Viability of Polyam Lifestyles

I’ve already blogged about the gay Colombian throuple who inspired my stories. Here, I’m digging deeper into why I’m intrigued by their lifestyle.

I’ve partnered one man for many years, but I can see that, if I shared my life with other people too, some problems (‘challenges’ is just euphemistic to me) could be overcome more easily. The sort of things I pick up on in the stories, really: someone else to discuss issues with, someone else who’ll offer and provide emotional support and sex, someone else to go a walk with, to see a film with…someone else to ask.

I can see that the fact that there’s ‘more than one’ creates some problems too: ganging up and taking sides, making decisions democratically, finding the time to get together to talk… I doubt it’s easy to make a poly relationship work. I reckon it takes a great deal of effort and a lot of commitment, especially if it’s the kind of closed relationship my four men have.

I think that the thing that might affect the lifestyle’s viability the most, though, is the one that’s indicated by the terminology that has grown up around polyamory. Yes, the grouping might comprise several people, but there will be a ‘primary pairing’ and, by default in a quad, a ‘secondary’ one. I don’t see how this distinction can be avoided. Presumably, a relationship is begun by two, then further folk are added. How would it feel to be these additions? How can the primary pair ensure that the people who arrive later feel equal? This is the issue I have tried to explore in Polyamory on Trial. I arrived at a solution, but I’m not happy with it. I need to rephrase that. I’m happy with the story. (I’d probably give it 4 stars on Goodreads. There’s always room for improvement, so not the full five.) I’d like to think that there were alternative endings though – other means of dealing with the dynamics that arise when pairings are primary and secondary. My problem is that I can’t think of any.

I know that my stories are difficult to classify (Keith John Glaeske said so when he reviewed Badge of Loyalty for Out in Print in April, and some Goodreads reviewers feel likewise) but I doubt that B of L’s sequel will be read by many people who adopt the poly lifestyle. For me, that’s a real shame. I would like to know if I have accurately described  the tensions that might arise. Perhaps I’m making mountains out of molehills, but I think that I would feel as Phil, one of my four men, does. When life is going well, problems seem small and manageable, but when it isn’t…

Polyamory on Trial will be published at the end of August. Just a few weeks away! In fact, I’ve just finished reading the proof. I might have to write a sequel of a sequel – if I can think of ways to solve my dilemma. No bright ideas at the moment.

A note to Goodreads users. Most of my posts have photos and images. They show as errors on the Goodreads link unfortunately but are fine on WordPress.com’s own site.

 

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Brown ales, pale ales, polyamorous tales

“I’m the figure on the right holding a half-empty bottle of brown ale.”

That’s Phil Roberts speaking near the start of the novel, Badge of Loyalty. Phil, like the other men in the story, enjoys a drink at his local, the imaginary Tunhope Arms, and with his evening meal. This post, then, is dedicated to ale but with snippets of  polyamorous t-ales (ha ha) thrown into the brew.

Ales have a long history. When Jack Barak, Matthew Shardlake’s right hand man in the C. J. Sansom stories, has a tankard of ‘small beer’, he is, in fact, drinking ale. Back then, in the English Middle Ages, safe, fresh water wasn’t readily available and low alcohol ale — small beer – was drunk instead.  Modern ales can have a greater alcohol content. They always use hops, in varying quantities. They generally use barley, and they are top-fermenting. That is, they use yeasts that rise to the surface during fermentation. Lagers, in contrast, use bottom fermenting yeasts. Another ale and lager difference is their serving temperature. Lagers are, apparently, best drunk cold, below 7°C; ales are best drunk chilled or simply cool.

It’s recommended that ale is stored in a keg or barrel not a bottle, but ale on tap isn’t always an option for the gay quad of my story. The Tunhope Arms is three miles away from their home as the crow flies, and  ten by the little winding road that runs from the Arms to Tunhead, where they live. And as one of the four, Mike Angells, is insistent that they never drink and drive — Badge of Loyalty explains why —  it’s often bottled ales at home.

