• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues by Padraig Hanratty

Writing.ie | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
talkin squirrel blues

Padraig Hanratty

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James Joyce 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. They reveal something and we learn something. Every stumble and fumble becomes an opportunity for improvement.

We all sometimes make mistakes when we use the English language. It’s a complex system of words, rhythms, rules, irrational preferences and pedantic hang-ups. It’s easy to mangle it. And it can be prone to being willfully misunderstood, no matter how carefully you try to express yourself. Just ask the priest who tried to discuss the high cost of living with several elderly women! Indeed, I once was taken aback when a friend started laughing after I told her that some poor soul had been attacked by a syringe in the city centre the previous evening. The image of a mean syringe stalking the city streets just giggled her up all over the place.

So when I told somebody a few years back that I saw a squirrel walking into work that morning, 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 giggled me up, and so Floyd the squirrel was born.

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues began life as a short story written for a writing course I was doing at the time. I had great fun inventing the pompous, fashion-conscious squirrel, and was reluctant to leave him behind. I began to think about how he could perhaps extend his furry tail in a full-length novel. I’d recently written a short story about an elderly retired ad man who had an Elvis obsession. What if it was the squirrel who was obsessed with Elvis?

The novel began to take shape. Moses would be a young disillusioned marketing hack with a martyr complex. His neighbour would be a burnt-out Madison Avenue wreck. His best friend would be a strung-out perpetual student. And his confidant would be Floyd, the squirrel with an Elvis parable for every occasion. Moses needed to get his life back in order after his girlfriend left him. He needed to get his career back on track after his performance review descended into another tedious office conflict. He needed to learn life’s harsh lesson, and Floyd was the perfect squirrel to coach him.

Music was always going to be an important theme in the book. 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. Blues singers could encapsulate the epic turmoil of human emotion in a few well-chosen words. Their lyrics might make you laugh out loud one second and then despair for the fate of humanity the next.

padraig hanrattyConsider ‘James Alley Blues’ by Rabbit Brown. 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. 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?

Because Moses had a jaundiced view of the world, it made sense that he would spend most of his time listening to blues music. Enter Fingers Flaherty. 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. Writing pastiche blues lyrics for Flaherty to roar proved to be the most enjoyable part of the writing. 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.

Flaherty made his first shabby appearance in 2012, in A Blanket of Blues, a self-published collection of short stories. He reappeared in Dimestore Avenue Blues in 2013, a novella where he guided Jesse, the burnt-out Madison Avenue refugee, through his nervous breakdown.

Throughout all those years, the talkin’ squirrel had languished in a virtual drawer on the computer. In late 2013, I decided to shake the dust off him and send him scurrying down the self-publishing path. Flaherty, a veteran of that path by now, would accompany on the journey. And so Talkin’ Squirrel Blues, a story that began many years ago with my inability to construct a coherent sentence, found new life as an ebook in the summer of 2015. Paperback version will be available in November 2015.

Because of recent technology advances, self-publishing has become a viable option for many authors. It’s not an easy route, of course. Technology rarely does what it’s supposed to do. Documents always behave in unexpected, baffling ways. 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 egg-timer whirring meltdown. There will be days when not even the bitterest blind bluesman could express the aching despair that you feel about the whole wretched project. Oh, the joys of writing in the Digital Age!

You will 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…

(c) Padraig Hanratty

About Talkin’ Squirrel Blues

Who speaks the most sense, a dead blues singer or a live squirrel? Moses McNamara isn’t sure.

After his girlfriend suddenly leaves him, Moses must rebuild his shattered life. His companions in this quest include a trendy squirrel, an elderly neighbour and a blues singer with six strings and a grudge.

Moses was never the world’s most motivated marketing copywriter. After a disastrous performance review, he feels lost in a career he hates, glaring at a cruel world through defeated eyes.

When his self-esteem is on the floor, Moses meets Floyd, a talkative squirrel who helps restore his confidence. He also consults his neighbour, Jesse, an old man with little patience for the young man’s martyr complex. And through it all, Moses listens to Fingers Flaherty’s songs. The melodic ranting of the belligerent bluesman helps Moses to keep his own problems in perspective.

Can Moses find a new love to help him forget the girlfriend who walked away? Or will the past always rattle in his brain like a half-remembered song? As his romantic quest becomes more complicated, Moses doesn’t always know whose advice to follow: the well-dressed squirrel or the dead blues singer.

Which one would you listen to?

Pick up your copy online here!

About the author

  • allianceindependentauthors.org
  • www.designforwriters.com

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