End of the County Durham Quad series

Weardale, County Durham, the Quad’s home. Shot for one of my videos by Andy Ditchfield, info@skywardaerial.co.uk

The final book (#8) in the County Durham Quad series was published last month. I introduced Nick in #3, Ace in the Picture. He was sure that he was ace, but puzzled by his fascination with Mike. Five crime/mysteries and several chapters of introspection later, I’ve got Nick and the Quad to a good place, confident of their feelings, aware and respectful of the boundaries, and… happy. It’s time to leave them there. So, no more Nick or Mike or Ross or Phil or Raith. Not in book form anyway. I’ve lived with them too long to dump them entirely and, in a way, I love them very much. So, I’ll probably post occasional conversations and short scenes on the blog. I couldn’t simply forget them.

I’d love it if you’d click the Shepherd.com site listed below. As well as showing info about this last book (and about me!) it’s just a wonderful site. Totally non-profit making and a great alternative to other book search sites. All the recommendations are made by authors. It’s such a good idea. Every click helps.

What next then? I’ve already begun the next project. As the Shepherd.com site shows, I like to read about industrial history and geology. I’m going to try to write a piece of non-fiction about lead mining. It will take a long, long time to do it. Maybe I’m taking on too much, but, I’ll try. I published Scar Ghyll Levels, a short, fictional story about two young lead miners, several years ago. It was a means of exploring how it felt to be in an ace/ non-ace relationship long before asexuality was known, and I uploaded an audio version to YouTube along with dozens of photographs of the scenery. There’s a link to that vid below. It features Swaledale and Arkengarthdale in Yorkshire, but the foci of the non-fiction project will be County Durham again and Alston Moor, just over the county border. These were areas much loved by the poet W. H. Auden. I love them too. In fact, I’ll be in Rookhope, which Auden called ‘the most wonderfully desolate of dales’, in a week or so and, hopefully, I’ll come back with all the photographs I’ll need. To me, this area has a serious beauty. I look at the bleak, remote moors speckled with ruins of lead mines and say ‘Ohh!’ but I never say it with a smile.

So, no more Quad and no more Nick. They’re happy. Leave them.


No refuge in the church

It’s ironic that the week that I publish my latest County Durham Quad book (cover below with church stained glass window, title The Refuge Bid, plot – a mystery that focuses on the sale of a decommissioned Anglican church), the Lambeth Conference should be meeting just twenty miles away from where I live. No refuge there! Not for people who, like my protagonists, are queer.

The Conference is a meeting of Anglican and Episcopal bishops. It’s held once every ten years and, not surprisingly given what’s happening at this one, there’s trouble. The head of the churches involved is Archbishop Justin Welby. He has affirmed a 1998 church resolution that same-sex relationships are incompatible with scripture – and at the same time he has insisted that he won’t punish churches that carry out same-sex weddings. Oh. How kind. Sorry, I don’t like to be sarcastic, but I don’t see how his two statements are compatible. It’s politics, isn’t it? His churches are falling into two camps (no pun intended there) and Welby is walking an uneasy line trying to keep everything and everyone together. Feelings are relatively liberal in, for example, most of the UK and in the USA, far, far more reactionary in most of Asia and Africa. I don’t see how Welby can walk this middle line. There have always been schisms in churches; it’s why there are so many branches. Part of me wishes that a break would occur here but if these intolerant, bigoted church leaders who are anti-queer are left to run things as they wish, God help LGBTQ+ people in those countries. So, as we move towards November and a men’s football World Cup that is to be held in Qatar, where people in same-sex relationships can be punished with imprisonment, the Lambeth Conference has effectively chosen to say ‘Not a problem!’

For a clear timeline on the Anglican and Episcopal churches’ relevant history, the article Timeline: Lambeth Conference and the same-sex story at https://religionmediacentre.org.uk is informative and, if you would like to see inside or even buy my latest gay mystery (references to conversion therapy and a teenager’s suicide, and a focus on sexual and asexual relationships) please visit https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B88G5LB2. That’s the ebook. There’s a paperbook format too. There’s everything on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG .

Ben Myers’ The Gallows Pole: a rare review

Above, a map of West Yorkshire, UK, with Calderdale, the setting of the story, highlighted. Attribution: contains Ordnance Survey data, Crown copywight and data licensed under the Creative Commons attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Author Nilfanion, created using OS Data.