Mike himself drinks pale. It’s traditionally brewed with soft water and with a large proportion of pale malts. The resulting colour varies from pale straw to light golden and there is a small but long-lasting head. Mike drinks English pale ale. Apparently, it’s not as strong-tasting as Belgian pales, nor as hoppy as American ones. I have to admit that the brand he uses in Badge of Loyalty is the one that I like most — a Kent brew called Whitstable Bay Pale Ale.  In the story, Mike feels so down that he wishes he could sail away into oblivion on a barge like the one on the label. It’s a Thames barge, the kind of boat that, a hundred years or so ago, sailed up and down the Thames and Medway all the time, carrying produce and building materials from Kent and Essex to London.  You can actually take a trip from Whitstable on one today – the Greta. The ale is advertised on the sails. Here’s the bottle….

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….. and here’s the cap…..

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(All photos  Jude Tresswell)

In Polyamory on Trial, Phil says sorry for being a pillock to Mike by buying him several bottles of what used to be another Kent brew, Whitbread Pale Ale. Whitbread’s own production stopped some time ago, but the label has recently been reintroduced by Windsor and Eton  in London. I find it interesting that both these ales were/are brewed in Kent. Most of Kent’s water is hard, derived from the chalk acquifer that underlies much of the county. Some areas–Thanet , for instance, and the Weald–are different geologically,  and pale ale’s production is associated with these softer water areas.

As indicated, Phil is partial to a pint of brown. Brown is a traditional English ale and, today, is mainly brewed in the north of the country. The most famous brown is probably the one associated with Newcastle. It’s actually a reddish brown, almost chestnut coloured, and, to me,  it’s strong-tasting and malty – great in a steak and ale pie, though cooking is a waste of it in some ways. No wonder Phil drinks  brown — he’s from Newcastle – though he might not support the label with such verve if he knew that it’s never brewed in his home town now. The last brewery building in the city was demolished in 2007, I think. Today, Newky Brown is owned by Heineken and the bottle Phil was drinking was probably brewed in Tadcaster, in North Yorkshire. I wonder if he takes any notice of the little star on the back label. It changes colour, advising the drinker when the contents are 12°C , the recommended serving temperature. Here’s the front label showing the bridge over the Tyne…

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If you’d like to copy the photos, that’s fine, but I’d appreciate a reference or link to the blog. The bottle and top designs are presumably copyright of the brewers.

Badge of Loyalty (published February 2018) and Polyamory on Trial (to be published August 2018) are copyright Jude Tresswell. Paperback and e-book available from Rowanvale Books at http://www.rowanvalebooks.com and from the usual distributors. If you want a book that has useful information about brewing beer at home, Home Brew Beer by Greg Hughes does the job well and it has lots of background info too.

Visible tattoos, joining the police and M/M fiction

Let’s be honest. Raith Balan, artist, ceramist, one quarter of a fictional gay quad and by far the most heavily tattooed of the four men, wouldn’t want to join the police. Not even if he were offered an unlimited supply of the chilli flakes he adds to everything he eats. But Mike Angells, another of the foursome, is a CID inspector in the imaginary North East England constabulary, Tees, Tyne and Wear, and Mike has tattoos too. One is on his upper arm. The other is on his back. Mike’s can be concealed by clothing, though. Raith’s can’t: he has a tattoo on his neck. Here it is, part of the cover of Badge of Loyalty.

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I’ve explored the significance of the design before ( The Infinity Heart Symbol and Polyamory  ) but this post focuses on the confusing guidance given by the Home Office to Forces in England and Wales regarding their tattooed officers. Can cops have tattoos or not?

