One week to go . . .

In my novel Leaving Sadie, which is released next Saturday, February 29, one of the supporting characters is a self-published author. After years of failed submissions, Ezra Cooper — an old man who always dreamed of being a literary heavyweight — decided to put out his book himself; to hell with the traditional route! It’s in a bookstore where our protagonist — aspiring playwright Henry Sears; potential leaver of girlfriend Sadie, relentless doubter of his decisions — discovers the elderly Cooper, who has been surreptitiously stacking copies of his novel there, hoping that random bookworms will pick up his work without coercion, without marketing might.

And to his surprise, they do. So, he regularly returns to the bookstore to keep copies of his book on the shelf.

Do I plan on taking such a stealthy approach when my novel is finally available next week? Well, I’d rather not say . . .

But one thing is certain: It will be nice to say that the novel I began writing back in 2016 will be out there in the real world; available for people to purchase if they’re willing to take a chance on one of the many self-published authors around today.

The best-laid plans . . .

I had originally set my sights on June 2018 for the release of this novel. That, it turns out, was a tad ambitious. From last-minute rewrites, cover alterations and manuscript perfection to getting an ISBN and figuring out where to publish and which sites/bloggers/reviewers to approach, there’s a lot more to self-publishing than I had initially thought.

Then, after having my editor (who’s also a published author) give the manuscript one final edit, I was convinced to return to the plan which preceded my self-publishing goal: landing a literary agent. It was the opinion of my editor — that the book was strong enough to land me representation — which made me think twice about putting the book out myself.

So, I returned to that arguably joyless and certainly arduous world of query letters and submissions. For about a year. All in all, I probably only submitted to about two dozen agents; not that many. One of the responders complimented my sample and the story’s premise, but said they weren’t sure where they could place the novel in today’s market. Place it on the new-releases shelf in bookstores, I was tempted to reply, but my response was polite, as it tends to be (my mother raised me well).

After once again growing tired of the traditional road, I decided to go ahead and self-publish the work. And here we are.

Inspirational aspects . . .

Real life always inspires my work, whether it’s something close to me, or something I observe or read about. To be honest, when I wrote the first lines of Sadie, I was setting out to write a short story inspired by short fiction masters like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford. The former in particular has been a huge influence on me, and is someone whose mastery is often mistakenly labelled with the misnomer “minimalism” — there was nothing minimal about Carver’s work. To paraphrase Richard Ford, “It was what is was. It was exactly as it needed to be. It was enough.”

Eventually, however, my story developed into something longer — something more adventurous than I had initially imagined — and so it became a completely different project that I would work on, on-and-off, for a few years.

Carver’s hero and greatest influence was Anton Chekhov, another writer I’m a big fan of, although rather than embracing the latter’s short fiction, I was first drawn to his major plays which, of course, had a profound impact on Western theatre. Other writers I regularly revisit and whose style I suppose I use as inspiration, for every writer should be attempting to craft their own style (I’m satisfied I’ve achieved that with this novel, after many years of writing badly, then writing not-so-badly), include J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Hornby, Hunter S. Thompson, Haruki Murakami, Françoise Sagan, Woody Allen, Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, Charles Bukowski, and Christopher Isherwood, to name a few. There are many, many more.

What it’s all about . . .

Go out and buy a copy! Okay, I’ve got to do better than that. I suppose the blurb will suffice:

“Henry Sears is a thirtysomething who’s found himself in the midst of a crisis: From his failing ambitions as a playwright to his floundering relationship with girlfriend Sadie Cohen, things aren’t exactly going as planned. When he decides it’s time to address the latter, he’s left both surprised and somewhat shattered.

He seeks refuge in his latest play, and in the company of bookstore-stalker Ezra Cooper and mercurial Oscar-winning actor Miller Moore, the latter who’s set to star in Henry’s play — if he’s sober enough to put a coherent sentence together.

What follows involves relationship flashbacks in the form of movie scenes, a murder plot, paranoia, dramaturgical disaster, and hopes of reconciliation.