The Gallows Pole is a fictionalised account of a group of eighteenth-century counterfitters and the men who tried to stop them. More than most books, this one reminded me that reading is personal partly because response is affected by the political and social attitudes one holds. The thoughts that stayed with me longest after I’d read the final page were disgust for the counterfitters, the Cragg Vale Coiners — and enormous sympathy for them. Disgust because the way the Coiners dealt with those who refused to take their side was to murder (brutally) and gang rape wives and daughters. Sympathy because all my northern, anti-establishment chips on the shoulder set me firmly on their side. I disliked the Coiners and disliked even more the outsiders who wished to destroy their way of life.

Not that their way of life was idyllic. The families of Calderdale barely survived on what they could grow and what they could earn from spending hours on weaving looms in their cottages and hovels, a lifestyle that left many bent and near blind. But — they had a certain freedom. They could explore every inch of their surroundings. They felt beholden to nobody. Their children played as children should, outside in clean air. They also found a means of augmenting their meagre incomes: clipping, remelting and restamping coins, an offence for which the punishment was hanging. Oh, they were so naive and unsophisticated! They thought they could win against the rich and the powerful who saw a profitable future in factories, mills and canals. I could see which way the tale would end long before I reached the last pages and, yet, in a sense, their story didn’t end, for here we are, two hundred and fifty years later, reading Ben Myers adaptation of ther exploits. Their leader, King David Hartley was right: he and his Coiners became immortal.

I love King David’s ‘asides’. He might be a megalomaniac — I’m not sure — but he peppers the story with pages of thoughts and recollections that, to me, are delightful and, sometimes, very funny. Having a character speak like that, directly to the reader and in amongst the rest of the plot, was something I did in my first two County Durham Quad tales*. “Asides’ offer an insight into a protagonist’s character but, also, they let an author add little sections of text that might otherwise intrude. They are both a part of and apart from the rest of the story.

There was one aspect of the writing that did make me feel uncomfortable and did intrude. I know Calderdale. At least, I know the landscape that is now and, yes, it is a very different one from that which must have been known to the Cragg Vale Coiners. The Industrial Revolution did forever change their world of meadows and dales and streams, deep woods and hidden pools. For me, the many descriptions of the setting are too forceful, too imbued with a magical, mysterious, superstitious quality. I like my language simple and homespun and my images down to earth. I was overwhelmed at times by words and they got in the way of my ‘pictures’. I think that conveying an ‘other-worldliness’ was Benjamin Myers’ intention, but I didn’t like it. As I said at the start, though, reading is personal. So is writing. You can’t argue with a person’s writing style. You can only react to it.

Thank you for reading.

*my own books with ‘asides’ (ebook and paperback) Badge of Loyalty and Polyamory on Trial by Jude Tresswell. They’re the first two of seven County Durham Quad tales (gay mysteries, and the eighth tale is in progress) and I do appreciate that I’m a stronger writer now. Well, I hope I am! Lots of stuff on my blog about the series.

‘Best of’ book lists with a difference: Shepherd.com

Happy First Birthday to everyone associated with Ben Shepherd’s book recommendations site! Apart from the fact that it has a brilliant logo (a shepherd plus crook, naturally!) the site provides a great resource for readers and authors alike.

Instead of readers suggesting and adding to booklists, as maybe is normal, authors make the recommendations. An author selects five titles on a ‘Best of…’ theme, provides a brief review of each pick and explains why each book is special to them. As a thanks for contributing, one of the author’s own books is displayed. That’s some really valuable PR for an indie writer like myself.

The website is stunning, with plans to make the search facilities even better than they are. There are hundreds of topics to choose from, both fic and non-fic. There are nearly 4,000 books lists and over 70,000 visitors a month. I was contacted by Ben to contribute, but there’s an option to make contact yourself if you are an author.

