Kate Belle describes herself as a ‘passionate author, adequate wife and devoted mum/step-mum’. On her website, The Ecstasy Files, she says she’s a collector of erotic literature who believes ‘a randy read can be almost as satisfying as good sex’. Phew! She also describes herself as a ‘literary snob’. A woman who has a tertiary qualification in applied chemistry, half a diploma in naturopathy and a diploma in psychological astrology, and the writer of recently-released novel The Yearning, Kate’s bio has definitely tweaked my interest. Here’s my insight into Kate– and if you want to read my review of The Yearning, click here.
Monique: Let’s start with some questions about The Yearning. What do you want readers to know about this novel?
Kate: It’s not what you might expect. It’s not salacious or opportunistic. It’s about eroticism but it’s not erotic fiction, it’s romantic but it’s not romance. It’s a dark love story, a whole story, rounded out beyond the first heart rushing moments of attraction to explore the consequences of desire, which can be devastating.
Monique: What do you like most about The Yearning?
Kate: The intimate intensity. I found writing the depth of the character’s emotional journey’s immensely satisfying. It was like a meditation on Eros.
Monique: What has been the feedback to The Yearning since it was launched last month? What’s it like waiting for the reviews to come in?
Kate: So far The Yearning has attracted rave reviews, which is wonderful and an enormous relief. I’m glad people are giving it a chance and not writing it off as trashy because of the subject matter.
For a writer the only thing more terrifying than approaching agents or publishers is awaiting the public verdict on your baby. I try not to, but I waste a lot of time worrying about reviews and reminding myself over and over not everyone is going to love my book. Diversity in taste is what makes the publishing world go around and a reader who doesn’t like my work will become another writer’s fan. Regardless, when the inevitable ‘bad rap’ arrives, it always hurts and usually results in a bottle of wine.
Monique: Has there been any negative feedback about the student/teacher relationship in The Yearning? Rather than being offended, what do you hope readers learn from the relationship?
Kate: Interestingly I haven’t encountered any negative feedback (yet). I have, however, encountered wariness and reluctance, particularly from teachers, which I completely understand. People are twitchy about the subject matter and are afraid that the moral issues of the student/teacher relationship in The Yearning will be exploited in a titillating way.
I would say to these people that the relationship is treated with honesty and respect. The Yearning doesn’t lay blame but opens up the relationship, how it evolves and its consequences, for examination. I hope that people put aside their inevitable emotional discomfort and see The Yearning as a cautionary tale about sexual desire and its consequences.
Monique: It’s easy for readers to blame Solomon for taking advantage of his young lover – he’s the adult, after all. Do you think that’s entirely fair? And, if you’ve read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, did you feel the same way?
Kate: Solomon is the adult and is ultimately responsible for allowing the relationship to develop. What The Yearning points out is the emotional complexity of the relationship and its shifting power balance. There is a lot of social hysteria about these types of relationships, with the adult being demonised and the young person being treated as a victim. Sometimes this is the case, but sometimes it’s an over-simplification.
The truth is, young people are aware of their emerging sexual power and its affect on adults. Popular culture teaches them that allure is cool and shows them how to ‘ruffle their sexual feathers’. While I don’t condone teacher/student liaisons, I do understand how it can happen. The power balance is not as simple as it first seems. Vulnerabilities lie on both sides.
Lolita is a different kettle of fish. From the get-go the protagonist declares his penchant for pre-pubescent girls and blames them for their emerging sexuality. The Yearning is different because it speaks to the exercise of erotic power and its consequences. It has more similarities to the old Holy Grail myth of Parsifal and the Fisher King.
Monique: The quotes from the Biblical book Song of Songs at the start of each chapter are beautiful and intriguing. What made you chose to quote from Song of Songs?
Kate: There’s something about the passion in Song of Songs that has always captured my imagination. It speaks of deeply spiritual erotic love and I love that it’s so old. It reassures me that the longing for a deeper connection with another being is perennial in human experience. And the irony of its connection to my poor, confused Solomon was irresistible.
Monique: Are there any similarities between you and the young girl of the story? What are they?
Kate: I can remember the torture of my teenage years vividly. I wasn’t that popular at school, always a bit geeky and brainy and terrible at sport. I longed for love at that age the same as everyone else. Even then, I dreamed of a soul mate. I read Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and watched The Love Boat. Love was a grand dream to me then, as it is for the young girl in The Yearning.
Monique: If you could put together a soundtrack for The Yearning, which two songs would have to be on it? I thought Don’t Stand So Close by The Police and Kiss by Prince were a good fit at different points in the novel.