The debut novel by screenwriter S.J. Coules (A Day Like Today) Leaving Sadie is a tale of love, family, friendship, and ambition in the 21st century; a fun and funny story that’s comparable to the works High Fidelity, Franny and Zooey, and Hannah and Her Sisters.”

So, that’s about it. Pre-order your Kindle edition now. Or get yourself a paperback edition available on Amazon from February 29.

Happy reading.

Leaving Sadie — The Playlist

If any other writers out there are like me—and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that they are—then music plays a part in their process. Maybe songs hum gently in the background as the individual types away on the computer or typewriter (hipster alert). Perhaps they write a scene and they connect to it a certain song, they think “this track would be prefect for this scene” (tip for new screenwriters: if you’re submitting a screenplay to a production company or a competition, don’t include songs in your script). Maybe some writers are like the great Haruki Murakami and, like him, go for very long runs and listen to music from a variety of genres (tip for everyone: read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running).

Well, for me, music is a constant companion (I didn’t get the word tattooed on my wrist in a foreign language for no reason…). Music is my first love, and it shapes my days and my mood to a degree. While promoting Leaving Sadie on Instagram, I’ve been adding tracks to Insta stories, and it got me thinking: I should create a soundtrack for Sadie… Or, a playlist on Spotify.

And here is that Spotify playlist. It’s filled with songs that capture the mood and playful nature of the novel. And I’m not gonna lie, I’m a fan of all these artists, even though certain characters did determine the tracks that muscled their way onto the playlist. I’ve made it public and collaborative—so if you do happen to pick up a copy of the novel and feel a certain song suits the story well, please go ahead and add to the playlist.

Here’s the list in full:

  1. “Lovefool” by The Cardigans
  2. “I’m Writing a Novel” by Father John Misty
  3. “Who Loves the Sun” by The Velvet Underground
  4. “Are We Still Friends?” by Tyler, the Creator
  5. “A Perfect Sonnet” by Bright Eyes
  6. “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed
  7. “Love Street” by The Doors
  8. “Time After Time” by Chet Baker
  9. “Once Around the Block” by Badly Drawn Boy
  10. “Lost Cause” by Beck
  11. “Let Me In” by Snowmine
  12. “Two of Us on the Run” by Lucius
  13. “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” by Fleet Foxes
  14. “Lawman” by Girl Band
  15. “Little L” by Jamiroquai
  16. “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground
  17. “911/Mr. Lonely” by Tyler, the Creator (feat. Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy)
  18. “Prototype” by Outkast
  19. “War” by The Cardigans
  20. “Still Life” by The Horrors
  21. “Moving On” by James
  22. “The Time Is Now” by Moloko
  23. “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon
  24. “Sunburst” by Picturehouse
  25. “All In My Mind” by Lonnie Smith
  26. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” by Ella Fitzgerald

Leaving Sadie – Now Available for Pre-Order on Amazon

 

Hello, hello,

The Kindle edition of Leaving Sadie is now available for pre-order on Amazon. If, like me, you prefer a physical book, you can order a copy when the novel is released on February 29th.

The always lovely and invariably talented Ellie O’Neill (bestselling author of Reluctanly Charmed) has kindly provided me with a quote for the book:

“Wildly charismatic and deeply funny . . . Wonderful, eccentric characters get tied up in an adventure of lost love, finding yourself and the mysterious mind of a playwright. Coules has a great gift for storytelling.”

So – following that rather flattering endorsement! – those of you who prefer reading on screens, order your copy now.

It’s a strange thing, sharing a novel with the world.

But maybe it’s a stranger thing to write a novel and not share it.

So here it is.

I hope you enjoy it.

S.J.

Leaving Sadie – available on the 29th of February 2020

 

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Publication date, Pryor, and Tyler.

“Don’t breathe no mo’!” Never have four words relating to a near-death experience been so funny. Anyone familiar with Richard Pryor’s legendary 1979 show Live In Concert will know the routine I’m referring to: Pryor walking through the yard when suddenly he suffers a heart attack. Not funny. But funny when the person telling the story is a comic genius.