In Mike’s fictional Force, TTW, all designs must be coverable, but he isn’t sure about the rules elsewhere. That’s not surprising. He’s echoing the uncertainty of real police life. Home Office guidelines on recruitment and eligibility exist, but the 43 Forces interpret them differently. There is so much confusion that, in 2016, the Police Federation* commissioned two complementary surveys to help to achieve a clear, sensible policy, which would reflect contemporary attitudes to professionalism. One survey investigated the attitudes of the public. The other asked officers from constable to chief inspector for their own opinion. 4,456 officers responded. If he were real, Mike would have been one of the 30%  who didn’t know if any Force-wide policy existed.

Mike is actually a very typical example of a modern tattooed officer in terms of his gender–a choice of two was offered–, ethnicity, age, academic qualifications, length of service, rank and branch. He’s typical with respect to the placement of his tattoos as well. The two most popular locations overall (that is, including tattoos that are both visible and non-visible) are upper arm (25%) and back and shoulders (24%). Just like him. He almost seems conventional! Totally normative!

Here’s a breakdown of his similarity to his tattooed colleagues. Like him, 47% were  male; 49% were white; 52% were aged 35-44 (I’d place him firmly at the lower end.); 55% had GCSE as their highest qualification; 48% had 15-20 years in the Force (He joined when he was 20/21.); 31% held the rank of inspector; and 43% were investigative or investigation support. (I presume that CID sits there.) And like 31% of his colleagues, his tattoos aren’t visible when he is in uniform. (Mike’s a plain-clothes detective so this would only happen on certain formal occasions.)

But does questioning current policy matter? It certainly does to Mike. Here, talking about Raith, he explains why:
They’d never have had him in the Force! You know he spent time behind bars, don’t you? Years ago, and I reckon that if he’d applied to join the Force they’d’ve put bars up just to keep him out, not in. He wouldn’t be able to join, anyway. He has his polyam tattoo on his neck and TTW don’t allow that. No visible tattoos—sets a bad example, apparently. It’s the same with some other constabularies. The MET used to have that rule, and Kent. Don’t know if they still do and excuse me if I have a bit of a rant, but I think it’s a stupid rule. You get talkin’ to people when you have tattoos. Breaks the ice a bit. © Jude Tresswell Polyamory on Trial

He’s echoing the feelings of many of the officers who responded to the survey. It’s the Police Federation itself that is campaigning for a relaxation of what they see as old-fashioned rules which fail to keep abreast of social change. In the complementary survey, the one that investigated public attitudes, the overwhelming majority of respondents (81%) said that they would have equal confidence in a tattooed and non-tattooed officer. (I suppose that a lot of people are just so glad to see any officer at all that the last thing they’re going to do is fuss. So many cuts…) Interestingly, the most positive people lived in the north of England so, once again, Mike is reflecting the society in which he lives. Northern respondents were also the most likely to disagree with the requirement that some Forces have, that an officer should cover up a visible tattoo.

So, to return to the question posed in this post’s title. It would appear that Raith would be ineligible to be an officer if he applied to certain Forces unless he found a means of covering up his very visible infinity heart, but the wind of change is blowing. Tattoos are part of modern society, and the police themselves are increasingly aware that, if officers are to reflect that society and be respected within the communities they serve, then the zeitgeist must be recognised. Raith though…..he spent two years banged up for GBH when he was younger. Now how would that affect his eligibility…..? Possibly another tale.

Notes: *Police officers in England and Wales aren’t allowed a union, but, in many respects the association, the Police Federation, acts as one for ranks up to Chief Inspector. Superintendents and above have their own association.

The relevant reports are available as pdf:  Final Report on Police Officers’ Tattoos Survey, 2016, and Final Report on the Public Survey on Police Officers’ Tattoos by Ipsos Mori, 2016. Both were commissioned by the Police Federation, published in October 2016, and authored by Dr Denis van Mechelen.

Badge of Loyalty ©Jude Tresswell, published February 2018. Cover design: ©Cerys of Rowanvale Books. Polyamory on Trial ©Jude Tresswell, tbp August 2018. Cover design: ©Cerys of Rowanvale Books. Paperback and e-book available from all usual distributors and from http://www.rowanvalebooks.com.

