Erotica goes mainstream

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
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Interview with Kate Belle

headshot of Kate Belle
Kate Belle

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, as Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina, ‘There are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.’

Kate Belle, successful erotic fiction writer, believes that one person’s crude is another’s glory when it comes to writing about sex. We ask her what it’s like writing erotica, and – despite its recent boom in popularity – why so many people don’t respect it.

What do you make of erotica’s shift into the mainstream?

There are so many interesting aspects to the burst of erotic awareness that arrived with Fifty Shades and the mass embrace of the digital reader. The advent of ‘mummy porn’ (I truly hate that patronising term) has provided broad permission for women to read and enjoy erotic fiction without shame. The carry on in mainstream media would have you thinking it’s something new and controversial, but the truth is many women (and men) have been reading this material for years through commercial fiction (just ask Jackie Collins), hot Harlequin Mills & Boon imprints and a number of well established overseas digital publishers.

What has occurred in the past 18 months looks to me to be something of a zeitgeist in women’s consciousness with regard to sexual expression. The condescension the genre attracts is a bit disheartening, albeit predictable. Nobody runs down other genres, like trashy action thrillers or crime novels, in quite the same way as women’s romantic/erotic fiction.

What’s exciting about erotic romance and erotica is it’s dominated by women who are writing for other women, and in that sense it’s a revolution worth celebrating. While I admit the quality of writing varies wildly, at least it’s got women reading, and in doing so they are carving out their own space in both literary and sexual terms. It’s women who are driving this beast – they are using the page to create the heroes and heroines they want to read and exploring all kinds of new sexual possibilities through the written word. For someone who wants to study emergent female sexual archetypes in popular culture there’s an easy PhD right there.

What aspects of female sexuality are you exploring in your latest novel, 'Saint'?

I wanted to explore monogamy and the idea that infidelity is viewed as worse when a woman is the perpetrator. There’s a lot of unconscious baggage and control tied up in the way we see women’s sexuality in Western culture. We keep propagating judgements and expectations deeply embedded in an old Christian view that feminine sexuality is dangerous or wrong and therefore must be controlled. In this novel I wanted to unleash a purer, unfettered version of feminine sexuality and see where it took the characters. The novel subtly asks what might fully realised feminine sexuality look like and how dangerous is it really?

What’s the most popular question you’re asked about relationships?

I don’t get asked a lot of questions about relationships. People are shy and afraid of admitting to what they might feel as failures or weak spots in their relationships. Instead people try to reassure themselves of their normality by asking me about my relationship experiences. I think it’s a relief for them to encounter someone who is willing to be open and honest about their failures, hopes, fears, etc. when it comes to sexual relationships. It’s a rare thing. Most people go to great effort to cover up relationship faults they’re embarrassed by for fear of being judged as lacking or incapable in some way.

Although there is one thing I’m commonly asked as an author: Is what you write inspired by personal experience? It’s fascinating how fascinated people are with my personal sex life as an inspiration for my work. They assume if I can write amazing sex I must have amazing sex. I draw a lot from the practices of Tantra and Taoism to enhance the intimacy in my erotic scenes and try to tap into a deeper human desire to connect on multiple levels with a lover and I think it’s this that many women find compelling.

Aside from voyeuristic interest, I believe this question is often a mask for more personal questions people find too uncomfortable to ask. What people really want to know is: Is the sex you write about possible? Could I enjoy that kind of intimacy? How can I feel as sexually uplifted as the women in your stories? Do the lovers you describe exist? What’s it like to be loved that way?

What is a typical day at work for you? Take us through a day in the life of an erotic fiction writer.

How I wish it were glamorous. Coffee laden debates with the literati of Melbourne. Languid hours with a lover and wine. In reality: Woken up by a) snoring husband; b) alarm; c) the dogs; d) my daughter playing piano. Be grumpy about everything. Two obligatory coffees brewed in my 1980s percolator (I can’t function without them!). Grumble and yawn my way to the gym. Exercise begrudgingly for an hour. Leave wearing a halo, feeling virtuous and wholesome. Walk my daughter to school. Complain about something trivial to a friend. Return home mulling over trivial complaint. Put it on Facebook and Twitter. Realise I’ve wasted an hour on social media complaining with no perceivable benefit. Percolate more coffee. Write. Write some more. Agonise. Procrastinate. Eat vegemite toast for lunch. Tell Twitter what I had for lunch #writerslunch. Write. Complain on social media I can’t write to save myself. Look for a job. Give up. Organise an author blog tour instead. Look at my schedule and realise I have no time to meet blog tour commitments. Slap myself in the head. Write. Realise I’m going to be late for school pick up. Feed my daughter, the cat, the dogs. Wish someone else would do the dishes, cook, clean, fold the laundry. Get bullied off my iPad by my daughter. Try to think of the quickest way to put a meal on the table without actually having to cook. Read with my daughter for an hour. Cajole, manipulate, plead, bully her into bed. Read. Ignore beleaguered, tired partner climbing into bed. Just finish this chapter. Read way past a reasonable hour. Turn the light off lamenting it will be only hours before I have to go to gym again.

About Kate Belle

Kate Belle is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. Her debut novel The Yearning was released in 2013 to rave reviews. Her second novel Saint will be published in 2014. In 2012 Kate created The Ecstasy Files a popular blog focusing on eroticism, sexuality and relationships.