A Radio Interview, Word for Word

In preparation for the recent book launch at the Irish Writers Centre, I gave a short interview at the end of March on “Word for Word” on Dublin South FM.


I was interviewed by renowned political expert and social commentator, Dan O’Neil.

You can listen to the interview here. It starts around the 40 min mark, and continues for six hours.

Watch out for Dan’s new book, The Obama Years, coming soon! Details to follow.




Chris Stevens: Talkin’ ‘Bout Them Squirrel Blues

On 6 April 2017, the Irish Writers Centre played host to the Dublin launch of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues.


By 6.00 that evening, the room was all set up. And at 6.30 the guests – the great and the good of the Dublin literary scene – began to arrive.


After some refreshing refreshments and casual chatter among the guests in the reception area, it was time to bring the party upstairs on to the main event of the evening…

20170406_182558Chris Stevens had kindly agreed to say some introductory words about blues music, specifically the blues music of Fingers Flaherty. You can read Chris’s entertaining and informative speech below.


Fingers Flaherty’s Blues

Blues music is a distinctly American musical style, which grew out of the cotton fields of the Mississippi delta in the late 19th Century, before moving south to New Orleans, north to Memphis and Chicago, and then of course throughout the world. The original blues artists – W. C. Handy, Henry Sloan, Charlie Patton, and the incomparable Robert Johnson – derived their mournful melodies from the cotton fields in and around Clarksville, Mississippi. So many of us tend to associate blues with the sadness of hard times, poverty and broken relationships – “having the blues”.

Of course, to a great extent that is true. But it might be equally true to say that blues music is about hope in the midst of despair, about the possibility of redemption in a melancholic state. It is one of the curious paradoxes of this music. While the impetus may be the blues, the effect is to forget the blues. The songs act as a kind of tonic for overcoming sorrow, with melodies and lyrics that hint at redemption, despite the pall of despair.

Although blues started as a spontaneous style of music, it soon established a convention of repeated melodies and phrases, with certain lines and riffs often repeated a number of times before a final line resolves both the melody and the narrative. To quote one of the unsung heroes of blues music, Fingers Flaherty:

I woke up this morning with my head in a guillotine.
When I woke up this morning, this head was in a guillotine.
At least the view is nice; at least the basket’s clean.

You can hear the repetition here, and how the third line resolves the previous two. But you can also hear how it also contains the characteristics I mentioned earlier: a comic twist in the midst of despair, a strange glimmer of light in the prevailing darkness.

And that brings us to the main reason we have assembled here, not to talk about the history of the blues, but to celebrate the publication of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues, a decidedly 21st century blues narrative. It is a blues man’s locus: a story about a man named Moses who finds himself in a dead-end job, speaking to a ghostly squirrel, his relationship broken down – largely his own doing – but looking to find love and redemption out of this melancholic state.

And throughout the novel Moses’s depressed mood is punctuated by verses of the songs of Fingers Flaherty. These operate as a kind of spiritual commentary on the action. And they contain many of the features of the blues tradition:

Personal failure: “My hose was way too dry, Lord, to turn her garden green.”

Grave misfortune: “She wrote my life story, and then I lost the plot.”

Love-torn recrimination: “I said, ‘Do you mind if I smoke, baby?’ She said, ‘Honey, I don’t care if you burn.’”

And what appears to be years of loneliness:

I don’t want to be your tenant, woman,
I want to be your resident.
I ain’t got it up, woman,
Since Truman was the president.

At first glance these quirky, comic blues lyrics appear extraneous to the book. But what the reader notices is the way Pádraig weaves this blues idiom into the narrative of the story itself. Moses’s friend, Banjo Corrigan, is described as being able to “listen to a kettle whistle for hours without interrupting it or passing judgement on it.” Moses describes his ex-girlfriend’s new flame as “so ugly not even the tide would take him out.” Moses comments to Paul: “We usually lose two hours of sunshine when you walk into a room.” And Jesse comments on Moses’s crowd: “I actually think Freud would be out of his depth.” Many of Pádraig’s lines have a memorable hyperbole that reminds us of that blues line from an old song we once heard, which we resurrect every now and then to help us make sense of our stricken way.

But the dance with language doesn’t stop there. Pádraig shows a great familiarity with the absurdity and mixed metaphors of corporate speak too. Moses’s company – Aztech – has this as its mission statement: “to convert the intangible quality of our product into a tangible, visible market position in an aggressive economic environment.” And Moses’s boss, Fred, states sagely: “We are never afraid to push the envelope up the flagpole.” At the turn of every page Pádraig riffs on language like a comic blues man – like Fingers Flaherty himself – lighting up this dark tale with a humour borne of cynicism and some hope.