Ethical fiction: content clashing with conscience

A word is pejorative. A phrase is non-PC. Similes and metaphors prepare a trap – ‘trap’ because language is so ingrained that it is dangerously easy to be caught out and offend people, albeit unintentionally. That’s exactly what I thought I might be doing in this sentence from Polyamory on Trial, the second of my novels about Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil, a fictional gay quad:

Raith could look at a landscape and see colours in it that were hardly known to man, yet his personal view of the world was so black and white, so simply divided into right and wrong and good and evil, that for all his fame and fortune and wonderful skill with a brush and clay, he had a naivety which, at times, rendered him almost childlike. ©Jude Tresswell

I re-read the sentence and thought “Oh hell! Have I just been unwittingly racist?” Black…white…good…evil… An unconscious reinforcement of stereotypes? (By then, a conscious one.) I looked long and hard at what I wrote and, with misgivings,  I decided to let the sentence stand. I felt that, from the point of view of character, those were precisely the right words to use. Raith, one of my polyamorous foursome, views the physical world through a splendid spectrum of colours. He’s a tetrachromat – someone who is able to distinguish a paint-card-ful of shades. However, he views the world of morality much more narrowly. Not even shades of grey. Just the two extremes. So, contextually, the words were correct. I still feel a little uneasy though. I’m not entirely certain that I’ve squared the content with my conscience.

Writing ethically  isn’t a case of being PC. PC reflects the zeitgeist and the zeitgeist changes.

I’ve mentioned the late Reginald Hill, creator of the Dalziel and Pascoe series, on the blog before. For forty years, from 1970, he published some of the best police procedurals ever. That isn’t just the opinion of a little blogger like me. He won the British Crime Writers’ Gold Dagger, the Diamond Dagger (a Lifetime Achievement Award) and a heap of other accolades, and famous crime writers like Val McDermid speak of his influence and inspiration. And yet, if he were to write a D and P story now, I doubt if it would see the light of day without some major revisions. That’s because of Edgar Wield – for  Wield, the superficially imperturbable sergeant who is the series’ most important secondary character, is exceedingly ugly and, almost invariably, his ugliness results in jokes and insults. Responses to his features range from disbelief to horror. Perhaps the least cruel reaction is that of Pascoe’s daughter, Rosie. She finds Wield’s face funny.

If the verbal abuse stemmed entirely from the very non-PC mouth of  Superintendent Andy Dalziel,  then all would be fine. It’s permissible for a fictional character to voice an opinion which is crude and disrespectful. There are ways of making disapproval clear. In the D and P series, for example, it’s obvious that Pascoe regards his boss’s rudeness with embarrassment and distaste. However, Wield has to put up with abusive comments from so many mouths — from main characters, secondary characters, incidental characters… there are many, many references to his lack of loveliness. Even Pascoe is guilty of making them occasionally. (Thinking them, anyway.) Wield, in contrast, only refers to his ugliness once — in Child’s Play — and he isn’t laughing when he does so.

A person’s ugliness, even a fictional person’s ugliness, doesn’t seem, to me, to be a suitable topic for fun. Laughing at ugliness rides roughshod over the feelings of real people. It reinforces the idea that it’s OK to poke fun at people who are in some way different from what’s considered normal. It makes assumptions about normality, about what beauty is and isn’t.

There’s no criticism of Reginald Hill intended there! (Who am I to even dare to criticise such a writer?) Perhaps it was acceptable in the 80s and 90s to poke fun at people’s looks. A different zeitgeist and so on. But I would like to know what Reginald Hill was thinking. Was he laughing at Wield too? Or were the insults actually a clever ploy to make Wield a much-loved character? It seems obvious to me that Reginald Hill had enormous affection for his imaginary sergeant. (As, actually, did both Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe.) Whatever Hill’s intention, I maintain that he would have to tone the content down if he were still alive and creating his wonderful tales today.