So, what was my ‘Best five’ theme and what were my five choices? My theme was ‘The best five M/M books for asexuals’. (By ‘M/M books’, I mean stories that feature relationships between male, gay protagonists.) I explained in the little bio that is required that I chose the theme with trepidation: there are all sorts of aces and reading choices vary. I’m turned off completely by some book content because of the way my particular ace-ness affects my response to the gender of the characters. The books I selected were all ones that I can handle. They were:

Some Kind of Love by Jack Dickson (possibly my all-time favourite M/M police-based book)

The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren

The Cricketer’s Arms by Garrick Jones

Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill

and, finally, a book that contains an ace character, How to be a Movie Star by T.J. Klune

You would have to check out my contribution to Ben’s website to see the rationale behind the choices. It’s


You can get to everything else on the site from there. Thanks for reading.

Conversion therapy: a total ban?

Not unexpectedly, I’ve been following the most recent vociferation regarding CT laws in England and Wales. In part, I’m interested because CT is a theme in the County Durham Quad novel that I’m part-way through writing. (The stories always spring from something topical that sets me thinking, and in the case of book 8, CT was that something.) A bit of an over-simplification but… the Queen’s Speech, May 2021… the government would outlaw CT following a consultation period. Consultation was needed to explore ways to protect parents, teachers, clinicians, religious leaders etc from breaking the law by, for example, discussing matters arising. Talking might be interpreted as pressure and, inadvertently, people might therefore become criminals. But, following this week’s announcement re. the content of the May 2022 Queen’s Speech, the government has been accused of a U-turn and of mis-using genuine concerns about ‘unintended consequences’ in order to pander to the requests of religious fundamentalists, ‘Gender Matters’ adherents and other similar groups. No form of therapy that seeks to change sexual orientation will be legal (Hurray!) but practices involving gender identity will remain outside the remit. In other words, transgender people will still be subject to certain forms of therapy. There has been an outcry.

As expected, massive opposition has come from the LGBTQ+ groups. The government’s flagship three day “Safe To Be Me’ event is under threat, so many organisations have said they will boycott it. But, as someone who has a fascination with things Welsh, I’m interested in the political response of that nation. It might be hard for people who aren’t familiar with UK culture to get a handle on UK politics. ‘Westminster’ is a cover-all term for the seat of government, the House of Parliament in London. Scotland and Northern Ireland will go their own way. A lot of parliamentary business is devolved to the Welsh Senedd, but this law won’t be. Or will it? The Welsh government reacted to the news by saying that it will seek urgent legal advice to see if it can act unilaterally – and inclusively: a total CT ban for all. Their Deputy Minister for Social Partnerships, Hannah Blythyn, whose remit includes Equality and Human Rights, has called the Westminster government’s stance “a grievous and shameful breach of trust.” The Welsh can point to some interesting developments elsewhere. In January this year, France unanimously passed a law criminalising CT for sexual orientation or gender identity. Anyone convicted can face a fine of up to thirty thousand euros and two years in jail. Germany, Brazil, Malta, Albania, Canada… they have all passed laws, or are in the process of doing so, that go further than my government intends to do. (For facts & quote listed in this para, see BBC online, 3rd, 4th April.)

I’m glad I’m a writer and not a politician for, tbh, I don’t know what to think. I’m inherently suspicious of fundamentalists and of people who feel they have a right to meddle with someone else’s orientation and gender identity. I’m ace, for goodness sake. I know who I am and I don’t want anyone telling me different, but being ace didn’t require hormone treatment or surgery or result in ongoing uncertainty regarding toilet facilities and available sports. Going down that road seems such a complex, big decision that surely there has to be open discussion, with protection for those on both sides. If you made the decision too early… If it didn’t produce the ‘change’ you were hoping for…. Or, is it such a big decision for those who know that they’re not the gender on their birth certificate? I come to the issue from the standpoint of a cis-gender asexual. I’ve a vivid imagination, but I can’t imagine being trans and knowing that I’m trans. I can’t imagine the dysphoria that I would experience if I were subject to any form of conversion therapy, even simply talking about how I perceived my gender. It would be tantamount to asking me to justify myself and my existence. Damaging, confusing, threatening, painful…it would be all of those. So, really, it seems to me that the government is thinking less about protecting the person who is trans and more about protecting the person on the other side of the table. Assuming, of course, that protection really is the issue and not just an excuse. As I say, I’m suspicious… Maybe I’ve answered my own question.

