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

www.goodreads.com/books/show/58679615-a-right-to-know

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.”

“Right.”

“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

Ace and/or Aego?

Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author Hafuboti: an aegosexuality logo for public libraries

I recently responded to a post on the Asexual Agenda – with a little trepidation: I’m not as erudite as their regular posters are. This particular post (see below) made me think about the relationship between the two labels that I identify with: asexuality and aegosexuality. Are they alternatives? Which came first? Are they equally meaningful to me?

I use both words to describe myself. On my AVEN profile, I’m ace and aego: there are so many types of aces that the extra descriptor, aego, seemed a usefuI one. I automatically indicated my orientation as asexual, though, when I completed the UK census recently. It didn’t even occur to me to state that I was aego. And yet, I joined the aego sub-Reddit, but not the ace one. Clearly, there are times when I feel that one label has more relevance.

I think of ‘aegosexuality’ as a descriptor, but not as an orientation. In itself, it doesn’t indicate a sexual preference. It offers no information about the gender of the beings who populate the stories in my imagination. It just implies that I’m not involved myself – that classic third-person aego identifier. Being ace is different. It does provide that information. It narrows down the gender of people I’d want partnered sex with and am attracted to, sexually. That is, to none. So, it doesn’t surprise me that, when I needed a term for the census, unhesitantly, I chose ace.

I don’t know which came first, but I’d hazard a guess at aego. As a small child I had third-person fantasies. Whole stories played out in my head, often, quite erotic stories. As far as I know, there wasn’t any trauma and I certainly had no sexual vocabulary to draw on or to inform my vivid imagination. It was just the way I was, and still am. And, it seems, the way a lot of people were and are, which, in a sense, is comforting.

I do know that, on a personal level, I am drawn far more to aegosexuality than I am to asexuality. Aegosexuality determines and describes how I spend my time and what I do. For example, when I write my County Durham Quad books and work on my YouTube videos, I am aego. I do draw heavily on my experiences of being in an ace/non-ace relationship, but I’m fantasising about four gay, polyamorous men (and, since Book 3, one non-polyamorous ace one) whose adventures only include myself as their creator. Given what I wrote above about my childhood, that’s not to say that the stories are erotic. There’s usually little more than a very chaste kiss, but I’m not averse to writing sexual content, and sex plays a huge part in the men’s relationships even though it’s rarely explicitly present on the page. In contrast, asexuality determines and describes what I don’t do. That is, I don’t want, and don’t have, partnered sex. I don’t think it affects how I spend my time. So, that’s a definite difference – ace or aego. But, in book-writing terms, ace and aego has relevance too. Obviously, people don’t have to be aegosexual to write books! But, when a writer is, like me, asexual, surely they have to be aego as well. I have to be able to imagine scenes in the third person because, being ace (or, rather, my particular type of ace: I know there are aces who enjoy sex under certain circumstances) I would be revolted to be present in the fantasies myself. I assume that’s the same for others.

In conclusion, it seems to me that at times, ace and aego apply. At other times, it’s one or the other. How about you? Thank you for reading.

Links to the County Durham Quad series of videos and books: book 6, Fast, Free and Flying is free on Amazon from 13th to 17th May, 2021 inclusive. See https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhPb-WpyW3fUXnqjvTnCqA   (Video footage and production by Andy Ditchfield at http://www.skywardaerial.co.uk)

Asexual Agenda post: April 8th, 2021. ‘A sesquipeddian examination’ https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com

7 ways geology and fiction meet in Jude Tresswell books

One. The whole of the short story, Scar Ghyll Levels resonates with geology. The protagonists are young Yorkshire lead miners and the story is sprinkled with mining words like ‘bouse’. I love the adaptation of the cover that became the splash for the YouTube version.

It speaks of the hellish conditions in a 19th century lead mine, but mining provided a living and there wouldn’t have been any mining if it weren’t for the rocks and the processes they underwent deep underground: hot mineral-rich brines rising through fissures and faults and, as far as the lead veins were concerned, often threaded through layers of limestone. You can see relics of the mines on the dozens of photographs I’ve put on YouTube. They’re the background to the audio version of the story.