And yet, how can I even begin to moralise about the ethics of writing fiction? That reference above to Raith isn’t the only bit of Polyamory on Trial that tugged at my conscience. All 240 pages did! The story is set entirely in County Durham but, as the jacket blurb below indicates, its background is the Syrian war. There are references to specific, actual  events – the fighting in Kobane, for example, when 16,000 people died – and to the plight of the thousands of people who have fled from the conflict.

I recall reading, some time ago, an admission by an author who had included a reworking of  events in Northern Ireland in his story. He felt so uneasy about the morality of doing so that, to ease his conscience, he wrote to all the families who had lost relatives in the tragedy.  I can hardly contact thousands of Syrians. Oh, I know that war is dramatised all the time – in books, films, on the stage, on TV – and for a host of different reasons: to tell of people’s suffering, or of their bravery and courage and, sometimes, for patriotic glorification….but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I was trivialising  war  by using it in a fictional tale about polyamory and four imaginary men. On the contrary. Events in Syria were at the forefront of my mind when I was writing. What does a person do when faced with such horrors? I wrote a story. My way of dealing with the helplessness and anger that I felt. (Still feel.) My protest march. My letter to my MP. My admission of complicity for, when such dreadfulness happens, perhaps we all must share some guilt.

A happier subject next time!

Polyamory on Trial will be published by Rowanvale Books in August 2018. Back cover synopsis below.  See these previous posts for info and photos about the setting, the cover art and the inspiration behind the stories:

Inspirational Colombian Throuple

County Durham Photos and Fiction

Book Covers Tell Polyamorous Tales

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Aegosexuality and M/M fiction: strange bedfellows

I don’t live in the fantasia I created to house the gay quad of my stories, but I do enjoy spending time in the world of my imagination. An enriching escapism is how I view it.

I don’t imagine myself in the action. No ‘me’. No ‘ego’.  Third person sexual and romantic fantasies only. Personal involvement never. There’s a label, of course: aegosexuality. Literally, sex without self. (Perhaps the prefix should be ‘an’ — anego — but currently, more usually, the prefix is ‘a’ — aego.)

My understanding of the relevant academia isn’t great, so I might struggle a little here.  The aegosexual label taps in to the issue of asexuality. (Ace, for short.) The ace spectrum is a broad one, spanning an enormous range of responses to sex and romance. It does not equate to ‘frigid’. On the contrary, you can have a high libido and still be ace. Aegosexuality is the small section of the ace spectrum that rings a bell with me.

I could perhaps describe myself as ‘autochorissexual’. The term was first used, I believe, by Anthony Bogaert in a paper in 2012.  He  stated that ‘target-oriented paraphilias’ might occur, an example in some asexual people being a disconnection (my italics) between their identity and a sexual/target object. Effectively, ‘identity-less’ sexuality: the body responds to sexual stimuli or sexual fantasy without being attracted to the subject of the fantasy. He termed this physiological response “autochorissexuality”. (Chori: from Greek for ‘apart’)

There’s a problem with his definition – the word ‘paraphilia’. Is it pejorative? It can imply abnormal sexual desires that typically involve extreme or dangerous activities. Well, I might fantasise about extreme activities. In fact, Keith John Glaeske, reviewing my novel Badge of Loyalty for Out in Print, wrote that it was too brutal for most erotica. (The ending is brutal. The rest of the story isn’t, though.) But ‘abnormal’? No. On the contrary, very normal if ‘normal’ means the same as ‘common’. For a start, extreme fantasies aren’t confined to asexuals: orientation is irrelevant. (It’s well-documented that ace is an orientation.) For example, in an on-line study of 533 women published in 2014, Yule et al found that both 32% of ace women and 32% of sexual women fantasised about BDSM. To me, and more interesting, was the fact that both groups were equally likely to fantasise about homosexuality (16.39 and 14.29% respectively). I always fantasise about homosexuality. I have never done otherwise. To me visualising sex is fine – when body parts are not like mine. (My prose is better than my poetry, I hope.)

