Films, diversity and WROTE

Do you listen to WROTE? It’s a long-running weekly podcast hosted by Vance Bastian and S.A. (Baz) Collins and it features LGBTQ+ people who are often, but not always, writers. I had the pleasure of being a guest recently and I want to expand on a topic that arose. In a week when the BAFTAs (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) have introduced a host of changes to redress the issue of a lack of ethnic and gender diversity amongst their nominees (so many white males), it seems particularly relevant.

I’m the author of a gay crime/mystery series known as the County Durham Quad. (County Durham is an area in north east England.) Baz asked me who I’d want as actors if the series were ever filmed. Well, actors act – it’s what they do – but I felt that three of my actors ought to be white British. It’s an opinion – that’s all – but explaining why I hold it enables me to delve into a little history…

Just going to talk, for a moment, about a film that was mostly set in County Durham and has been released: Billy Elliot. It harks back to the 1980s when the UK government went eyeball to eyeball with coal miners’ unions. Ironically, the actual pit scenes in Billy Elliot weren’t filmed in County Durham because by the time the film was made in 2000, no suitable working mine existed. The Durham mines had nearly all closed down. The end of the film fast forwards to the scene where Billy, now an adult, stars in a ballet. That scene takes place in London and, if I remember correctly, it’s the only time a non-white actor is shown. Everybody else in the film (I think) is white. That’s an accurate reflection of the demographic of 1980s County Durham. Not white because of racism, but because of industrial history.

I have to be honest; I do have a little chip on my shoulder. I’m from north west England and I’d still be living there if my area hadn’t also had its economic heart ripped out by the government in the seventies and eighties. My area was always cosmopolitan though. Durham wasn’t. You followed your father down the mines, and historically, your father was white. Coal was the life blood. Each small community had its coal pit and everything revolved around that. Coal, and the heavy industries that grew up in its wake – iron, steel, manufacturing… were the major employers. Effectively, the government closed the pits, and little was put in to replace them and the industries that depended on them. Lack of replacement industries meant that there was nothing to entice new people to the area. Hence the demographic didn’t change. So, for example, the 2011 Census of England and Wales showed that the north east had the highest percentage of people who identified as white British in England (93.6%). Ethnicity in County Durham itself was over 98% white. I’m not sure what proportion of that 98% includes people who are white but not British, people from the Republic of Ireland, for example. I think it would be a very small percentage, though. I mean, job-wise, the region is very depressed, so why come? (Figs from the Office of National Statistics)

I’m absolutely sure that my Mike Angells would be white. Born and grown up in Bishop Auckland (a County Durham pit town), father a quarryman not a miner, but most of the quarrying has vanished too, and Mike reacts the way he does in Book 5, A Share In A Secret, because he identifies with the hardships that some of the local people face. But does that mean that he would have to be acted by someone who was white – and British? WROTE is very much about building bridges, and I do feel as though I might be being divisive and tearing one down, but… Location is very much on my mind when I write the stories. Location is there in the series title: County Durham Quad. It’s there on the jacket blurb: there’s always a reference to north east England. The content reflects the scenery, and, at times, the speech patterns. The industrial history is there, the grouse moors, the limestone quarries, the waterfalls, the sheep, the remoteness of the Durham hills… To me, the tales are very grounded in that area of Britain, even if some of the places, like Warbridge and Tunhead, are imaginary and could be anywhere and even though the tales rarely contain description per se. (The setting is in my head, rather than appearing on the page.) So, given the stories’ grounding, and given the demographic of County Durham itself, I would rather that, other things being equal, white British actors were offered the parts. It would be more representative and, thus, an honest thing to do, the closest reflection of reality. As I said near the start, though, it’s just an opinion. I’ve never discussed this with actors; I don’t know any. If I were an actor, used to research and able to ‘get into’ character, I’d probably think differently and not adopt such a narrow attitude. What’s yours? Thanks for reading.