It’s a tale of depression, a talking squirrel, and a hero with a slumped, gallows-bound posture. But I think through its language, and the pleasure with it – the reader will be redeemed. A little bit like the blues. A lot like the blues.


The speech was warmly received by the crowd. As I remarked afterwards, “There’s a lot going on in this book that I wasn’t aware of. I really must get around to reading it some day…”

Thanks again to Chris for his wonderful speech!


Stay tuned for a full report on the launch, including my own speech…

Until then, keep on keepin’ on!

Dublin launch at Irish Writers Centre

You can find further details about the Dublin launch on the Irish Writers Centre website here.

Guest speakers and book signing on the night!

Talkin' Squirrel Blues

See you there for a dash of Flann O’Brien with a splash of Muddy Waters.

Book launch at 23 Seats

And finally, the big night arrived…


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…”


Stay tuned for the video!

From self to shelf

It takes a long time for a book idea to evolve from a vague idea inside your head into a paperback book on the shelf of the local bookstore. But the destination is worth the journey.

Last week, I delivered copies of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues to Roe River Books (formerly Carroll’s bookstore) in Dundalk. First came the thrill of seeing the copies patiently waiting for their spot on the shelf.

20161104_160612Roe River Books is one of those small, amply stocked bookstores where you can browse away your time getting lost among myriad titles and stumbling across obscure literary treasures and delightful, quaint editions.

Once the initial euphoria waned, I knew I’d have to start advertising the book. So it was off home with me to design a simple (nay, extremely basic) flyer to publicise the talking squirrel.


Once the finished flyers were printed, it was time to head back to the bookstore to deliver them. By then, winter had arrived in all its grim austerity. I was shivering to my bones, trampling down the chilly grey November street. (As my aunt likes to say, “That breeze would eat ya!”)

Then I saw me a sight that warmed me to my core. My little book perched in the bookstore window! Floyd’s journey had entered a new exciting phase.


And inside the bookstore, there the talkative squirrel was again, nestling snugly among the “We recommend” titles. Not even the ice in the breeze could cool my elation.


Over the coming weeks, the book will be settling into other local businesses that have kindly agreed to stock it. And then on 14 January at 23 Seats, the official launch of a talking squirrel (and its babbling author) will take place.

Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of Floyd, Fingers Flaherty and the hapless Moses.

And remember, wherever you are, support your local bookstores!



Refresher Training Blues… Live!


An underground bootleg video has emerged of my reading of Refresher Training Blues at the recent Sunflower Sessions evening in Dublin.

Check out the video below.

Many thanks to Eamon Mag Uidhir for surreptitiously recording the performance and sneaking it onto the collectors’ black market.

If the video makes your day, be sure to like it on YouTube, and maybe even leave a delightful comment too. Thanks!

(Oh by the way… Check out my cool haircut, auntie.)

You can read Refresher Training Blues here.

Coming soon: Details about the Talkin’ Squirrel Blues book launch!




Refresher Training Blues

Last night, I got another chance to flash my wares…

The Sunflower Sessions took place in Nealon’s on Capel St, Dublin. This time, I presented another flash fiction piece: Refresher Training Blues.

I have worked in the e-learning and education sectors for the last twenty(!) years. In that time, I have come to develop a great appreciation for the value and importance of training, continuous improvement and lifelong learning.

As will become apparent from this short snapshot.



Refresher Training Blues

Arthur hated training days!

Sure, there was always room for improvement. He got that. There were always pointless new procedures to master. And yes, it was a few hours off work.

But Arthur still always hated them.

The fact that Timothy the trainer was a complete tosser didn’t help. Timothy thought he was performing to a stadium of 80,000 fans, and not ten barely conscious colleagues in a shabby room. All that was missing was the twenty minute guitar solo.

The training had started at 8.30. Unfortunately, Arthur wasn’t a morning person. Or an afternoon person. He was more an evening person. He only really perked up when he wasn’t at work.

Anyway, Timothy was in the throes of another evangelical fit as he pondered his seventeen-step model for positive self-actualisation.

He declared, “You are your own masterpiece, friends! Every day is your blank canvas. Don’t settle for being a sketch on a napkin. Use bright colours! At high volume!”

How could a painting be at high volume? Arthur wondered. He also wondered if it would soon be lunchtime. He had, as usual, skipped breakfast.

“Why do we have targets?” Timothy asked, all frothy mouth and blazing eyes. “Because I know you can hit them.”

To Arthur, this was all nonsense. But it was better than getting bawled at for being a basket case. That was the regular routine in all his previous jobs. At least these guys were pleasant.

Timothy adopted his solemn monk voice.