I’m female by birth and by identification, but I don’t read about fictional women indulging in romance or sex, and when I write about women their roles are treated cursorily. There’s certainly no sex. That’s because I can never imagine women having sex. Neither with a man, nor with another woman. In fact, I can’t really imagine any sort of action involving a female protagonist. It would be too much like being present myself. It’s Bogaert’s ‘disconnect’ again. So I write solely about men, and as women are excluded, if  romance or sex are included, then my men, by default, are gay.

Writing about gay men raises questions. Obviously, I haven’t been there/ done it etc.  So I might get some of the physical details wrong…. and I know that can be extremely irritating. In a sense, though, I’m not distressed about it. The focus of the stories isn’t sex. Sex is there, but being poly doesn’t mean that my four men are in and out of each other’s arses every minute of the day. The focus is the way they respond as individuals and as a quad to events that affect their lives. A four-man group lends itself to some interesting dynamics. I’ve tried to write about the way their alternative, non hetero-normative lifestyle affects their thoughts and actions and I don’t see that my being female hinders me from doing that. Lewis Carroll never went down a rabbit hole but he wrote a good yarn about somebody who did.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that every female who enjoys the M/M genre is aegosexual or asexual! (There’s that 14.29% for a start.) Nor that M/M is only written by women. Gosh! No!  But I think that being an aegoace woman helps to explain my personal interest and enjoyment. I write about men for the simple reason that I cannot write about women.

If you want to read about the men, the details of the books are below.

The next post will be, I think, about the ethics involved in writing fictional stories. (My conscience keeps playing me up.) Either that or turbidites.

Links

Polyamory on Trial (tbp August 2018)  and Badge of Loyalty (pub. February 2018) are both available from Rowanvale Books at http://www.rowanvalebooks.com and all the usual distributors. See Badge of Loyalty review in Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews, April 2018 at  https://outinprintblog.wordpress.com/

AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, hosts a friendly forum and provides many resources. Note – it’s not a dating site. It’s online at  https://www.asexuality.org

Yule, Brotto and Gorzalka, 2014. Sexual fantasy and masturbating among asexual individuals downloadable from https://researchgate.net.

The abstract for Anthony F. Bogaert’s paper on asexuality and autochorissexuality is at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed. The full paper is available (at a cost if uni affiliation is unavailable)  from https://link.springer.com within Archives of Sexual Behaviour Dec 2012, Vol 41, Issue 6.

The Infinity Heart Symbol and Polyamory

 

Here’s a little quiz: five symbols and what they represent….

€      ©    π          

Money (well, the Euro); the copyright sign I’ve attached to text I’ve quoted on the blog; Greek pi, which I always feel weaves a magic spell, mathematically speaking, so I’m not sure what it truly represents; a lemniscate, to indicate infinity; and a red heart — for love. Sometimes, though, the heart and lemniscate are combined or intertwined. Like this….

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The infinity heart, a much used symbol of polyamory.

The design is popular with folk who are most definitely monogamous too. They see it as a means of showing affection for one other person only. A declaration of fidelity and of love that will last an eternity. In a polyamorous relationship, though, the heart and lemniscate take on a different meaning. The lemniscate represents openness rather than infinity/ eternity. In some polyam relationships, ‘openness’ means no restrictions. That is, it’s acceptable for those within the group to have relationships with other people if they wish to. That type of openness is probably how many people think that polyamory operates. An excuse for the participants to indulge in free love or be promiscuous. But it isn’t the way the four protagonists in Polyamory on Trial operate. Their relationship is ‘open’ but, simultaneously, it is very ‘closed’. Here’s one of them, ex-cop, Mike Angells, explaining…. (Raith is a ceramist and painter, and one of the quad.)