After announcing the publication date for my novel Leaving Sadie (February 29), I’ve often had moments where I’ve heard those four words bellow between my ears; this all being relative to what I can only surmise is some form of very minor panic attack (Don’t breath no mo!”). Although panic attack is too strong a term for such moments; there’s no genuine anxiety coursing through my veins, no heart palpatations, no hyperventilating; just a recurring bout of what I’ve coined the Shit Fears.

Every writer experiences the Shit Fears. Not just every writer, any creative individual who shares someting they’ve made, experiences the SFs. To sum it up in a few words, it’s basically “what if people think this work is a piece of shit?” Cue Pryor: “Don’t breahe no motherfuckin’ mo’, you heard me!”

Richard Pryor - Live in Concert (1979)
Richard Pryor – Live in Concert (1979)

But the Shit Fears are not something to be ashamed of. They are only natural. Creative Anxiety Syndrome (CAS) is another term I’ve coined. This can be used as a more-appropriate-for-public-speaking Shit Fears synonym, although it’s valuable to note that while the terms might be used interchangably, they are, in fact, two different conditions. While the Shit Fears are relative to post-publication (or post-sharing) anxiety, CAS is a body-permeating apprehensiveness experienced intermittently during the creative process, from start to finish. After all, it’s not unusual for creative people to experience higher instances of anxiety, according to PyschCentral, at least.

However! I believe that I’ve found a cure to both the SFs and general CAS in the form of this individual:

Tyler 1
Tyler, the Creator . . . Tyler, the genius?

I first experienced Tyler, the Creator around eight or nine years ago when he appeared on Jimmy Fallon performing ‘Sandwitches’, accompanied by fellow Odd Future member Hodgy Beats (now simply Hodgy). The performance was raw, intense, full of energy, and it reminded me of the first time I’d encountered N.E.R.D; the heavy percussion being a major factor.

While Tyler’s quirkiness was apparent in his performance (and his debut record Goblin), nothing could have prepared me for his most recent effort Igor. With this album, blending hip-hop with funk and neo-soul, Tyler fully embraced his idiosyncratic creative nature. Donning a blonde wig and garish two-piece suit, Tyler presented to us his alter-ego, Igor. With this character, he delivered, for me, the most interesting and enjoyable album of 2019.

But how does Tyler act as the panacea for all things related to Creative Anxiety Syndrome? Well, simply, look at what the man has put out there; look at how he’s placed himself in the firing line. For Igor, he could’ve been mocked, ridiculed, laughed off of the Billboard Charts, never to return. Of course, Tyler must have had confidence in his work (how could he not?), but he was prepared to take risks, to take a different approach both musically and personally and artistically. And he did it.

For me, the SFs and general CAS can be alleviated, if not expunged, by looking at people like Tyler, and how they’ve been brave and bold enough to share their creations with the world.

My novel Leaving Sadie is ready to go. It will be available on Kindle and in paperback on February 29th, 2019. The SFs are almost gone, and Richard Pryor’s beautiful voice now speaks to me: Breathe, motherfucker. You heard me!

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What’s Within

I just jotted this down with the master Leonard Cohen’s voice in my head. Certainly has a gospel quality. Perhaps a tad trite, but sure what of it…

What’s Within

She said “Have you got a light?”
I said “I’ve got a light within me.”
When the days, they turn to night
I’ve got a light within me
When I lay down to sleep
When I bow my head to weep
When the hill, it seems too steep
I’ve got a light within me

She said “Have you got any fight?”
I said “I’ve got a fight within me.”
When the cold wind of time takes flight
I’ve got a fight within me
When I start to lose my grip
When my papier-mâché mask begins to slip
When Mother Nature cracks her whip
I’ve got a fight within me

See I’m twisting like the trees
Got thick mud up to my knees
The Blues engulfed me like a breeze
But there’s a spark
And there’s a surge
And there’s a sphere upon my crown

She said “Have you got a light?”
I said “I’ve got a light within me.”
She said “Have you got any fight?”
I said “I’ve got some fight left in me.”
I’ve got some fight left in me.
I’ve got some fight left in me.