Gay guilt and misogyny

There are times when I explore my own thoughts through conversations between characters in my County Durham Quad novels. Nike Night (a portmanteau of Nick and Mike + Night) lets me consider asexual/ non-asexual relationships when, on Wednesdays, Nick and Mike spend the night together. Raith and Phil spend nearly all their nights together and one of the stories’ tropes is that Raith wants to talk when the ever-patient Phil is on the point of sleeping. (There are reasons why Raith chooses such awkward times.) It isn’t always wise to use these conversations. They can slow down the plot, be unnecessarily introspective, be boring and, in Raith’s case, be irrelevant to the rest of the story, but they do help me to work through issues both for myself and as a cis-gender female, asexual author of mysteries that feature protagonists who are cis-gender male and gay. So, here is a conversation between Nick and Mike, both ex-cops, that won’t be in the books, but in which I tried to explore a gay man’s attitude to misogyny. A gay man; I know that people differ. Nick speaks first…

“Well, I think you’re very dismissive of women.”

“Oh? And how do you arrive at that conclusion? Evidence?”

“You’re dismissive of your sisters, for starters.”

“Christ! If you’d had to live with them, you would be too! Jo and Sara anyway. Bitches, both of ’em.”

“There you are! ‘Bitches’. Standard misogynistic terminology.”

“And a term used by millions of women.”

“With a somewhat different nuance.”

“Well it wouldn’t stand up in court, would it?”

“Okay. You hate drag. You view it, wrongly I might add, as men wanting to be women and you see that as weak and contemptible. You’re the kind of person who would search for ‘macho’ on a dating app. And the problem is that you don’t always square up to your own idea of manhood. Hence the guilt. In some ways you do. You are macho. You’re brave; you’re tough; you’re fit and you’re strong. No doubt about that. But you’re also someone who cries at times, and is gentle and sensitive and likes pretty things: the village always looks a picture – the gardens, the houses… A lot of its appearance is a reflection of what you like. You’re big and you’re tough but you’ve a lot of what society would call ‘a feminine side’ and I think that causes conflict.”

“Well, it’s a good job you didn’t ditch police work and take up counsellin’ instead. You’re way off. If it wasn’t fuckin’ midnight and teemin’ with rain outside, I’d go home.”

“I don’t think it’s so way off. The feminine part of you, or, rather, what you’ve been brainwashed into thinking is a feminine part, doesn’t match up with the masculine side. More brainwashing. So, as you dislike that part of yourself, you end up despising all women. Hence the misogyny.”

Mike was silent for a minute, thinking. Then he said, “You’re confusin’ gender and orientation. I like men, sexually. Romantically, seein’ I spend every Wednesday night with you, doin’ everythin’ but fuckin’. That’s orientation. Anythin’ else is gender. Nuthin’ to do with orientation and bein’ gay and therefore nuthin’ to do with that claptrap about gay guilt. I grew up in a pit town, remember, and, yes, the pits had closed, but the men still expected their tea to be on the table at six o’clock each night and the women expected to put it there and clean and cook and have kids. And I agree, these attitudes eat into your brain and sit there long after your own circumstances change. So, if I seem misogynistic, and I don’t mean to, it isn’t because I’m gay and transferrin’ some shame or somethin’. It’s because I was a boy, a male, growin’ up where I grew up, when I grew up. And that’s gender, and nuthin’ more than that. I don’t like to think that you think all that stuff about me. I’m guilt-ridden, that’s for certain, but not about bein’ gay.”

“I don’t think it, Mike; you should have realised that. I was playing devil’s advocate. I wanted you to think about it.”

“You swine, Nick Seabrooke! I felt really got at!”

“Sorry. It’s still raining, by the way.”

Mike laughed. “I’d better stay here then! Come here, give me a cuddle. I think I deserve one after all that.”

And I’ll leave it there, and to the imagination. Gender and orientation. Writing conversations such as these helps me to explore the meaning of the words. It’s easy to confuse them.

The County Durham Quad series (Nick appears in Book 3 onwards)


Video footage of the area of the (imaginary) village that’s referred to, with spoken extracts of the stories


Queer Words Podcast



Queer Words is Wayne Goodman’s long-running podcast featuring interviews with writers who identify as queer. The questions are always the same but the answers take the content to different places. In my episode, the answers focused on asexuality so if you’re ace or would like to learn something about how being ace can impact life and writing, then please do listen. (By clicking the link not the arrow!) Topics discussed include aegosexuality, ace meetings, aces I admire, forums, ace/non -ace relationships, the writing process… the many ways that being ace and a writer interact.