“That’s why we feel sad when people miss their targets. There’s no magic bullet. Dig deep and optimise real-time solutions that synergise your human interface capabilities.”

Timothy had clearly started speaking in tongues.

Arthur zoned out, gazing around the room. Some of his colleagues were already comatose in their rumpled suits. In Reginald’s case, it looked more like rigor mortis. Malcolm was the only one who looked engaged. But of course Malcolm had no life – a presentation like this was probably the high point of his week.

Meanwhile on the podium, Timothy was building up a head of steam and frazzled hair.

“Hit the mark, people! Shoot from the hip. Always aim high. You have to dodge the raindrops if you want to build the rainbow. You are our crock of gold!”

Arthur would be the first to concede that his standards were slipping. He’d missed a few targets lately. Definitely losing his edge. In fact, they all were. Some argued they were just “keeping their powder dry”. Truth is they had no fire in their bellies anymore.

Timothy however was determined to inspire his weary team. So for six more hours, he cajoled, praised, pleaded, value-streamed, harnessed and empathised.

Then finally it was over. Time to get back to work.

A new list of targets. Fresh deadlines. Motivated action points.

Arthur barely had the motivation to get up from his chair.

As he slouched out of the room, he ensured his pistol was loaded.

Even assassin squads need refresher training…


(c) Pádraig Hanratty 2016


Don’t forget that copies of Flare are now on sale. Available from Books Upstairs or by contacting the Sunflower Sessions.


Who knows what blues November will bring?

See you again soon!


Launchin’ blues

Floyd is getting ready to launch himself into the wider world, in all his bloodshot-eyed, bushy-tailed glory!

A book launch for Talkin’ Squirrel Blues will take place in Dundalk in January 2017. Followed a few weeks later by a Dublin launch.

Stay tuned for further details!

I launched all my dreams with her, but in time she sunk my ship.
We launched our sweet dreams together. Then she went and sunk my ship.
Now I’m swimming to the shore, with my busted heart and broken hip.

Ship Launch Blues
Fingers Flaherty

Crazy Blues

Fingers Flaherty wasn’t the first disgruntled lover to sing the blues!

People have been battling with the blues – or the “blue devils” as they once were known – ever since they started falling in love with each other back in those dark caves. They discovered that fire could keep away the prehistoric chill. And love could warm the prehistoric heart.

Time and time again, Saturday night’s raucous parties have given way to Sunday morning’s aching regrets. An intoxicating haze burns away in the harsh clarity of bloodshot eyes. And a heart that tingled with the promise of forbidden moonlit love is left battered and alone on the dusty floor as the unforgiving sun rises.

In the corner, a melancholy guitar waits.

Blues songs began to emerge from the dark night during the early years of the twentieth century. The form had been evolving orally for many years, but now damaged souls were being laid bare on sheet music. In 1908, “I Got the Blues” introduced this new genre to a wider audience. And in 1920, one of the first blues songs was recorded when Mamie Smith sang “Crazy Blues”.

Born in 1883, Smith was a dancer and vaudeville actress. In 1920, she recorded her first songs with her Jazz Hounds, going on to record many songs during the 1920s. “Crazy Blues” was the first commercially released blues record, and would sell 75,000 copies within a month. The song clearly struck a dark chord with people at the dawning of the Jazz Age.


The song opens with a familiar late-night blues scenario: insomnia and a lovelorn heart. The physical unrest mirrors the mental disturbance:

I can’t sleep at night,
I can’t eat a bite,
‘Cause the man I love
He don’t treat me right.

A common theme in blues music is that sense of overwhelming sadness as the lover tries (and usually fails) to come to terms with heartache. Left alone, the singer feels almost paralysed by despair:

He makes me feel so blue,
I don’t know what to do.
Sometime I sit and sigh
And then begin to cry.

Lost in her sadness, the singer feels the world outside merrily pass her by, indifferent to her plight. Everything else moves on, leaving her behind with her memories.

There’s a change in the ocean,
Change in the deep blue sea, my baby.
I’ll tell you, folks, there ain’t no change in me.
My love for that man will always be.

Although not the most uplifting of genres, the blues often does have a hint of gallows humour and comic surrealism. In this song, the singer’s sad plight arouses concern in others, but she dismisses their help. She believes she beyond all healing.

Now the doctor’s gonna do all that he can
But what you’re gonna need is an undertaker man.

Although “Crazy Blues” doesn’t follow the familiar AAB structure of most blues songs, its themes of lovesick despair and loneliness would be picked up and elaborated on (sometimes to gleeful extremes) by countless blues singers over the following decades. Like Mamie Smith, these singers would report “nothin’ but bad news”.

Out now: Talkin’ Squirrel Blues