Noël Cades is a writer originally from the UK who now lives in Australia, where she loves the climate but misses Bramley apples and Bonfire Night. Noël writes on the theme of “forbidden romance,” exploring illicit relationships and risky affairs, as well as age-gap relationships.
Noël’s interests include Latin, which she studied at school. She recently translated Vergil’s Aeneid Book III into Anglo Saxon-style alliterative verse, for no real reason other than to see if it could be done. (It could, but not very well).
With a day job, a night job and a family, squeezing in writing time means a lot of late nights, hence the title of Noël’s blog: “Writings at Midnight.”
Her first novel, Forbidden Lessons, was published in April of 2014.
What is it that you find most alluring about student-teacher relationships?
Having a crush on a teacher is a phase that many of us have gone through and can relate to. It’s no wonder that student-teacher relationships have enjoyed a long tradition in literature, from The Woman in White (Walter and Laura) to Anne of Green Gables (Mr. Phillips and Prissy).
As a theme it has also had considerable treatment in film, though times have changed over the last century. If you look at movies before 1950, there are many cases of much younger women ending up with older men in positions of authority — Girls’ Dormitory (1930) and Margie (1946) as two school-themed examples — and it’s considered a happy ending for them. In more recent films such relationships are treated as unhealthy and undesirable — for example Indecent Seduction (1996) and Blue Car (2002).
A lot of the allure is the idea of the forbidden: the secrecy, the illicit liaisons, the rule-breaking. What kind of desire drives two people to take that kind of risk?
In the vast majority of cases teacher crushes go unrequited. But I found myself wondering, what if? Would it be possible for a student and a teacher to genuinely fall in love and manage to sustain a healthy, fulfilling relationship?
What inspired you to write Forbidden Lessons?
Forbidden Lessons started out as a bit of fun with some old school friends. I started writing a fictional account of our high school days and a crush on a particular teacher, emailing them the early scenes. But then I found it was starting to flow and take on a life of its own, and most of all I was really enjoying writing it.
It gave me a chance to explore an alternate history of what might have happened in our school days if we’d made different decisions.
Interaction with other romance and erotica writers was also very inspiring, particularly on reddit.com/r/eroticauthors. Seeing how well these writers did and how much they enjoyed their craft encouraged me to stick with my novel. It’s a very supportive community and as writing is usually solo, even lonely work, interaction with other writers is all the more important.
As a first-time novelist, what was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Forbidden Lessons isn’t the first book I’ve written, though it’s the first I’ve published. I’ve also written a couple of murder mysteries which I eventually hope to bring out under a different nom-de-plume. So actually publishing a book this time was a new journey. Everything from the technical details such as tax forms and ISBNs to that emotional, over-the-cliff moment of finally hitting “Publish.”
One of the most difficult things in terms of writing was the more erotic scenes as I hadn’t really written anything like that before. I had to research how to do it and I sought advice from more experienced authors in that genre. Some of the tips were wonderful, everything from “have a few drinks” to “turn yourself on first.”
Possibly the biggest challenge was vocabulary. Words relating to sex tend to come in different categories: medical (dictionary terms), “bodice ripper” (silken loins and hard manhoods), pornographic (explicit/crude), humorous (bazookas, va-jay-jay). It was hard to strike a balance. Many other romance and erotic authors also seem to struggle with this. Euphemisms get very clichéd and prissy, but too many blunt Anglo-Saxon body part terms can end up being shocking rather than seductive. Throw a few medical terms in and you can just feel any reader excitement deflate.
What authors have had the biggest influence on your life and your writing?
Without a doubt Agatha Christie. Both personally and as a writer. I’ve read all her works several times over and it’s still hard to pin down what elevates her so far above every writer of her genre, as well as other genres. She’s still the best selling author of all time, over four billion copies sold, translated into over 100 languages. That is not fluke.