The link will take you to the Queer Words website not directly to my episode. Apologies for that. I recorded it in April 2021 but it’s a popular podcast! It was published on December 28th so, easy to find. Wayne always edits very crisply. We chatted for over an hour but he strips everything down to bare essentials. Episodes are never more than 20 minutes or so. There’s always an author-read extract. I chose a piece from Ace in the Picture, published by Welsh company, Rowanvale Books (www.rowanvalebooks.com ) and the third of the County Durham Quad books. There are seven Quad tales now, and an eighth on the way. I hope you find the episode interesting – Jude (Two esses in Tresswell. I’ll let Wayne off!)

For the videos referred to in the podcast: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhPb-WpyW3fUXnqjvTnCqA

For my books: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

How a DNA test led to a novel

I never thought that I would be the piece of news that sprang a story, but I am, and here’s the result: the seventh County Durham Quad tale. The section of DNA code is significant: ancestry plays a part.

I often say that the plots emerge from something I’ve read that catches my eye or lies heavily on my heart. Some months ago, I received the news that led to this one. As always, there’s a mystery, but perhaps here, relationships, not crime, are prime. The person who asks for the Quad’s help in this investigation is Phil’s donor-conceived, eighteen-year-old son – and Phil didn’t know he had one. He’s floored by the news, as I was when I received some DNA results some months ago.

There was no dad around when I was a child. There were no photos of a father: one was never mentioned. It never bothered me. I never queried it. Stories of a dad only emerged when I was in my early teens, probably to impress my mother’s potential suitors: we’re talking of 50-odd years ago and it didn’t do to admit that you had a bastard daughter. The tale my mother, who was a nurse and (theoretically) Church of England, spun was that my father had been a doctor. They had married, but the marriage had been annulled before I was born because of pressure from his Jewish family. What’s more, he had died. I didn’t question this either. And, even if I had done, there was no one to ask. My mother had cut off all ties with her family. (With hindsight, I can see that they cut the link, not her.) We had moved house, and, of course, we’re talking pre-social media, pre-internet. LIfe was very different then! But, when I married, I needed parental details. Cutting the story short, I obtained a copy of my birth certificate – and realised I’d been lied to. No dad’s name on the form. Mother’s status: spinster.

Fast forward to earlier this year. I received the results of an ancestry test. Not mine. My son’s – a present. Guess what? Some of my long-dead mother’s tale had been true. There was a Jewish connection. A big one. An error? My daughter took a test with a different firm. The same result. I couldn’t argue with the stats. I was dismayed. The father-business had been just one of many lies my mother had seemed to spin, so very many that, eventually and like the rest of the family, I had cut the ties too. Yet perhaps there had been some truth in what she’d said. In that case, maybe I’d spent a lifetime judging her unfairly. I felt so guilty, especially as there was a final twist. My mother had had a name for this (imaginary?) Jewish father. My daughter, curious, investigated through the ancestry site she had used. She may have found her granddad’s family.

I won’t take it any further. For me, it’s all too long ago and I’m far more interested in who I am than in who my ancestors were, BUT… I had mentioned in A Share in A Secret (Book 5) that my character, Phil, had donated sperm when he was a medical student. I knew how he would react if the product of one of those donations appeared at the front door. The situation would be different from mine, but the dismay, the guilt… I could empathise with his feeling both of those, and, of course, I knew how Raith, Phil’s husband would react: fury, fear… Raith wouldn’t know how to handle the news. That started me off and the rest came easily. The first draft was finished in a month and I published at the start of August (ebook and p/b).

Phil’s donor-conceived son doesn’t use an ancestry test to locate his father – he’s a little more creative – but his appearance sets the Quad off on another crime-fighting quest. That is, the Quad plus Nick, of course: it’s important for me to include some ace-rep and this story is no exception. (I introduced Nick in Book 3.) And although some of the story’s themes are heavy (TW: parental suicide – something else I know about), this is the Quad! There’s plenty of fun too. I hope you like it. Amazon buy link below. Jude

A Right To Know by Jude Tresswell: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09BMC8WDG


A big thank you to Lily, Lori and Dani for helping me to bring the new book to readers’ attention. You can find them at https://gaybookpromotions.wordpress.com , https://www.indigomarketingdesign.com and https://lovebytesreviews.com respectively.