Two. Over to Weardale in North-East England, the setting of the County Durham Quad tales. More lead (similar geology) in Book 5, A Share in a Secret. Nick has fallen down a bell pit and Ross and Raith have to try to hoist him out. Miners would often dig a shaft, then open it out at the base so that the mine resembled a long-handled bell. A lot of the early mines were unregulated. They’re not always on maps but they’re recognised by the depressions they leave on the ground and a grass-covered ring of debris. The shafts can be capped and back-filled, but, sometimes, the capping gives way. It’s usually hares or walkers’ dogs that take a tumble. In Book 5, it’s Nick.

Footage by Andy Ditchfield: the YouTube splash for Book 5. Video link below.

Three. And still in Weardale, grouse moors. Those upper slopes of the Durham hills – just heather on the grits that lie on top of the cycles of limestone, sandstone and shales. Nothing else will grow, but the heather is great for nesting grouse, and grouse shooting is profitable. So, the moors are well-managed by the owners of the large estates. Fire is one of the ways they do that. The patchwork appearance that results is beautifully shown on the Body Parts and Mind Games video. In the extract, Mike commits arson – to flush out the men who have kidnapped Ross, not to flush out the grouse. It works.

Four and Five. This cyclicity… repeating sequences of limestones, sandstones and shales. They’re called Yoredale cycles after the old name for the R. Ure in Yorkshire. There, they are seen to perfection. The cycles are probably caused by periodic changes in the Earth’s tilt and orbital radius with respect to the Sun. The changes affect insolation and, hence, relative water depth and river profiles as well as temperature more directly. Those affect the kinds of sediment deposited in, on or near the rivers, lakes and huge deltas that, millions of years in the past, dominated this area of northern England. (You could check out Milankovitch Cycles to find out more.) The sediments, buried, solidified, exhumed… gave rise to the quarrying industries that feature in the Quad tales, Ace in the Picture and Body Parts and Mind Games in particular.

The quad live in a fictitious abandoned quarry village, Tunhead, at the head of Tun Beck, an imaginary tributary of the River Wear. Tunhead Quarry (also fictitious) is where Raith nearly lost his life at gunpoint, and where Ross suffered burns when a carelessly discarded cigarette set dry, overgrown vegetation on fire. Those burns have ramifications: they set the story going. There’s a lot about the quarry in the stories – its history, its modern use – and there are a lot of quarries in Weardale, although, like Tunhead, nearly all of them are abandoned now. Smallish ones, overgrown hollows on the hill sides and near the river banks, and much larger ones that clearly show up from the air. Andy Ditchfield, who lives in Weardale and filmed all my videos, used drone footage of two, the quarries at Stanhope and Eastgate. Eastgate’s enormous quarry is the backdrop to the scene in which Raith is in danger but I think that Andy included Stanhope’s because he knew I would love to see it.

Andy’s shot of Stanhope Quarry. The video link is below.

Six. As you travel eastwards through Co. Durham, these Weardale strata dip below the younger deposits and what you get is coal. Or, did get. The Durham coalfields were some of the UK’s most important, and towns and villages developed to supply the fuel that helped turn iron into steel in towns like Consett, or, literally, heat the nation. Whatever I might think about fossil fuels, I totally and absolutely empathise with Mike’s anger in A Share in a Secret. The region (not unlike my own) has never really recovered from the political decisions made in the seventies and eighties to get rid of the unions and the industries they represented. The resulting continual unemployment is part of the background to the story and helps to explain why Mike is determined to make the bad guys pay.

Seven. Waterfalls. Not Weardale, Teesdale, the valley of Co. Durham’s other major river, the Tees. The Whin Sill outcrops in Teesdale. It’s an igneous rock (dolerite) that extends for miles within and atop parts of northern England. Hadrian’s Wall, the old barrier between England and Scotland, takes advantage of it, and so do geologists and tourists when they visit Teesdale and gaze at High Force.