The best I can conclude is that it’s her insight into human nature, combined with her intelligence, her spirit and her accessibility that sets her apart. Every author can learn from this. Ultimately she was a unique person, with a very unique and unusual upbringing and education, and as such I don’t think her brilliance can really be replicated. A lot of critics dismiss Christie’s works as light or non-literary. But what she did is simply unparallelled in literature and even a more erudite or “clever” or practised or educated writer could never, ever repeat it.
Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse are also huge favourites: both are brilliant with comedic characterisation and dialogue. Jilly Cooper is very clever at writing funny, moving and sexy stories. Jackie Collins is also a master of her genre. As with Christie, a lot of writers in the romance genre get dismissed because they’re not writing cerebral, literary tomes with Booker or Pulitzer prizes in mind. I would argue that what they do is harder and more skilful than anything a “highbrow” novelist ever does.
What do you miss most about childhood?
Christmas. We had wonderful Christmases at my grandparents’ huge, somewhat ramshackle country home in the south of England, with all our cousins and aunts and uncles around. These were really old-fashioned Christmases with all the traditional trimmings: home made mince pies, carol singers from the village, chestnuts roasting on the log-fire, heavy stockings on our beds on Christmas morning and a mountain of presents under the Christmas tree. Holly and ivy from the nine-acre grounds decking the halls, and a vast turkey and a massive ham kept cool in the dairy.
As an adult you can never recreate this because all the people there are gone and they matter more than the things. They are either dead, in the case of older relatives, or scattered across the globe with their own families. I like to read John Masefield’s The Box of Delights to get some of that feeling back. It’s especially hard now I live in Australia as the weather is all wrong, though I plan to go back to the Northern Hemisphere this year. Fingers crossed for snow!
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Food is the most marvellous thing, isn’t it? Which makes this the hardest question to answer!
I can think of the best foods I’ve never eaten — they would be the magical creations in Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series. Toffee shocks, google buns and pop biscuits. It’s always glorious and poignant to read descriptions of food in British literature of the Second World War and in the years of rationing that followed. Many people don’t realise that rationing became stricter after the war ended, which is why children’s literature from that era is full of midnight feasts and graphic descriptions of picnics.
In terms of the best meal I’ve ever had: it’s always when I’ve been really, really hungry and preferably cold. So let me name three: manti (minced lamb dumplings) at a traditional restaurant in Kazakhstan, after a long day of travel and sightseeing in brisk winter weather. A roast pork roll with crispy crackling on a freezing Bonfire Night in the UK, high up on the hillside watching fireworks glitter in the black sky. A warm, soft, fresh-from-the-oven pretzel on top of a snow-capped mountain in Bavaria.
Sounds like you’re fairly well-traveled. Have your journeys from the UK to Bavaria, Kazakhstan and now Australia (and your interactions with the residents of each area) changed or affected your opinion of human nature?
It’s impossible to travel and live overseas and not get a changed perspective. In terms of human nature, I’ve come to realise that people are the same the world over in terms of what fundamentally drives them, what interests them, what upsets them. It’s education and upbringing that change us and make us different from one another: the layers we paint onto our base natures.
If we lived in a world where every single person was required to travel and live overseas for a year, among different cultures, we would have a much better world. Insularity is the curse of most societies.
What are you working on next?
The next story will be another student-teacher romance but with a somewhat different mood than Forbidden Lessons, tentatively titled Summer’s Edge. This time, the teacher is a sports coach (cricket), he’s more hesitant and most of the pursuit happens outside school. It’s also set in summer rather than the approaching winter of Forbidden Lessons, so it’s near the end of term and the end of school forever for the heroine and her friends.
What would it take for you to call your writing career a success?
In terms of commercial success, making a living wage from fiction writing would be wonderful. The ultimate dream would be to be able to go and live somewhere else in the world for a few months at a time, write some new material, move on. Essentially a digital nomad but perhaps at a slightly higher level of comfort than in my backpacking days!
In terms of personal success, just having published something and having had people buy it and like it is amazing.