Do you hear your characters speak?

It’s such a simple question and, when I was asked it recently, I unequivocally said, ‘Yes. Always.’ That ‘Yes’ needs some qualifying.

England is a land of wonderful regional accents that are greatly affected by upbringing – class and education for example. My novels are set in County Durham, up in the north-east corner of the country. (Clue: the series is called the County Durham Quad.) Only one of the four protagonists, Mike, is truly local though. The other men have gravitated to the county, from Cheshire, Warwickshire and Tyneside (the last two 5 and 11 on the map.) The Quad’s friend, Nick, is a Londoner.

Ceremonial counties of England. Authors Morwen Marnanel and Evian Pepper Attribution below ***

So, when I’m writing dialogue or passages of silent introspection, do I hear the words spoken in all their regional glory? Actually, no. I hear sounds and intonation much as I’d use them myself. Basically northern, but a bit of a mash as I’ve lived and worked in the south-east for years.

It’s not just accents however. It’s idioms and dialect. All those non-standard features that confuse outsiders even when we break through the accent barrier – and I’ve no hope of ‘hearing’ some of those! Consider, for example, the output of What’s Thy Craic. It’s the Bishop Auckland-based tee-shirt company owned by the excellent Andy Ditchfield and Gaz Miller. (Gaz rode the bike that’s featured in one of my videos. Andy filmed and produced them. *) Each garment carries a phrase that would be understood, no doubt, by the good folk of Bishop. Total bemusement for folk like me who aren’t au fait with the lingo. Thoughtfully (necessarily) Gaz and Andy have added translations! My Mike, ex-cop, biker, sometimes anti-hero, is from Bishop, but I’ve never ‘heard’ him using any of these arcane pearls of wisdom. He’d be aware of them (His mam would anyway) but as they’re (delightfully) alien to me, I don’t ‘hear’ them in Mike’s speech.

But speech isn’t just about the sorts of features that locate a person regionally and socially. It’s an expression of character and that’s what I hear when I write. I hear the men behind the words.

One of the most encouraging comments I’ve received about my writing was Justene Adamec’s when she reviewed Book 6 in the series, Fast, Free and Flying.** As Justene is one of the people behind publisher, ReQueered Tales, she gets to see a lot of books! She said that the men have unique voices. I’m pretty sure she meant all five of them, Nick as well as the guys in the Quad, and I was well chuffed. (Chuffed= pleased, very.) I’ve got better at writing ‘uniqueness’ as I’ve learnt to know the little gang. In all honesty, I don’t think Justene would have made that comment had she been reading Books 1 and 2. By 3, I was getting things sorted. Now, the speeches, whether voiced or silent with introspection, more or less flow.

I know, for example, that Raith’s thoughts will tumble out in a flood of what Mike calls Raith’s ‘lateral non-thinking’. Very different from Phil, Raith’s husband, who is careful and cautious and likes to consider his words before expressing them. Mike himself has an impatient, no-nonsense streak. It’s echoed in his sharp retorts and in his often-clipped sentences. (Few pronouns at the start. Few final ‘g’s at the ends, though no ‘g’s is also a bit of his accent showing – showin’) It also explains his swearing. Quicker to curse than think of a few choice words (and, often, more effective). So it’s left to Ross to encourage the guys and pour oil on their troubled waters, which he does in his easy-going, always supportive manner. He says the kinds of things that I’d say myself if I had to deal with the other three. Well, the kinds of things that I’d like to think I’d say myself. I’d probably just yell at them. The point is, I know how they are going to react to events and to each other. Their reactions are part of who they are and I know, by now, the sound of those reactions. Obviously I edit, but the revisions are mainly structural, plot and conciseness for example. They’re rarely concerned with the way the characters voice their thoughts. It’s one of the reasons I decided to do the videos. (Extracts over Andy’s stunning footage) Speak the words aloud – the way I always, always, always hear them. ‘Nuff said. Here are some links.

*https://whatsthycraic.com (10% of nett sales support a Bishop Auckland charity) Gaz is an artist. See https://jgmillerart.co.uk and tech-wizard Andy’s site is http://www.skywardaerial.co.uk

**Justene’s review: https://www.queerwritersofcrime.com .Podcast January 19th 2021, around 5 minutes in.

***Ceremonial counties map (Tyneside is part of Tyne and Wear) Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0. GNU Free Documentation License. Permission GFDL.