Weardale doesn’t have anything quite as wonderful, but I pretend that it does and call it Harnell Force. It’s Raith’s ‘special place’ – where he goes when he’s upset. His husband, Phil, has a limp, caused by a landslide there, but Khaled, the boy at the centre of Polyamory on Trial, well, he suffers far more than Phil does when he climbs it. High Force is spectacular. It’s also dangerous. It’s also privately owned and aerial photography isn’t allowed so, when Andy wanted to film a waterfall to go with the relevant Poly on T extract, he travelled over the Co. Durham border into Northumberland and filmed Ashgill Force instead.

On previous blogs, I’ve mentioned that I find it really difficult to describe the setting of the tales in terms of their scenery, even though the hills and rivers and quarries are firmly in my head. So, the stories are very stripped down into what I see as essentials: dialogue, introspective reflection and narrative. Weardale, Teesdale, Arkengarthdale…they are stunning, though, and, obviously, although their landscapes have been much modified, the geology shines through. Here is the link to my YouTube channel. There are some stunning videos, all shot by Andy over me reading extracts from the Quad tales, and Scar Ghyll Levels is there too.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhPb-WpyW3fUXnqjvTnCqA

Buy link:  https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

Video footage by Andy Ditchfield : http://www.skywardaerial.co.uk

Aces and Anonymity

Life has changed from access to broad open spaces and meeting friends in person to access to broadband and meeting them solely online. It’s almost a year since my last irl ace meeting was cancelled, due to Covid of course. I live in South East England, but I’d booked a week’s break in County Durham, several hours away by train. As I’ve posted elsewhere, part of my reason for going was that I wanted to take photos to upload to YouTube along with extracts from my stories, but I was also intending to join in an AVEN meet – the date coincided. My plans were scuppered. The book extracts benefitted: instead of photos, I’ve been uploading stunning videos shot professionally. (There’s a link below.) In other ways, I lost out though.

I’m a regular poster on AVEN, a sometimes poster on Reddit’s Aegosexual sub, an occasional poster on the Asexual Agenda, and I do truly appreciate the interaction that online forums offer. I can talk to people from far-flung places, share their sadnesses and happy times. I’ve seen pictures of other people’s homes, their pets, their cars. I know where they take their walks and what they grow in their gardens. I’ve discussed politics and social norms and lifestyle differences… skewed, it’s true, to comments from Europe and North America, but with a sprinkling of input from elsewhere. And, as I’m a curious person, I really enjoy such exchanges. I can’t think of anything that isn’t discussed on a forum somewhere. Sex too. There’s a lot of discussion of sex considering that most of us are aces. It’s not the same as meeting in real life though.

When you meet people in person, you lose your anonymity. This can be such a disadvantage. It’s only natural, I suppose: people tend to gravitate to those who are, perhaps, similar in age or towards those whom they like the look of, or the sound of (pitch and accent) or, in a class-ridden society like mine, to those who seem to have a background that resembles their own. Et cetera. And that is so exclusive! It locks people out. It ignores them. The reason I miss irl ace meetings so much is that the commonality – the being ace – overrides all those reasons for not talking to someone, not sharing a meal with them, not going on a walk together, not giving them a second look. Age, class, background and all the other stupid divisions and barriers to interaction become irrelevant. All that matters is that you’re either an ace or someone who is supportive of asexuality. And the weird thing is, being ace has never been discussed at any of the meets I’ve been on! It’s just there, floating around in the background yet, like glue, sticking everyone together.

