fingers Flaherty, a dead blues singer whose voice continues to bawl from the dusty speakers. Which one will be able to guide Moses to happiness? Should he listen to a talkin’ squirrel or a dead blues singer?

It has been an exciting journey. Of course, all writers make mistakes along the way. But just maybe one of those mistakes will provide the seed for the next story. Or inspire a blues song…

As the book neared the target date for self-publishing, I was 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 god-father to his son Michael. Of course, I was delighted to be god-father. You could say it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse. I had dedicated my novella to my god-daughter 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 Hemingway. In fact, I was probably more inspired by reading comic strips and listening to blues music. I like to think that the novel’s key ingredients are a dash of Flann O’Brien with a dash of Muddy Waters. We all grab our ideas wherever we find them.

Although writing is usually 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 MagUidhir; Deirdre Clancy; Meaghan Dowling; Christine Doran; Sandra Hopper; Orla Donoghue; and Kevin Stevens. Thanks also to Ken Drakeford for the wonderful cover.  I’d like to particularly thank Emma Dunne, my editor, whose expertise and insightful suggestions helped me get the final manuscripts ready for publication. Thanks also to Erick Tran, for spearheading the multi-million euro global marketing campaign. And of course, a word of thanks to Chris for his introductory words.

Family and friends too numerous to mention individually have supported me in countless ways in this project. 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.

I’m conscious of the time so I’ll wrap up now. I’ve always subscribed to Douglas Adams’s attitude to deadlines: I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. Indeed, I was still editing the speech up to a few minutes ago. However, we do need to give the hall back to the parish, so I’ll finish by reading 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.

If you enjoy the book, be sure to leave a nice review up on the Amazon website. If you hate the book, please scream your feedback into a pillow. In a dark room. In an isolated cottage. On the Aran Islands.

A few weeks ago, I read a synopsis of the first section of the novel at the Sunflower Sessions in Capel St. I thought it worked rather well, so I’d like to read that now.

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 so now we meet him on his weary way to work…”

 

And with that, one of the most amazing experiences in my young (yes, young!) life drew to a close. After taking a moment to soak up the applause, I said another silent word of gratitude to everyone who’d helped me make it through the writing. When a moment is special, you need to pause and appreciate that moment, and appreciate those who helped make it possible. You know who you are!

When a moment is special, you need to pause and appreciate that moment, and appreciate those who helped make it possible.

Then it was time to start signing books with my indecipherable scrawl.

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All good things must come to an end. So that new good things can come to a beginning.

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Thanks again to everyone who came along on the night or who sent messages of support. A special word of thanks to Chris Campbell for helping out with the photography. And to Paul Nash for buying that much-needed drink in the bar afterwards!

Until next time, happy reading (and writing)!

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