Me, Jude Tresswell: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhPb-WpyW3fUXnqjvTnCqA

Tetrachromatic Vision and a Page on Facebook for Raith?

Mebissonier, Jean Louis Ernest; A Cavalier: aTime of Louis XIII; The Wallace Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-cavalier-time-of-louis-xiii-209301

I’ll explain and reference the picture later in the post.

The plot of the third of the Country Durham Quad books, Ace in the Picture, turned on the fact that Raith Balan, the quad’s ceramicist and artist, has an unusual sense of colour. It resembles that of Masha Ivashova, an equally fictional painter, who had tetrachromatic vision, a condition that affects colour perception and colour discrimination. Raith is accused of forging an Ivashova. Raith is a cis-gender male, though, and tetrachromatic people are genetically female: ‘tetra-thingy’, as Raith calls it, depends on having the XX chromosome.

To my knowledge, there are very few artists who are tetra. One is Concetta Antico. I wish I could display some of her work here, but copyright forbids it. If you check her out on YouTube and Pinterest and on her own website (https://concettaantico.com), you’ll get some idea of the vibrancy that tetrachromatic vision furnishes. Some idea: people with tetrachromatic vision can see dozens of shades of a colour whereas those of us with trichromacy might only see a few. (Explanation shortly) So, if I were looking at a Concetta Antico painting, I probably would not see what she saw. I don’t have that degree of colour discrimination. For my Raith, who has something akin to tetrachromacy, the intensity of his visual experience is almost a curse. His senses are sometimes overloaded. He’s only really calm at night.

So, what is it? This ‘tetra-thingy’? I’m not a scientist. My understanding is that most people have three working cones within the eye, the cones being the part of the visual system that deals with colour. In some males (here defined as having XY chromosomes) a mutation results in two working cones and the result of that is colour blindness. In some females (here defined as having XX chromosomes) a mutation results in four working cones. Greek for ‘four’ = tetra. Theoretically, therefore, my Raith can’t be a tetrachromat, but I learnt that the effects can be replicated if people, irrespective of type of sex chromosome, have an especially sensitive opsin gene. Here’s the bit in the book where Phil, Raith’s husband, tries to explain what’s going on. The quad (Mike, who rarely uses final ‘g’, Ross, Raith and Phil) are having an evening walk across the Durham hills…

They walked in silence for a while, each to the step of his own thoughts. Raith spoke first. “Now that it’s all over, and I’m not going to be had up for gun running and drug trafficking and money laundering—”

“Money launderin’? You don’t even do clothes launderin’. Have you ever used an iron?”

“I was saying, before someone rudely interrupted me, that now that it’s over, can somebody please explain tetrachra, tetrachro—that fucking thing I’ve got!”

“Your shout, I think, Phil.”

“Thanks. I’ll try. As you know, men aren’t supposed to have tetrachromatic vision.”

“That thing I’ve got.”

“That thing you’ve got. To cut a long story short, it’s thought to be connected with a mutation.”

“A mutation? Is there something wrong with me?”

“No, love. We’re all mutants to some extent.”

“Some of us more so than others,” said Mike meaningfully.

“You’re just jealous of the length of my… hair,” Raith retorted.

Mike laughed. Raith was big in every sense.

“The mutation is on a gene on the X chromosome. Women, XX, Men, XY. So, women can get a double dose of the mutant gene. Men can only get a single dose. Double dose—tetrachromatic vision. Single dose—colour blindness.”

“But I’m a man!” Raith repeated. “I mean, I am a man!”

“Well, that’s a relief,” said Mike. “Seein’ I’d always thought I was gay.”

“Can we get back to my being a tetra-thing, please? How have I got it if I can’t have got it through the mutation?”

“Well,” said Phil, “there are other explanations, though they’re not fully understood yet. One thing is that tetrachromacy occurs in other species regardless of gender. Birds, fish… it’s almost as though humans have lost a gene which was common in the past.”

“You mean it’s the rest of us who’ve mutated, not Raith?” asked Ross. “He should have gone out with the dinosaurs?”