…. for us, openness is about the movements within the group. That’s the point of the infinity sign in our tattoos. It represents an infinite, continuous track that all four of us can travel around, but there aren’t any spurs or sidin’s leadin’ off it. That is, we’re none of us promiscuous. The way Raith designed the tattoos, you can see that the infinity sign cuts the heart in four places only. That’s one for each of us. In all the years we’ve been together, as far as I know, there’s only been one occasion when someone’s strayed and gone outside that infinite track, and, to my shame, it was me. ©Jude Tresswell

I think it’s a very powerful symbol, which is why a variant is on the cover of both my books, intact on one, but broken on the other. (See post Book Covers Tell Polyamorous Tales ) Even the colours are meaningful in poly-speak. The heart is usually shown in red, to represent love and passion, and the lemniscate in blue, for openness and honesty. I’m not sure, but I imagine that the colours and their significance are derived from the Polyamory Pride flag designed and made freely available  by Jim Evans.  The black stripe indicates solidarity with people who must hide their choice of lifestyle from the outside world, and π, the  golden pi sign? Pi for the ‘p’ in polyamory and gold for the value placed on emotional attachments to others, be they friendly, romantic or physical ones.

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Attribution Jim Evans [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

You can’t really tweak the flag, but the infinity heart is capable of many variations and just as many applications. Pinterest is full of infinity heart designs — on clothing, as accessories, as jewellery and, as my men use it, as tattoos…. Mike and two of the others, Ross and Phil,  have the tattoo on an arm, but Raith, who regards his skin as just another canvas to create art on, has his tattoo on his neck. That means, of course, that he wouldn’t have been able to join the story’s fictional local police force, Tees, Tyne and Wear, nor the very real  Kent Constabulary nor the MET. No visible tattoos. (At least, visible tattoos were taboo for Kent and the MET at one time. Possibly still.) As Mike recognises, though, explaining the meaning of the design to some of the locals could prove awkward….

here in the North East explainin’ a polyam tattoo mightn’t get you endeared to certain members of the public! Especially the ones that stand on the terraces. You’d be tellin’ them about all the things that the tattoo symbolises—and they’d be thinkin’ we’re a load of dirty buggers who are in and out of each other’s arses all day and night. That’s so far from what we are and what we do. ©Jude Tresswell

To discover what the four men are, and what they do, you’ll have to read the books!

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Badge of Loyalty pub. February, 2018 and Polyamory on Trial, tbp August 2018. Available from all usual distributors (paperback and e book) or from http://www.rowanvalebooks.com

For photos of the setting, and more info about the book covers and the inspiration  behind the two stories, please see the previous posts.

Poly Pride flag: from http://www.commons.m.wikimedia.org

 

 

County Durham Photos and Fiction

Both my stories are set in  North East England. Here is the beginning of the second one, Polyamory on Trial…(tbp August 2018)

    Among the lorries that rolled off the gangplanks at Hartlepool docks were two belonging to Colporth International. The vehicles were identical, except for the colour of their cabs. The first was green; the second was red.

    Border Force was acting on a tip-off. Two officers pulled the green cab over. The co-driver of the red lorry opened his window, made sympathetic noises and promised to wait a few miles further on at a lay-by on the A689, the trunk road that led through Durham and Warbridge and on to the rest of the region.

    By the time the officers realised that their informant was either colour-blind or had been handed false information, the red cab’s driver had made his deliveries, and six young men and women, who had started their journey many months before and many miles away, stretched their cramped muscles on English soil and looked forward to a better life than the one they’d left behind.

    The red cab made its way through the Warbridge one-way system, passing a café where two men were sitting near the window drinking coffee. One man looked to be in his thirties, the other in his mid-fifties. They idly watched the red cab’s passage over the old stone  bridge that spanned the River Wear…..   ©Jude Tresswell

Hartlepool is not in County Durham, but most of the action of Polyamory on Trial and its prequel, Badge of Loyalty, does occur there. Some features and placenames are real —  the River Wear and the city of Durham itself  for example — but others, like Warbridge,  are  imaginary. So, here are some photographs of the county’s buildings and countryside together with notes about the stories’ texts. Hopefully, they’ll help to bring the landscape behind the stories to life. The photos are all available by licence through Wiki Creative Commons. The novels  contain an adult-only trigger warning.