Photo by Simon Matzinger, Unsplash

Contra – New Trailer

 

Check out the full trailer for my new short film ‘Contra’ — coming to a film festival near you!

 

 

 

The Contra Crew:

Darragh O’Toole (Role: Contra)

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Darragh is known to audiences at home and abroad for playing Conor Tyrell in the TV series Red Rock from 2015 to 2018. He played the leading role in the feature film South, and made appearances in the sitcom Moone Boy and the award-winning film A Date for Mad Mary. He’s also starred in a number of short films and music videos, including Sinead O’Connor’s 4th and Vine.

 

Patrick Molloy (Role: Thomas)

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Patrick has worked in television, film, and stage. He had his first performance in 1990 with a Theatre company and performed with them for two years. He then went on to perform in Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. He joined the Gaiety School of acting and completed the advanced performance year focusing on the Stanislavski method. Patrick trained with the Irish Film Actors Studio and from there decided to focus his career in Film and Television, appearing in a number of television series and films including the award-winning short, Skunky Dog.

 

Kyle Hixon (Role: Cathal)

Kyle Shot 1

 

Kyle is a recent graduate of The Lir Academy, Trinity College Dublin. He’s appeared in a number of plays, including Blackout (Lyric, Belfast), Borstal Boy (Gaiety Theatre), and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Some Yanks Theatre Company). Some of his theatre credits at The Lir include The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Seagull, The Winter’s Tale, and The Ash Fire. He‘s also appeared in film, taking on roles in Bus To Dublin, Ghost Gaff, Blue Dawn, and Monged, amongst others.

 

Daragh Murphy (Director)

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Daragh studied at the prestigious New York Film Academy before returning to Ireland and setting up his production company, November Seven Films. He has directed award-winning music videos and commercials, working with the likes of U2, HBO, Google, Facebook, and the IRFU. He’s manned projects in the U.S., India, and all over Europe.

 

Shane Coules (Writer)

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Shane’s penned a number of short films and the feature film A Day Like Today, which has been called “a touching picture” (Dublin Inquirer), with a “thoughtfully paced, sensitive script” (Film Ireland). He’s also a published short story writer, has many other feature scripts he’s currently shopping, and is reaching out to agents with his debut novel Leaving Sadie.

 

Character Quotes #1 – ‘Leaving Sadie’

 

A little taste of my debut novel ‘Leaving Sadie’ with quotes from some of the characters…

 

 

“You become a slave to the life you carve out for yourself… and then you spend your time trying to escape it.”

– Miller Moore

 

“Only writers know the sheer torture of reading an exquisite piece of literature.”

– Ezra Cooper

 

“Had I known parenting was so important, I would have taken it more seriously.”

– Helena Cohen

 

“The little things. It’s . . . It’s what we do on most days. That’s the crux of any relationship.”

– Rachael Wilson

 

“We’re heroes to thousands; hundreds of thousands… Reverence. Heroism. And for what? There’s nothing heroic about what we do. There’s nothing heroic in spending time on your own doing what you love to do. What’s so heroic about that?.”

– Miller Moore

 

 

Read more about my debut novel ‘Leaving Sadie’ here. I’m currently submitting to literary agents (it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll), with a long, long list to get through. Self-publication is still a possibility, but not until I feel I’ve exhausted the submissions process.

I would love to know if the above quotes whet your appetite for the novel, or at least pique your interest. Drop a comment below if you have any thoughts!

 

Visualising Screenplays

 

Below you’ll find brief outlines and mood boards for some of my screenplays that are currently being shopped.

 

Feature screenplays

 

“Bunny Rabbits”

A tense psychological drama set in Dublin, Ireland, but which could be updated for a North American setting.