“Don’t you get in on the act, too!” Raith remonstrated. “It isn’t funny. It nearly got me locked up. But is that what you mean?”

“Perhaps he just hasn’t evolved as much as the rest of us have.”

“Fuck you, Mike!”

“It’s sort of what I mean, yes,” said Phil. “I don’t follow the research in any detailed way. It’s a very different branch of medicine from mine.”

“Medicine? Am I ill then?”

“No. Bad choice of words. It involves a different aspect of the human body.”

“Well, I’m not a bird or a fish. I’m a man. Look! Man!” Raith unzipped his fly and delved in his y-fronts to prove it.

“Put it away, for God’s sake!” said Mike, with mock disgust. “You’ll scare the sheep.”

“Why have I got it, Phil?”

“Well, I know that there can be a lot of variation in the properties of the opsin gene. That’s the gene that carries the mutation. You may be at the extreme end. There’s another possibility. Eyes have rods and cones. The rods govern what you can see at low light intensities. It’s thought that, at low light intensities, the rod cells may actually contribute to colour vision. They’d give a small region of tetrachromacy in the colour spectrum. The greatest sensitivity would be at the blueish green wavelengths.”

“And that’s probably another reason why the police were focusing on you,” Ross said. “You like to paint water and blues and greens. You choose to live in this dark and gloomy part of England. Even at the height of summer, light levels are hardly sunny Med.”

“And you like bein’ out at dusk. We often get worried about you gettin’ lost on the moors because you’re still out there paintin’, long after all we see are shadows. You can still see. We can’t. So maybe your rods are particularly sensitive.”

“You all worry about me?”

“Did I say that? No! We just don’t want to break our ankles searchin’ for you after dark.”

“Or stand in a load of sheep shit.”

“And you’re far too heavy to carry home. If you were out there injured, we’d just have to leave you till mornin’. Of course we worry, idiot! We love you.”

“I see.”

“Exactly. You do. We don’t.”

Raith laughed. “And the tetra bit?”

“Well, that refers to the cones. The cones are responsible for colour discrimination and intensity. Rods for light. Cones for colour. Most people have three sets of working cones—trichromatic vision. The mutation, or a high degree of variation in the opsin gene, can result in four working sets of cones. So it seems, anyway. Tetra is Greek for four. It’s that fourth set that provides the extra discrimination and awareness. Does that explain it?”

“I think so. I’ve either got four cones or my rods are extra sensitive. Is that right?”

“That’s about it, yes.”

“And if I’ve got four cones, it’s probably not the mutation, me being a man. It’s more likely that I’ve got a highly varied opsin gene.”


“Well, my rods might be more sensitive than yours, but even I can’t see much now. Do you think we better go back home before we’re all deep in sheep shit?”

“Yes. Home.” (Copyright Jude Tresswell)

I’d love to have a Facebook page for Raith. I think I would have a lot of fun with it. I’ve no real idea what he looks like, of course – hence the silhouettes on all the book covers. I know he’s a big man with dark waist-length hair and he loves to accessorise! Bangles, ribbons, tinkly bells, a wedding ring (self-designed) that carries the infinity heart motif…and, of course, tattoos, one of those being the infinity heart tattooed on his neck, daring the world to comment. (All the quad have an infinity heart tattoo to symbolise their polyamory. See the link to an earlier post.) No ear-ring, though: I don’t think Raith would appreciate a piercing. I don’t think he’s hairy either, torso and arms, that is. Raith loves to dress flamboyantly, and in the next book, tbp later this year, he has an opportunity to dress up as a seventeenth century English cavalier, the kind that fought in the English Civil War. I can imagine Raith dressed like Louis X111, the person in the picture. Wrong country, (France) and a little too early (Louis reigned from 1610 to 1614, predating the English Civil War by thirty years) but I am sure that this is the kind of fashion that Raith has in mind when he chooses his outfit. The painting itself is part of the Wallace Collection, bequeathed to the nation (UK) by Lady Wallace and housed in London. The painter is Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier, the title is A Cavalier: Time of Louis X111 and the Creative Commons Attribution is CC BY-NC-ND. But what a pity I can’t show you one of Concetta Antico’s works as well! Even though I can’t see a quarter of the colours that she can, the colours are stunning. I wonder if, like Raith, she’s overwhelmed at times…

The Infinity Heart Symbol and Polyamory