Link to books: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

WROTE: http://www.wrotepodcast.com/jude-tresswell

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

Ace and Non-ace Relationships

It’s almost August, the latest County Durham Quad book was published in April, and I’ve hardly blogged about it yet. Here’s the cover

Silhouettes on the cover, as usual. I have no idea what the characters look like.

As always, crimes and mysteries feature in the plot, this time, homophobia and investment scams. Both had their origins in recent English events that were on my mind. Firstly, I was thinking about some changes to the school curriculum that were scheduled for September (but who knows what will happen with the disruption to school life from the Covid virus?) The new curriculum has a sex and relationships component that was designed to encourage inclusivity and show that there are successful alternatives to the trad mum and dad, het-normal family set-ups. Last year, some schools introduced it early. In some places, hysteria and panic. Little children having to walk into school through loud-mouthed placard-holding, homophobic protesters. It took a court order to disband one lot. Secondly, I was thinking of the about-turn made by the County Durham voters in the last elections. Traditionally a Labour stronghold, trade-unionists, left of centre, but fed up with the closure of all the old heavy industries and little put in to replace them. One of the poorest regions in the country. The area went Conservative and threw the Labour party out. And so I thought about investment scams, with scammers preying on people who have lost their jobs with little prospect of finding another.

The crimes in the books are always generated by real events. I get so angry but I also feel helpless. Writing is therapeutic. But the stories are always double-faceted and this one is too. It develops Nick’s relationship with the quad. I introduced Nick in Ace in the Picture, Book 3: he knew he was ace, but was he aro? I continued his story in Body Parts and Mind Games. He learnt a lot about himself in Book 4! I’d say that both those stories explore asexuality primarily from the viewpoint of the asexual character. A Share In A Secret explores it more from a non-ace perspective. Both Ross and Raith, two of the quad, envisage problems (for very different reasons – they are very different people, and they have different things to gain and lose) and I think that their apprehension is realistic. I’m ace, and married to a non-ace. I know that there are difficulties, but I also think that, sometimes, those problems are not the huge ones that they seem to be. That’s basically the message of the story. For me, it’s a positive tale and in no way a negative one.

One last thing: Ace in the Picture, Book 3, will be free on Amazon Kindle for 5 days from Friday 31st July to Tuesday 4th August, 2020 (Western Pacific time, I think) should you like to try it. If you do read it, or any of the others, I’d appreciate a review. Thank you. Jude

Link to Amazon Author Page for all books (ebook and p/back formats) https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

5PV: publishing code for aces and aros

Did you know that, until recently, fictitious asexual and/or aromantic people were not represented via genre in the book publishing industry? They are now, and I would like to think that (a little self-blowing of trumpet here) I had something to do with it.

The background: Various alpha-numeric codes are used by publishers and retailers to categorise books into genres and sub-genres. One much-utilised list is generated by BISG, the Book Industry Study Group, a US trade association. Another system, Thema, is multi-lingual and is promoted as the subject category scheme for the global book trade. Thema has interest groups or user groups in various countries and language groups, all of whom represent different elements of the book supply chain. Any suggestions the groups make regarding coding changes have to undergo a stringent validation process by Thema’s International Steering Committee: too many codes would make the system unworkable. It has to be shown that a topic requires a code of its own, that is, that it cannot be expressed via two existing codes. (I imagine that BISG members adhere to a similar policy.)

My involvement: I’m the author of a crime/mystery/ relationships series that features a gay, polyamorous quad who live in County Durham, north-east England. I’m not poly. I’m asexual, and I included a fair amount of own-voice thinking in Book 3. The crime involved a forged painting; the book was Ace in the Picture, published in November, 2019. I discovered that, in terms of publishing categories, aces weren’t in the picture at all! BISG (via BISAC) could offer FICO 11000 ( Fiction/LGBT/Gay). Thema offered 5PS (Relating to Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People) and 5PSG ( Relating to Gay People). No ace-rep. No aro-rep. Hmmm… My ace in the picture, a detective called Nick Seabrooke, didn’t exist, and neither, in a sense, did I.

