Another post about the setting of my mysteries featuring a gay, polyamorous quad. The prompt is a Goodreads review of A Share In A Secret, the fifth tale in the series. The reviewer’s grandmother came from County Durham, and that’s what had caused the interest. As I said when I guested on Brad Shreve’s Gay Mystery Podcast (link below), I’m in no way a skilful describer of scenery, and I don’t particularly enjoy reading scenic descriptions. I do love facts, though, especially geological ones, and I do try to give a flavour of the county in terms of the effect of the rocks on the landscape and on its industrial and social history. A problem with County Durham is – which County Durham? The geology changes as you travel eastwards from the bleakly beautiful moorlands of Upper Weardale to the lovely-in-a-different-sort-of-way North Sea coast. (Have to state ‘County Durham’ because, just to confuse matters, Durham on its own is the name of the county town – a sort of state capital.)
Mike is the only member of the quad who was actually (well, fictitiously) born and brought up in County Durham. He’s from Bishop Auckland and Bishop is a real place. Like so many towns in one part of the county, it used to be a pit town. The lifeblood was coal. Was coal. The Durham coalfield was famous. It was a huge employer, involving those who worked in the collieries and in the heavy manufacturing industries that sprang from them. Coal dominated the economy and the scenery, and I wonder if the reviewer’s granny grew up in a pit town. If so, it would be unrecognisable today. Almost every visual aspect of that life is gone. It was wiped away in the 1980’s for what many feel were purely political reasons, not for economic ones, and nor because of environmental concerns. But nothing sufficiently substantial was put there to replace coal and the industries that depended on it, and the region has never recovered. It has one of the lowest median incomes in the UK and one of the highest unemployment rates. Traditionally, the coal towns were Labour Party strongholds, but, in desperation almost, in the last Parliamentary elections, nearly every constituency went blue and voted Tory. Mike comments on the change in A Share In A Secret. He says that his dad would turn in his grave if he knew how the voting had gone. It’s because Mike feels for ‘his’ people that he’s determined to get to the bottom of the scam that, in the story, is fleecing money out of men who’ve been made redundant as yet another factory has closed.
The quad don’t live in a town on the old coal fields, but in a little village (a hamlet) in the hills of Upper Weardale. Tunhope, Tunhead, Tun Beck… they’re fictitious (as is Warbridge) but places and streams like them exist in and off the valley (the dale) of the River Wear, west of the town of Crook. The photo above is of one such place. Small towns and villages that developed alongside quarries, usually for extracting limestone. Like the coal, the quarrying is nearly all gone now. Tunhead Quarry always has a role in the stories. The quad seem to find themselves in permanent danger there! In Book 5, though, it’s an old, abandoned lead mine that causes problems. Another industry long-vanished. Now, there are caravan sites near the river where the land is flat. And there are sheep on the hillsides, of course – usually, my curly-horned favourites, Swaledales. I have to be honest, I’ve translocated a waterfall! Raith, the artist and ceramicist in the quad, often walks across the hills to ‘Harnell Force’ and paints its gushing water. I’ve the real High Force in mind. It’s a waterfall in Teesdale, the County’s other major river valley. Weardale is beautiful – but it has nothing quite as stunning as High Force.
There are ways to see what the stories’ setting is like. Through YouTube. Any, absolutely any of John Twist’s seamless drone-shot uploads of Weardale will glide you over the kind of scenery my men wake up to every day. And, for the once-coal-based areas further east, there is Kevin Lear. He’s in his sixties, I think, born in Bishop, and he’s a prolific uploader. I’m thinking solely of his The Life of Kevin Lear vlogs, though. (They usually have ‘Durham’ in the title.) In these, he rides his blue bike around the streets and towns he knew in his childhood, reminiscing. TW – some swearing (just like Mike!). And, although it’s Arkengarthdale in Yorkshire, not Weardale in County Durham, there’s my own upload of 200 photos that illustrate the audio version of the short story Scar Ghyll Levels. The story is about two young lead miners, one (like me and my character, Nick) asexual. The area’s geology is similar and so, as in Upper Weardale, lead was mined there too.
It’s very strange. I can see the scenery in my head. I just can’t put those images into words that sound like words in novels. If I tried to, they’d come out like an essay. Best not to attempt it, I think! Some links:
Goodreads link to all works: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17706061.Jude_Tresswell
Amazon buy link for A Share In A Secret http://www.amazon.com/dp/B087B72WG2 (That’s the eBook. Paperback version also available)
YouTube link to audio version of Scar Ghyll Levels plus photographs https://youtu.be/M6xSuQ9utWg