‘A young offender must attend mandatory anger management classes following his release from prison. These sessions are led by a charismatic American psychologist who, it turns out, shares a history with the troubled young man, the dark nature of which is slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Meanwhile, our protagonist finds himself drifting towards criminal activity, unable to escape the lure of a quick deal; his path to a new start. But a fresh beginning may already be on the cards when he meets a hard-headed bar worker. The question is: Can he get on top of his demons and give himself a chance to get his life back on track?’

Mood board:

 

“On the Count of Three”

A script that harks back to the detective crime capers of old, with a stylistic, charming touch; I like to think of it as Raymond Chandler meets The Coen Brothers meets Wes Anderson.

‘A lovable but morally questionable private investigator who’s struggling to make ends meet is tasked with tracking down a failed writer, leading him into a world of danger, drama, dogs, and Edith Piaf covers.’

Mood board:

 

“Let’s Talk About Sex”

A romantic comedy in the Woody Allen mould; this playful script is a study on relationships, romance, and eccentric individuals.

‘A couple who’ve found their relationship in a crisis turn to a sex therapist’s program in a bid to rescue their marriage. The husband, a well-established editor of books, is dealing with his latest client’s novel – and her capricious character. The wife, a successful fashion designer, has developed a crush on a young model. Add to this their troubles in the bedroom and you’re left with a recipe for drama, debate, and sex jokes.’

Mood board:

 

“Visitors for Grace”

‘A well-off family convenes on a lush estate for the imminent death of matriarch, Grace; a gathering which leads to the inevitable: plenty of family friction. Add to that a reckless enfant terrible, a failing marriage, a dysthymic wife, a frustrated doctor, and a family secret, and you’ve got a melodrama only a killjoy would want you to miss.’

Mood board:

 

“Like Father / Like Son” 

‘Bobby Adams arrived in Los Angeles at the age of twenty-one with big dreams of becoming an actor. Four years later—the present—he finds himself working as a barista and taking whatever odd acting jobs his irascible agent Jack Robertson can land him. When on the verge of giving up and moving home, Bobby is called by Jack who informs him of an audition for an unusual role: to play the part of the deceased son of wealthy business magnate Richard Watts. Only the part is to be played in real life, not in a movie. The gig pays handsomely, and desperate for money, Bobby decides to attend the audition. While at the audition he meets fellow-actor Wynona Wesley, who he immediately develops a crush on. Bobby lands the part, and the tumultuous weeks that follow serve to give Rob a new perspective on life, love, and Hollywood.’

Mood board:

Short Scripts

 

“A Significant Nothing”

A short script about human behaviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

‘An introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. Despite being romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he’s found someone with whom he can connect.

The question is: Has he found hope in a hopeless person?’

 

“Sea Soul”

A short version of an idea I had for a feature screenplay. Will likely be developed into a 90-minute script.

‘A disgraced former banker seeks redemption in a missing person’s case, only those closest to him plead with him to stop, not least because of his theory of what happened to the lost boy, and where he could be found… in the sea’.

 

The Funny Thing About Research

 

Ahhhh, research…

Arguably it’s the most important part of the writing process. How can you write about something if you know nothing about it? That old writing tip “write what you know” is always apt — you don’t want to look stupid, do you?!

But how about other ways you might look in the age of the internet and having access-all-areas? If I were to go through the things I’ve looked up in the name of research it could paint a pretty messed-up picture…

For one short story I had to research the job of an embalmer, how a cadaver appears and feels, how the process of embalming works, etc. For my work-in-progress novel American. Porn Star. President. (about a porn-addicted journalist), I’ve looked up almost every genre there is on major porn sites, and what the world of the porn industry is like, from on-set slang to bloody company rivalries. (Think that’s commitment? Some writers have acted in adult film for their stories — now that’s dedication!) For a short story about a disgruntled employee of a corporate giant, I delved into self-immolation, and came across some deeply harrowing images, and incredibly tragic cases. For my screenplay Let’s Talk About Sex, I researched the most comic and weird sex-related injuries (thinking about it still makes me wince).

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One, like Jake Gyllenhaal above, could look at this and reach the conclusion that I’m a sex-addicted, cadaver-infatuated nutjob who’s about to set myself on fire in a protest against my exploitative employer (must… crush… capitalism…).