It amazes me that I can meet up in person with a group of people and feel a part of the group instead of apart from a group. I don’t get that feeling as much when I’m just online perhaps because, online, it isn’t necessary to dispense with anonymity. Online, I’m part of the general group, no questions asked. In person, because that anonymity is lost, questions can be asked and, if you don’t fit in with people’s expectations, tough luck: you can’t join in. Ace meets, however, are inclusive. At least, the ones that I’ve attended have been. So, I’m waiting for these awful times to change and for a resumption of something like the old normality. I miss the real meetings. And, thinking of the differences between things online and in real life, here is the link to this month’s drone-shot video. It’s for Ace in the Picture, the third of the County Durham Quad books (There are 6 books in total) and the one in which I introduced Nick, who is ace. He definitely feels apart. (You’d have to read the subsequent books to see how that all changes!) Not County Durham in the flesh, but, even online, you can see that the scenery (Weardale) is simply beautiful! Many, many thanks to Andy Ditchfield of Skyward Aerial for filming it. https://youtu.be/l7BoHSr8NeU

PR for M/M books and videos

Happy New Year and hello. I’m really pleased to tell you that the new book has had lovely reviews on dedicated M/M sites like Crucify My Love and Love Bytes Reviews, even though the story contains nothing hotter than a very chaste kiss! I know that the folk on the Gay Mystery Podcast turn to Becca’s Love Bytes Reviews to check that, as they like to call it, ‘Crime is Prime’ – they told me so when I guested on their show. I suppose, though, in my books, crime vies with relationships, and with Nick being ace, those relationships don’t necessarily have much sex. Crucify My Love reviews far fewer books, but what they write (in English and in Polish!) is so thoughtful… and there are little add-ons like ‘Fan Girl Zone’ that make me smile.

For me, getting reviews is a problem. I’m self-published. I don’t have a big social media presence. I don’t have contacts within the PR or publishing businesses. There are many online outfits who are pay-for-review. Not directly so: it would, for example, be against Amazon policies to engage directly in pay-for-review. Instead, these outfits offer readers the option of reviewing; readers can do so if they want to. The reviewers could be anyone and anything, though, including homophobic – which wouldn’t suit me, would it? Not when I write about a polyamorous gay quad! (Plus Nick) So, I don’t like to go down that road, but I do promote the books through Lily Blunt’s Gay Book Promotions, and hope that the publicity generated will gain at least some readers’ interest. Thanks to Lily, well over a dozen bloggers and Facebook-folk and Instagrammers etc displayed the book’s cover, blurb, links and first chapter to their followers. (https://gaybookpromotions.wordpress.com)

And talking of links and first chapters, here, as promised last time, is the link to some stunning aerial footage of Weardale , the setting of the County Durham Quad tales, and my reading of Fast, Free and Flying‘s Chapter One. https://youtu.be/LqIg4P5uvQc I know the words off by heart now! I can mute the video, watch it on my own files so’s not to artificially skew the number of views and recite it perfectly. I was hoping to release the second vid a day or two ago but the North-East weather and the UK’s strict Covid restrictions got in the way. I’ve one ready for this week, though. (Goes public on 21st January). The footage is wonderful. It’s the vid for Book 4, Body Parts and Mind Games. The extract involves setting a patch of grouse moor alight after a drive through country lanes. To do it, Andy combined aerial shots and road trip ones. Great dedication: he got stuck in the mud. There’s a WOW! bit at five minutes when he flips from one type of footage to the other. I guess if you click on the other link and hit subscribe, YouTube will send a notification. I’ll edit and update this post too.

Buy/read inside link for Fast Free and Flying by Jude Tresswell is https://amazon.com/dp/B08Q79JPZ8. I hope you all stay safe and well; I really do.

County Durham, drones and a publishing first?

Coronavirus has enabled me to achieve what I think is a publishing first: a series of author readings uploaded over stunning aerial footage of the setting of the stories. Six videos on YouTube.

The new addition to the County Durham Quad gay mystery series.

My latest gay mystery is now live and that’s exciting, but I’m just as excited about the videos! Last April, I was all set to travel to County Durham to take dozens of photographs to place behind extracts of the tales. Their focus is Weardale in the hilly western part of the county. Trains booked, hotel booked, bus timetables saved on my phone, and then we had lockdown and I couldn’t go. I busied myself with writing Fast, Free and Flying, the sixth book in the series. The plot revolves around drones and that gave me an idea. If I couldn’t get to the mountains (well, hills), perhaps I could get them to come to me. Perhaps there was a Durham-based company who would be willing to take some footage for me – their moving pictures behind the extracts instead of my static ones. I searched online and discovered Skyward Aerial. Not only were Skyward based in County Durham, but they were based in Weardale itself. Brilliant! I sent off an email to head honcho, Andy Ditchfield, had one back, and the result is the series of stunningly beautiful videos that I’m in the process of uploading.