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My four protagonists, Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil, live in an imaginary moorland hamlet  called Tunhead. Tunhead is located at the head of the valley of a little river called Tun Beck, a tributary of the River Wear. The setting  would resemble that of Rookhope, pictured here….

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In the stories (and sometimes in real life), these little settlements  of stone built houses were once the homes of quarrymen. Quarrying was a vibrant industry in this area – the local limestone polishes to  a marble-like finish – but most of the little quarries are worked out and closed now.  (See the photo on my post  Creating realistic polyamorous characters in one short mystery story .) I imagine that the men’s house would resemble the end one in this terrace. The garden wall looks like  limestone to me, perhaps from the nearby Quarrington Quarry. (I’ve been on geology field trips there.)

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The  men would need one of those 4X4s. Tunhead is reached along a winding ten mile lane and, in winter, conditions are harsh in this part of the world. Ice and deep snow drifts…. No way for Mike to ride his Honda bike, despite the ‘Fast and Flying’ stencilled on his leathers. This photo of the track to Swinhopeburn puts me in mind of my little lane to Tunhead.

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Rookhope, Swinhopeburn…and the largest settlement in this part of Weardale is Stanhope. A lot of hoping goes on round here so I called my place with a pub and facilities Tunhope. (It would probably be pronounced Tunnup.) Badge of Loyalty starts with the four men seated in the garden of the Tunhope Arms drinking pale ale and brown. I imagine its frontage would look like a bit like that of the Three Horse Shoes, an inn south east of the city of Durham.

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The River Wear flows through the city (of Durham) , then turns north east to flow to the sea. The city (of Durham) has some interesting bridges. One bridge even won a prize. (I wish the city fathers had called it something else. It’s confusing when a county and the county town have the same name.) My Warbridge isn’t Durham but it gets its name from a crossing point on the Wear, and the river also gives its name to the long valley it winds through – Weardale. Here is a view along a stretch of minor road in Upper Weardale. No wonder Mike finds his spirits rise as he returns to Tunhead after a day spent dealing with Warbridge’s unsavoury characters. (Mike has spent many years in CID.) It’s against hedges and walls like these that he crashes his bike when he rides home, hurt, in Badge of Loyalty.

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The countryside would become wilder as he neared home. There are at least three farms along the Tunhead lane. They have a role to play in Badge of Loyalty and are mentioned in its sequel. They would be sheep farms. Hills, moorland and Swaledale sheep. Swaledales are a tough Yorkshire breed, not a Durham one, but this County Durham farm is stocking them – and they happen to be my favourite breed of sheep. I love their curly horns and black and white faces.

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Raith, a ceramist and artist, paints Mike surrounded by Swaledales and prints the design on a tea towel. So they dry the teacups with Mike looking “like some big, naked well-hung shepherd. I nearly killed him. (He says.) It looks like I’ve been buggerin’ the sheep.”

It’s a hard life for the farmers in this part of England though, and it’s not only the old quarry houses which fall into disuse and disrepair. Badge of Loyalty ends on a brutal note when Mike is forced, at gunpoint, to a deserted, derelict farmhouse. It would look like this one near Ramshaw…. Perhaps somewhat more remote.

 

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I hope that those photographs bring the setting of the books to life a little. Stylistically, I like a fast-paced plot and there was little room for background description in either Badge of Loyalty or Polyamory on Trial, yet both stories are very grounded in a place. County Durham is both tender and harsh and always beautiful. A fitting landscape for the setting of a  story. Isn’t it?

The books: Badge of Loyalty  was published in February 2018 and Polyamory on Trial will be published in  August 2018. Both available from Rowanvale Books  at  http://www.rowanvalebooks.com and from all the usual outlets and distributors.