I already had a Book 4 in mind – I’m currently on Book 6 – and, in between developing the characters and the plots, I began writing emails to EDItEUR, the organisation responsible for Thema, and to BISG. I asked people on AVEN* to suggest relevant book titles. I completed forms. I submitted information. I explained, as best I could, why the existing codings were inadequate. I’m pleased to say that, earlier in June, I received an email from a representative at EDItEUR who had kindly kept our correspondence live. Asexual and aromantic (actually, ‘or’ aromantic) were added as qualifiers to the updated version of Thema v1.4 that was published in April, 2020. The code is 5PV: Relating to asexual or aromantic people.

The irony Well, this is a little ironic. I doubt that I, personally, can benefit from the new coding because my work is mainly published by Amazon KDP. Amazon uses a very convoluted form of the BISG/BISAC list and has no specific ace and/or aro classification. (I’ve been told that ace/ aro rep is on BISG’s radar.) However, if you are publishing and using a more general distributor, then at least you know that you can now make it clear that your story features a character who is ace or aro. Hopefully, retailers will pick up on this development and shelve their books and their on-line listings accordingly and thereby make asexuality and aromanticism more visible. Some links below.

My books: County Durham Quad series https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG (Books 3, 4, 5 feature Nick Seabrooke. TW, brief descriptions of sexual intimacy – not Nick – in books 1 – 4) Books 1, 2 and 3 are also available via http://www.rowanvalebooks.com.

The Amazon page also links to Scar Ghyll Levels, a short story about compromise in an asexual/ non asexual relationship. There’s an audio version of Scar Ghyll Levels, with photographs of the Yorkshire setting, at https://youtu.be/M6xSuQ9utWg

Thema : https://www.editeur.org

AVEN: the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network https://www.asexuality.org

County Durham Quad Review Response

I’ve posted this Dennis Lovett photograph before. I can imagine the quad (and Nick) walking over these hills.

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

Podcast http://www.gaymysterypodcast.com/550930/3350791-four-times-as-much-mystery-with-jude-tresswell

Gay Mystery Podcast Chat

I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Brad Shreve on his Gay Mystery Podcast. It airs weekly, and he has talked to many writers, famous ones and less famous ones like myself! It was smashing to be his guest, and I really enjoyed it. We covered lots of topics: the motivation behind the novels, the characters, the covers, the challenges… we didn’t discuss the part asexuality has played in developing the content of the plots unfortunately. It was on the list, but the half an hour went so quickly and Brad asked about other items first. The pod was cast (?) on 16th April, and is available on many different platforms. Here’s a link to Brad’s main site, if you would like to listen (or see the full list of platforms and episodes) : http://www.gaymysterypodcast.com . My specific link is below. Sessions always begin with a book review by Justene of ReQueered Tales, and the author interviews start around 5 or 10 minutes in. I love the mini-title to mine (chosen by Brad). He calls it Four Times As Much Mystery with Jude Tresswell – because the stories are about four men of course!

The fourth book in the County Durham Quad series, Body Parts and Mind Games, and the short story, Scar Ghyll Levels, were both self-published on Amazon. They’re priced low – a lot of people are struggling – as are the three stories which were published by Rowanvale Books. I’ll be self-publishing a fifth County Durham Quad tale very shortly (ebook and paperback). It’s A Share in a Secret. I always think of the stories as lying somewhere between a series and a serial (although I do believe each can be read as a standalone) and, as in any serial, past events have a habit of resurfacing. More about Book 5 next time. AS OF 24th APRIL, Book 5 ebook and paperback are now available..

Today, I should be in County Durham, not just writing about it, walking around Upper Weardale taking photographs for YouTube as the backdrop to extracts from the tales. Like everyone else’s travel plans, mine have been scuppered by Covid-19. If listening to Brad’s podcast whets your appetite for seeing the sites that the quad would know well, I can only suggest checking out the 200 or so photographs on the YouTube video of the audio version of Scar Ghyll Levels. (Link below) They’re primarily of Arkengarthdale in Yorkshire, not of Upper Weardale, County Durham, but the geology, scenery and industrial history are similar. They give the flavour of the bleak beauty that I have in mind when I think of the quad’s imaginary village of Tunhead.