The thing is, I dislike reading descriptions. I never seem to ‘see’ what an author is describing; I just see a list of words and I end up skipping them. I write the sort of content that I like to read and so I’ve few descriptive passages in the books. The scenery’s there in my head, though: the hills, the dales, the moors, the old quarries, the innumerable sheep, the deserted buildings and, in places, the scarred landscape that speaks of a lead mining past. They all feature in the stories and sometimes they dictate the plot. To have the setting on film like this… admittedly, I’m biased, but I think the footage is wonderful!

I can’t thank Andy, enough. We’ve exchanged dozens of emails and had phone chats… it’s been a real joint effort. (More his than mine, though. For a start, he froze and got wet. I stayed warm and dry at home.) I sent Andy outlines of the plots and references to some of the localities that I’d like to feature. Andy came back with “That one’s out; the landowner won’t give permission” or “Yes, we can do that”, and he’s shivered his way through November/December filming. Not only that. He designed the thumbnails for the videos, created the music intros, helped to improve the quality of my audio recordings…  and he drinks tea, which has to be good!

The first video (which, in a sense, is the last because it’s connected with the new book) is scheduled for release on January 7. I’ll blog again then and provide the link. The others will be published at weekly intervals. Meanwhile, I hope you like the cover of the new book. It’s available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08Q79JPZ8 . The Goodreads link is https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56248046-fast-free-and-flying and, as regards the wonderful Skyward Aerial, the website is http://www.skywardaerial.co.uk .

Thanks for reading – Jude

Ace Rep: County Durham Quad gay mystery series Q and A

Nick Seabrooke is clearly asexual; he analyses his asexuality on the page; he’s the eponymous ace in Ace in the Picture; at times, his orientation drives the plots. Why so upfront? Is it overkill?

No. I just don’t think we’re at a place yet where asexuality is so well understood that a character’s orientation can be inferred. To me, it still has to be explicit. I get a bit miffed when I see lists of books with so-called ace characters when the evidence for orientation is based solely on their not indulging in sex. I don’t expect ‘old’ fiction to include ace-explicit references for the obvious reason that asexuality wasn’t too widely known, but I want it from fiction that’s being published now. I write the kinds of books I like to read so, naturally, I put the word on the page.

So, why did you include an asexual character? Was it an ‘own voice’ exploration?

Not really. There’s part of me in Nick but his life doesn’t mirror mine. He has the language for a start – the relevant vocabulary. He’s known he’s ace for many years. He’s had a bit of a crush, but when we first meet him, he’s never met anyone who really ticked the romantic boxes. As far as he’s concerned, he’s aroace. I didn’t even know the descriptor ‘aroace’ until very late on in a long life but, when I did learn it, I knew that I’d always been ace but never aro: when I was younger, I was definitely in love (and I’m still married to the man I fell for). So, we’re different in some ways.

So why did you include Nick?

Partly a conscious decision to try to spread the word and spread some understanding, albeit from a narrow viewpoint. Partly because, as a series author, I wanted to develop my characters. All the stories have twin foci: a mystery and an exploration of relationships. Introducing an asexual detective into a series that focused on four gay polyamorous men offered scope to move the relationships on. It offered an extra dynamic, not that I felt comfortable about doing it.

Why not? Why didn’t you feel comfortable?

Because, as I say, the narrow viewpoint… I write about Nick Seabrooke. He’s one of so many different sorts of asexual people. It’s impossible to represent everyone. That narrowness has implications both for readers who are ace (disappointment: Nick isn’t them) and for readers who aren’t familiar with the breadth of the ace umbrella. I could give those readers the wrong impression.

Can you say a little about Nick? You say he develops. How?