Kate: I loved your picks, Monique. Police’s Don’t Stand is a natural. I imagined Solomon’s entrance on the scene to the old 70’s tune, I’m a man by Spencer Davis Group. It’s perfect for him. But really, the music would have to be haunting and sensual tracks from Seduction by Luminesca, especially Adoration by Phillip Houghton.
Monique: And if there was a movie, which actors would you chose to play Solomon and his young lover?
Kate: Johnny Depp would be a convincing Solomon. A Solomon who looked like Theo Theodoridis, the Greek model, would be impressive. And someone like Lauren Ambrose or Lily Cole for the girl.
Monique: What advice will you give to your daughter when she approaches this time of her life?
Kate: DON’T GET INVOLVED WITH AN OLDER MAN/WOMAN – at least until you’re mature enough to go toe to toe with him/her. After some consideration I think I’d let her read The Yearning (with guidance) when I thought she was ready for it and have a discussion with her about it.
Monique: Let’s talk about some general writing things now. What’s your writing process like? Has it adapted over time? Do you have a particular writing space? Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise? How do you get into the “zone”?
Kate: I need music to write. My characters and stories have a sound track and the music helps me connect with their emotional life. I also use a meditation/automatic writing technique, especially if I’m stumped or can’t connect with the character. I pretend I am them, looking at the world through their eyes, hearing their voice in my head. I do a fair bit of planning before I start these days, exploring the plot and character arcs. But the story itself always starts as scraps and bones. My first drafts are short and I have to rewrite lots to put meat and depth into them.
Monique: If someone (no, not me) wanted to write erotic fiction, what skills would they need? What advice would you give them to get in the zone for writing love scenes?
Kate: I didn’t set out to write erotic fiction. It just arrives in my narratives naturally. It’s not something I think about too much. Some good advice I did get from Andrea Goldsmith is that when sex becomes part of a narrative, it must be necessary to plot or character development. The same rules apply as to regular fiction. Avoid clichés. Don’t be gratuitous. Stay emotionally connected to it. Make sure something shifts for the characters by the end of it. And let it turn you on. If it’s not doing anything for you, it won’t do anything for your readers either.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Kate: Little words. ‘That’, mostly. And repetition. My unconscious picks a word or phrase it likes and uses it over and over again. Oh, and social media. I’m a total sucker for it.
Monique: Do your characters create themselves? Or do you plan them out? Do they ever surprise you?
Kate: My characters arrive in my head and start telling me their story. I explore their drives with them, communicate with them, ask them what they want to say. I have to cut off my own internal chatter and give them room to speak. I talk to them lots. The main protagonist in my current novel (Banjo) just about strangled me one day saying urgently, ‘You have to tell it, this story, my story. You must!’
And, yes, they surprise me.
Monique: What do you look for when you read fiction?
Kate: I’m afraid I’m a literary snob at heart. I love, love, love beautifully formed, lyrical prose laden with insight and meaning. That said, I need a compelling story too. I like really well written page turners – which is what I also aim to write. The story has to introduce me to something new, give me an insight, for me to feel really satisfied as a reader.
Monique: Which Australian women writers do you admire the most?
Kate: So many! Tobsha Learner, Susan Johnson, Paddy O’Reilly, Kate Forsythe, Toni Jordan, Andrea Goldsmith, Drusilla Modjeska, Nikki Gemmel, Margareta Osborn, and new discoveries in Yvette Walker, Favel Parrett, Kath Ledson. I should stop now.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Kate: Books, you mean. The Burial by Courtney Collins, House for All Seasons by Jenn J MacLeod and some Abbi Glines. If my ‘to read’ pile topples I’m a dead woman.
Monique: And now a few just-for-fun questions. Most importantly, if I came over for dinner now, what would we have to eat?
Kate: I love a table of happy, well fed people – I’d probably whip up a tasty pasta and something rude and fattening from Nigella for dessert.
Monique: Sold! Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Kate: Only if I’m bored with the book.
Monique: Such self-control! Finish this sentence … I really hate it when …people ask me impossible questions. My daughter does it all the time. ‘Mum, is your life a dream or a nightmare?’
Monique: Yep, that would stump me, too. Which song best describes you?
Kate: Just one? There’s that impossible question again!
Monique: OK, try this. Lately I’ve heard mention of Ramon, the ‘lover’ in your other novellas. What would Ramon have to say about you?
Kate: I asked him and he said ‘You’re lots of fun to play with.’
Monique: Cheeky! And you’ve also said that it’s best not to read about Ramon on public transport. What would be the best setting for settling in with Ramon?
Kate: Glass of wine, mood lighting and an uninterrupted evening. Then chuck in a good lover to cuddle up to when you’re done.
Thank you, Kate!