Talkin’ Squirrel Blues: Flann O’Brien meets Muddy Waters

Music was always going to be an important theme in the book. Combining a dash of Flann O’Brien with a splash of Muddy Waters, it is a hilarious surreal tale of anguished love, missed deadlines and clanging guitars. It’s a complex system of words, rhythms, rules, irrational preferences and pedantic hang-ups. It’s not an easy route, of course. Which one will be able to guide Moses to happiness? Just ask the priest who tried to discuss the high cost of living with several elderly women! Computer files can hold a grudge. Or will the past always rattle in his brain like a half-remembered song? Consider James Alley Blues by Rabbit Brown. Or inspire a blues song…

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues is my first novel and is dedicated to godson Michael McGee. And now Flaherty has found a new lost soul to console. “I saw a squirrel walking into work today…”

The Dublin launch of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues, my surreal comedy novel, took place in the Irish Writers Centre last week. And it can be prone to being wilfully misunderstood, no matter how carefully you try to express yourself. Perhaps his furry tail could extend all the way to a full-length novel. This somewhat ridiculous Irish version of a Delta bluesman could act as a croaky Greek chorus, commenting on the main action and generally making a racket in the background. And Freud argued that mistakes can reveal repressed aspects of our subconscious. Interfaces can be vindictive. Enter Fingers Flaherty. (You say one thing but mean your mother…) Sometimes mistakes can even be sources of inspiration. Technology rarely does what it’s supposed to do. I pictured an executive squirrel scurrying to work, flash suit neatly wrapped around him, leather briefcase jauntily swinging by his side. I set the story aside for a while, but I found it hard to forget that squirrel. And from that image would evolve Talkin’ Squirrel Blues, a comically surreal tale about a young marketing executive’s search for love in Dublin’s nightclubs. Because of recent technology advances, self-publishing has become a viable option for many authors. As I signed the books, I couldn’t help thinking: “This all started with a mistake.”

James Joyce said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. By the time he gets to the end of song, Brown is lost in a septic tank of toxic emotion: “Well, sometimes I think you’re just too sweet to die/ And other times I think you oughta be buried alive.” Not exactly the moon in June, is it? But just maybe one of those mistakes will provide the seed for the next story. Chris Stevens gave the introductory speech, followed by a speech and book signing by myself. Because Moses had a jaundiced view of the world, it made sense that he would spend most of his time listening to blues music. A few years back, I saw a squirrel walking into work. Whenever it felt like the novel was getting a tad pious or portentous, I knew I could rely on Flaherty to put his scruffy boot through the crystal palaces. He reappeared in Dimestore Avenue Blues in 2013, a novella where he guided Jesse, the burnt-out Madison Avenue refugee, through his nervous breakdown. However, the image of a squirrel walking into work giggled me up, and so Floyd the talkin’ squirrel was born. Blues singers could encapsulate the epic turmoil of human emotion in a few well-chosen words. 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. Writing pastiche blues lyrics for Flaherty to roar proved to be the most enjoyable part of the writing. Electricity is not always your friend. Flaherty made his first shabby appearance in 2012, in A Blanket of Blues, a self-published collection of short stories based on Flaherty’s blues lyrics. Talkin’ Squirrel Blues ebook is now available from www.amazon.com But then again, we all sometimes make mistakes when we use the English language, don’t us? It’s easy to mangle it. Here’s how he describes his domestic bliss: “I bought her a gold ring and I paid the rent/ She tried to get me to wash her clothes but I got good common sense.” There’s a novel buried in those two lines alone. The day I saw a squirrel walking into work, I made a mistake. Back in the heady days of the year 2000, I had cheerfully welcomed in the new millennium by listening to a collection of old blues music. All writers make mistakes along the way. 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. And a careless click of the wrong button can cause an aged computer to flounce into egg-timer whirring meltdown. Should he listen to a talkin’ squirrel or a dead blues singer? There will be days when not even the bitterest blind bluesman could express the aching despair that you feel about the whole wretched project. Their lyrics might make you laugh out loud one second and then despair for the fate of humanity the next. Can Moses find a new love to help him forget the girlfriend who walked away?