All the characters develop, not just Nick. We meet him in Book 3. He’s a detective, investigating money laundering and forgery and the trail leads him to suspect Raith, one of the quad. Nick constantly analyses his thoughts and feelings to try to understand why Mike, another of the quad, is constantly in his mind. There’s no sexual arousal, but what’s going on? At the story’s end, he’s still puzzled, but, as the case has been solved, he returns to London and thoughts of Mike take a backseat – until, in Book 4, Body Parts and Mind Games, he returns to County Durham on another case. He gradually, almost reluctantly, comes to terms with the knowledge that he is ace but romantic, and he is stunned – and mortified – to realise that Mike was aware of his feelings. He doesn’t return to London: he stays. Book 5, A Share in a Secret, explores Nick’s new status as Mike’s romantic but non-sexual partner. From Nick’s point of view, it’s a sort of QPR, but it’s not without problems and there are problems for the others too. For example, Raith gets in a twist about boundaries: what are the quad allowed to do in front of Nick? Ross can’t understand why his sexual civil partner should want a relationship with someone who is sex averse: Ross has to do a lot of soul-searching. In Book 6, it’s Mike who has the problems. He feels that he is the one making all the bedroom compromises. As he puts it: “I respect that he’s ace, but does he respect the fact I’m not?” So, Nick has to think: if he wants the relationship to work, what is he willing to do? How far is he willing to go? I think that people in every single ace/ non-ace relationship face this question sooner or later – I faced it myself – and I know it can break a pairing apart. I want to explore compromise more fully in Book 7, which I’ve started, but I need to really think hard about how I do so because there are big sensitivity issues.

Do you mean that there might be sex on the page, which might upset readers who are ace ?

Not per se. Some of the stories do contain explicitly sexual passages – between members of the quad, not Nick. I’ve already let Nick move from aroace to homoromantic ace and I appreciate that doing so can be seen as pandering to an M/M market that wants some romance on the page. Marketing definitely isn’t on my mind, but I am aware that I could be doing aroaces, in particular, a disservice. The story might be seen as reinforcing that whole ridiculous “You just haven’t found the right person yet” thing – an insult to people who will absolutely always be aromantic simply because that is the way they are. But, as I said earlier, it’s impossible to represent everyone. It’s why ace rep is so hard to execute. If I allow Nick to compromise to the extent of having penetrative sex with Mike, if, I want to be very, very careful how I explore his thinking process and be as respectful to all aces as I can. I kind of think along with him, if that makes sense. Knowing Nick, and I like to think I know all my characters, I don’t believe he would compromise to the extent of having sex. I think he might have sex – under certain circumstances – and I think that, if he were to, it would revolt him. It could even break up the relationship. I have to think about it. His take on the experience would be different from mine. I’ve had sex, lots of times, but I never knew I was ace when I did it. I want to get Nick right.

And the books?

The first five are available on Amazon as ebooks and paperbacks. The link is https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG . Book 6 is complete and will be published early in 2021. The first three titles are also available in bookshops, although Nick doesn’t appear until Ace in the Picture, Book 3.

RSE teaching and LGBTQ phobia

Here in England, one of the more unexpected effects of Coronavirus is that the new Relationships and Sex Education Curriculum has been put on hold; there’s been no regular schooling for months. RSE is still there on the statutes, but instead of being compulsory from this September (2020), schools have until September 2021 to get themselves sorted out. So, I’m just waiting for the trans and homo phobias that raised their head in Spring, last year, all dressed up as parents’ rights, to kick off again.

Back then (I’m talking 2019), an outfit called ‘The School Gates Campaign’ distributed leaflets in east London that warned parents and guardians that the new curriculum would “promote transgenderism and homosexual lifestyles” (!!!) and, although they omitted this next bit from a re-draft, that RSE would teach infants how to masturbate. The Christian Institute (which I can’t believe speaks for all Christians) also focused on queer aspects: “Relationships Education will mean teaching young children about ‘different types’ of relationships, which could include homosexuality, transgenderism and same-sex marriage… this package of change could lead to the sex education industry, which promotes explicit materials, having much greater influence.” There were protests outside school gates. Small kids had to walk through dozens of shouting, aggressive people, some of whom, it transpired, had nothing to do with the schools; they were activists using the situation. The police were involved. Dispersal orders were issued. Depressing scenes every day on the news.

Better say what this is all about… We have an Equality Act here – everyone is unique and equal – and one of the ways in which the government sought to educate school-age children about its implications was to introduce the RSE curriculum, aspects of which have been taught in schools for years, incidentally. The new curriculum does not advocate any particular lifestyle choice and neither does it promote any particular orientation. So, for example, primary school pupils (that’s 4 or 5 to 11 year-olds) are educated about respect within their own relationships and towards people within other relationships. There’s a lot about how there are different types of families and different types of committed relationships. Secondary school pupils (that’s 11 up) have extra sections that involve sexual awareness: safety in sex, transmission of STDs, coercion etc. Parents and guardians cannot withdraw their children from the relationships sections, but they can withdraw their children from the sex components, until the children are fifteen or so, anyway. Then it’s up to the child.

Promoting equality via challenging stereotypes and highlighting diversity isn’t the sole reason for the new curriculum. There’s a huge focus on mental health and well-being. Nutrition, healthy exercise, personal safety, bullying, abortion and miscarriage… they’re all in there, particularly within the secondary curriculum, but they’re not the parts that people have focused on. I’m a mum, and I really do empathise with parents who want some say in what their children are being taught, and I totally, totally agree that childhood is a precious time and children shouldn’t be made to leave it behind them too soon, but –

A) I would get my facts straight before I started protesting and

B) I would never scare children (and staff) by protesting in the aggressive, violent, intimidating manner of the people involved in the demonstrations that occurred outside school gates, especially those gates outside the Birmingham primary school that found itself at the centre of the mayhem.

The deputy head at the school developed a programme called ‘No Outsiders’. (Foci: tolerance, inclusivity, respect for differences. Kind of obvious in the title.) The school decided to implement the new curriculum early. I’ve seen some of the books that are used. I didn’t see any references to sex, or to masturbation or to anything that would result in the sexual exploitation of the young children who read them. Instead, I saw simple, thoughtful tales with, sometimes, astonishingly beautiful illustrations. Example: Jessica Love’s Julian is a Mermaid. It’s just lovely. She wrote it and drew it. Gosh! Ironically, some of the books on the ‘No Outsiders’ programme have been around for years and no one has made a big fuss until now. And tango makes three, which is based on the true story of penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo, was first published in 2005, I believe. I doubt if reading it in the fifteen years since then made any young reader actively want to take up ‘homosexual lifestyles’. It’s a book about penguins that can be used to explore ideas about relationships before the nasty world gets its claws in and perpetuates homophobia.

I don’t know. I don’t get it. I really don’t get it and, as always when something preys on my mind, it finds its way into my stories. Sort of cathartic. So, A Share In A Secret begins with all those events in my head, although of course they’re used in a fictitious way. It’s not a major theme, but it’s there, and, interestingly (to me, anyway), it was one of the things taken up by Karolina Cebula when she reviewed the book for ‘Crucify My Love’. She wrote about the damage homophobia does to young minds. (There’s a link to her review below.) Karolina is Polish (Indeed she reviews in both English and Polish) and I know, from the news that I see and read, that LGBTQ+ is in dire straights in Poland. Freedom there is being eroded. She hadn’t realised that England has its share of homophobia too. I wouldn’t say that freedom is being eroded here, but this isn’t the tolerant place it would like to think it is. Yes, we have our Equality laws, and the TV soaps have queer story lines (and occasionally, ace ones too!) and most towns have their PRIDE events, and I’ve seen blokes kiss on the platform at Kings Cross station and nobody batted an eyelid, but you don’t have to dig very deeply to know that all’s not ideal. It just takes something like a kids’ book to make what’s down there rise up to the surface. Which is why I wrote this in A Share in A Secret… (Mike’s twelve year old nephew, Connor, is caught up in homophobia arising from an RSE lesson. He gets into a fight, he gets sent home… )

Connor was sitting in an armchair. He looked at Mike, red-eyed, shifted his position and then looked at the floor. Mike had intended to sit down on the chair’s arm, next to him. The squirming and the look stopped him. He sat down on the sofa instead, and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.