So, is all this research essential when it comes to whatever project it is that you’re working on?

Well, yes… It’s like the method actor approach, although how far an actor — or a writer — would go is another thing. If I’m writing about a murderer I’m hardly going to go out and hack someone to death. But I would likely go to our all-knowing, omnipotent friend (or, arguably, foe) the Internet, and read about individual cases and the perpetrators… What was their mindset? How did they rationalise doing something so abhorrent? Did they even rationalise it? What was their background? How were they raised? What did their day-to-day look like?

I think it’s a part of us, though — this curiosity, this need to know… We’re voyeuristic… Or, as David Fincher said: people are perverts. We’re forever curious about the private (or not-so-private) lives of others. We obsess over individuals like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. We make celebrities out of some of the craziest people who’ve set foot on this planet. We create sensations around porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, James Deen, to name a few). Not that I’m saying porn stars are monsters like Manson and Bundy, of course. To be clear, that’s not what I’m saying at all! I admire adult performers for having the balls to do what they do… pun possibly intended.

But what do they have in common? Well, they’re the outliers, right? And we’re always interested in the people who go against the grain of “normal” society, be it by doing something awful (Manson and Bundy) or something unusual/outrageous (adult performers). We’re forever fascinated by the ones who don’t do the “normal” thing, because, for the most part, we’re surrounded by normalcy; the mundanity of everyday life.

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But coming back to research and writing, what does it all mean for the writer? The one who opens the doors to the often excessive, regularly fucked-up realities of this crazy world? Speaking from personal experience, my research has led me to having some odd, some adventurous, and some deeply disturbing dreams (including being pulled across the bed by a demonic spirit flashing before my eyes. And yes, I do have night terrors… I scream in my sleep sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and a little embarrassing, but it has scared my girlfriend in the middle of the night, and that’s definitely a consolation. It’s okay, she thinks it’s funny)…

Anyway, the great F. Scott Fitzgerald said this of the writer:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.

For me, that’s a perfect — and profound — way to describe a writer. The first time I read it, it simply made sense. I’ve definitely found myself feeling not-like-myself after writing a certain scene or a specific character, and that’s sometimes difficult to shake off immediately. Haruki Murakami has made reference to this in an interview with The New Yorker:

When I’m writing a novel, I wake up around four in the morning and go to my desk and start working. That happens in a realistic world. I drink real coffee. But, once I start writing, I go somewhere else. I open the door, enter that place, and see what’s happening there. I don’t know — or I don’t care — if it’s a realistic world or an unrealistic one. I go deeper and deeper, as I concentrate on writing, into a kind of underground. While I’m there, I encounter strange things. But while I’m seeing them, to my eyes, they look natural. And if there is a darkness in there, that darkness comes to me, and maybe it has some message, you know? I’m trying to grasp the message. So I look around that world and I describe what I see, and then I come back. Coming back is important. If you cannot come back, it’s scary. But I’m a professional, so I can come back.

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Coming back, even if it’s from the “real” world, is imperative. And, as Murakami alludes, it takes skill: he’s a professional, he can come back. He’s trained himself to come back. As made evident by my dreams, clearly I’m still in training.

But to end with Fitzgerald’s above quote in mind, maybe being good has been made easier today with the existence of the Internet, which allows us to do more research without having to leave the house or office. We’re not restricted to our first-hand experiences and our sometimes limited imaginations or book collections; we can delve into these worlds and mindsets instantly using the collective consciousness that is the Internet.

We can write what we know, although we might have preferred life when we didn’t know it.

 

Anyway, I hear the call for last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Header image by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Contra Teaser Trailer

 

Trailers: a little taste of what’s to come. This is a nice little teaser for my new short film ‘Contra’, directed by Daragh Murphy and starring Darragh O’Toole, Patrick Molloy, and Kyle Hixon.

From here we’ll be submitting to a number of festivals, and fingers crossed there’ll be a screening or three for us to attend soon enough!

Check out the teaser here: