WRITING ‘THE YEAR OF MAX AND JULIET,’ FORMERLY KNOWN AS ‘THE DEVIANTS.’
BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I started writing this book in the autumn of 2013 and finished it in March of 2014. Back then, it was known as THE DEVIANTS. It was my first full-length novel and I wrote it intending it for publication.
Prior to writing it, I had been penning poems on the subject of bad sex and failed relationships and performing them live in Dublin pubs and other spoken word venues. (Okay, so it was mostly pubs.) I was attending a writer’s group at the time (sporadically, due to childcare issues) and writing stories and poems there too.
I’d also been writing little comic ‘Letter to the Editor’ type pieces under various false names for the METRO, at the time Dublin’s biggest free daily newspaper. Loads of extremely friendly young Brazilian men and women would stand on street corners in the morning and hand you your free copy with a beaming smile as you hurried past to work, school or college.
The METRO, which started life as the METRO-HERALD, is sadly defunct now, which is probably just as well. In the current atmosphere of coronavirus mistrust, the powers-that-be would probably have found some reason why someone’s distributing a free newspaper on the streets at rush hour was bad for public health.
Anyway, as enjoyable and bohemian as my writing life was at the time, I began to experience a really strong urge to write something bigger and more lasting. My own feelings of mortality probably had a lot to do with my writing the book at that particular time. I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to leave something of mine for future generations to enjoy, or revile, as they chose, before it was too late.
Every writer who’s ever lived probably knows that feeling, the feeling of running out of time and wanting to get so much down on paper before you pop your clogs. Does any writer ever feel that he or she has written ‘enough?’ I doubt it. There’s no such thing as ‘enough’ to a writer.
Probably even Stephen King, the most productive writer who ever lived, is occasionally plagued by feelings of ‘I should be doing more; I should be WRITING more!!!’ Maybe even he too feels the pain of a wasted day, a day spent pricking about on the phone or on social media or watching DVDs when you should be frantically committing words to paper or your laptop.
Oh God, the pain of those awful days! How many times have I guilted myself, reproached myself or mentally beaten myself up for not writing! For being too tired, too emotional, too frazzled after a long day, too lazy or just too disinclined to sit down and write. Some days, after working my ass off, I take a genuinely well-deserved break. All work and no play, after all. But the days I allow myself to just fritter away, well, I always regret those, and rightly so.
I started specifically writing THE DEVIANTS after a trip to the Dublin Writers’ Museum on Parnell Square in late 2013. After seeing all those fabulous old original copies of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA from the actual nineteenth century in their locked display cases, I became determined to leave something of my own behind me when it’s my time to go. My work mightn’t ever make it into the museum, but at the very least I might feature on someone’s Kindle or bookshelf. I went home and started writing. Properly, this time. This time, I was in it for the long haul.
So I wrote the story that had been inside me for so long, waiting to come out; the story of a lonely young woman, Juliet, who meets a lonely married man called Max and starts an ultimately destructive affair with him, an affair that breaks his marriage wide open and leaves Juliet a hollow shell of the person she once was.
Max lives in a big comfortable house in the suburbs with his talented artist wife, his two beautiful daughters and their dog Bruce, but Juliet has a ‘grotty flat’ in an area near or off Parnell Street, just a stone’s throw from the Irish Writers’ Museum.
In the book, Juliet works in a bakery-slash-coffee shop on Parnell Street and she often sits in the fabulous Garden of Remembrance when the weather permits to eat her lunch, or to just sit and daydream about Max, something she does a lot of.
I’ve often sat in there too and felt completely over-awed by the hugely magnificent statue of the Children of Lir or trailed my fingers in the cool blue waters of the pond. (This was back in the days when we were still allowed to touch stuff…)
That whole area up by the Garden and the Museum also houses the Irish Writers’ Centre and the Hugh Lane Art Gallery, and it just speaks to me so clearly of Max and Juliet every time I go there, or to Chapters’ Bookstore on Parnell Street. (I have Max and Juliet meeting in a bookstore on Parnell Street, only I’ve called it Quills.)
Believe it or not, I’d written their story as an actual short story first. It was published in Ireland’s BIG ISSUES magazine and I was so inspired by it (inspired by my own work, lol, what am I like?!) that I decided to make their amour fou, their ‘crazy love,’ the subject of my first full-length novel. I still feel inclined to regard it as the best thing I ever wrote and I still feel that big things, good big things, will happen for it one day.
I just remembered that I actually fell out with a good friend for about two years over THE DEVIANTS. I was serialising it on my blog, a chapter a week, and this friend read it and said it had too much sex in it. She said that, if I took all the sex out, I might be able to interest publishers in it. Anyone who’s read the book will know that the sex is a genuinely integral part of it.
I was so hurt by her remarks about my book-baby that we fell out, or at least I stopped talking to her for about two years, after which we sort of drifted back in to talking to each other again, mainly because I felt very guilty about what I’d done in cutting off relations with her.
That lady is sadly deceased now, and if I had my time again, I would try to handle her criticisms differently. More maturely, maybe. I certainly wouldn’t stop speaking to her again for two years over a book, even if it was my first attempt at sending one out into the world…!
Anyway, I discovered the wonderful world of Kindle Direct Publishing in the winter of 2014 and submitted THE DEVIANTS straightaway. The best review it received likened it to Nabokov’s LOLITA and the worst one advised me to stop writing, immediately and forever, after inflicting such a rubbishy FIFTY SHADES OF GREY knock-off on the world. Heh-heh-heh.
Needless to say, I ignored this advice and, seven years later, am still writing away like a mad yoke, still trying to leave a completed legacy of writings (if a writer’s legacy can ever be said to be ‘completed’) for my readers in the future.
I have two writing tips to share with you before I go: 1. Start writing, and 2. Keep writing, no matter what. I hope that Max and Juliet will outlive me, and that people are reading about them and identifying with them long after I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil and gone to join the angels above. Or the devils below, it’s all good…!
THE YEAR OF MAX AND JULIET is FREE, FREE, FREE from the 15th to the 19th (inclusive) of September. Please download your FREE COPY here!
Max, a bored and unhappy middle-aged man, meets a younger woman, Juliet, by chance in a bookshop. Instantly attracted to each other, they begin an affair. Juliet quickly realises that Max is not like most other men sexually. Lonely, and craving the affection she has been denied throughout her life, she allows herself to become Max’s sexual plaything- and punchbag- in exchange for his love. Max takes full advantage of Juliet’s friendless state and coerces her into doing things that leave her feeling degraded and violated. Afraid of losing Max, Juliet is unable to say no to his demands, and so the game continues until the situation blows up in their faces, and both Max and Juliet have no choice but to confront the consequences of their messed-up love.