“They said you’re a paedo. They said it meant you do things to kids.”

“No!” An adult would have recognised the anguish in Mike’s voice, but Connor was just a child. “Who said? They’re wrong, Conn. Come here and we’ll talk about it.”

How often, with Tom away, had he said that to his nephew over the years, and the two of them had put the world to rights, seated together on the sofa? This time, though, Connor didn’t move. Instead, he looked at Mike, uncertain.

“Okay,” said Mike gently. “You stay there. Tell me what they said, and ask me all the questions you want.”

“They said you do things up the bottom.” It sounded so dirty spoken like that. “Do yer?

Mike sucked in a breath, and answered honestly. “Aye, I do sumtimes, but not to children.”

“So you do, then.

“Aye. Sumtimes.”

“They said you take photos of kids an’ put them on the internet.”

“Never. I’d never do that and neither would Ross or Phil or Raith.”

“They said you put your willy down kids’ throats.”

“Ah, God, no! No! Who said that?! Have I ever done that to you?”

Connor shook his head but wouldn’t look at him directly.

Conn, have I ever touched you where you didn’t want to be touched?”

Connor shook his head again. “But that’s what they do. Be nice and friendly ’til they want to do things. Adam Welland said his dad says that people like you need to have their willies cut off and his dad said in some countries people like you get thrown in jail.”

People like me! Mike wanted to shout, “There aren’t people like me. Just people!” but he didn’t.

Words were flooding out of Connor now.

Mam says I’ve got to go in to school tomorrow but I don’t want to. I tried to fight ’em. I said you wouldn’t do them things. I never knowed about the bottoms though. I never knowed you did that. I said they were lyin’.”

Mike had no response. His turn to look away.

I had to write it all out and say why I’d got into a fight and then they called me mam.”

There’ll be someone else to pick on tomorrow, Conn. You’ll be yesterday’s news. It’s how schools are.

Yeah, but this is part of our lessons so it’ll ’appen again. It’s not nice, is it?

Did he mean homophobia? No. “Doin’ things with bums.”

I don’t know what to say to that, Conn.” He knew what he wanted to say: that he hadn’t chosen to be gay. That he was just someone who wanted sex at times. That if you put the two together, it was one of the actions that sometimes ensued. That if you loved the person you were with, then you cherished and treasured the intimacy that could result, but he couldn’t have explained his feelings to a lot of adults, let alone to a pre-adolescent boy. So, he sat there, unable to offer a defence.

Maisie put her head around the door.

I need to pick Joel up,” she said.

I’ll come too,” said Connor, jumping up.

Mike drew in a breath. He caught Maisie’s eye. They’d both understood the message: Connor no longer felt safe alone with Mike. At least for now, the boy was lost to him. Mike had left the house by the time that Maisie and her sons got back. (copywrite Jude Tresswell)

Bit long, but lack of tolerance and lack of respect – lack of humanity really – does such damage, doesn’t it? Makes me want to cry at times. Thanks for reading.

Karolina’s Crucify My Love – REVIEW https://crucify–my–love.blogspot.com/2020/05/141-eng-review-share-in-secret-jude.html

Buy link for the book, which is the fifth in the County Durham Quad series and is in ebook and p/back formats. I would hope that there’s enough background in it for new readers. https://amazon.com/dp/B087B72WG2

Refs made in post: Relationships and Sex Education, The Christian Institute, http://www.christian.org.uk ; School Gates Campaign info from BBC On-line news 30th April, 2019, article entitled ‘Protest leaflets claim relationship education teaches infants masturbation’ ; various BBC On-line news pieces, e.g. March 08, 2019 following the demonstrations outside Parkfield Community School. Also, Relationships, sex and health education: guides for parents http://www.gov.uk, updated November 05, 2019