I hope everyone can keep safe and well, Jude

http://www.gaymysterypodcast.com/550930/3350791-four-times-as-much-mystery-with-jude-tresswell

Scar Ghyll Levels YouTube https://youtu.be/M6xSuQ9utWg

Amazon buy links https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

Naming Characters

“Ross. Why Ross, I wonder?”

It’s what a most unpleasant doctor asks Ross, one of the protagonists in the latest County Durham Quad tale, Body Parts And Mind Games. So, why Ross, and why Mike, Raith and Phil, the other three guys in the quad? Promo, plot, personalities, pure fun: they’re basically how I named my men.

Promo: I’ve still got Brexit on the brain. Nigel, Jeremy, Ian and Boris might be suitable names for politicians and party leaders, but they’re too unwieldy for a jacket blurb. I wanted a list that was both smooth and snappy. Something single-syllabled that flew off the tongue. Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil seemed to fit the bill.

Plot: To some extent, the men’s surnames stem from the story lines. English surnames are often those of places, and I needed one with north-east links. I chose ‘Whitburn’, the name of a small town three miles from the city of Sunderland. Phil explains… “If only Ross had had a different surname, not one named after a town in north-east England. Whitburn-Howe. That’s Ross’s surname. He usually only uses the ‘Whitburn’ and that was the part that caused us so much trouble. Within bell-ringing distance of Sunderland, and it rang one bell too many for our comfort.” Not surprising that the villain in Badge of Loyalty, who is from the area, should recall an affair that involved Ross Whitburn-Howe and, in doing so, set a chain of events in motion. I could have chosen other local place names, but Ross is quite a posh guy, which leads me on to…

Personality Does class affect personality? It contributes to expectations and their outcome, so, yes, in a way, and class remains an important factor in UK society. Double-barrelled surnames have traditionally been associated with the posher echelons, so Ross got a double dose of one: Whitburn and Howe. He’s not a snob, though, which is why, as Phil explained, Ross usually only uses the ‘Whitburn’. And the others? Well, Phil himself is by far the most conservative of the other three men (small c – nothing to do with politics). He’s hard-working, conscientious, a respected surgeon… and he often wishes that life were quieter than it is. Poor Phil – always out of his comfort zone! I gave him a good, solid traditional name to suit his character. He is Philip Hywel Roberts. ‘Philip’ is classical, derived from Greek. Phil’s parents are Welsh and ‘Hywel’ is pure Welsh and still in vogue. ‘Roberts’ (together with ‘Robertson’) is a surname with a long history that’s found over much of the UK. There are lots of Robertses in Wales. Philip Hywel Roberts – steady, just like Phil. In some ways, he’s all the things Mike isn’t.

Mike is the tough guy of the group. Biker, ex-cop, risk taker. Even his descriptors contain hard, harsh sounds, and I gave him two in his name: the ‘k’ in ‘Mike’ and the ‘g’ in his surname, Angells. (There are sections in the first two books that, hopefully, ensure that his surname is pronounced as ‘angles’ not as ‘angels’.) Of course, Mike’s hardness is partly a front. He is all the things that his tough-sounding name suggests, but he’s much much more.

Raith is the fourth protagonist. He’s creative. He’s destructive. He’s extremely high-maintenance. He needed an unusual name that reflected his wild personality but mostly, with Raith, it was simply a case of having…

Pure fun I had lots of fun naming Raith, or, rather, Raith Rodrigo Balan (stress on the ‘lan’). Raith’s parents are from South America and my husband had been reading books by Chilean author, Roberto Bolano. (There’s a tilde missing on the final ‘o’: I couldn’t reproduce it in the WP editor.) I played around with the vowels and omitted the last one. As for ‘Raith’ itself (‘ai’ pronounced as in ‘rain’) – I’m a football (soccer) fan. Raith Rovers are a Scottish football team. I’ve always thought that ‘Raith Rovers’ was a lovely name for a football team, so I borrowed a bit of it.

And there’s a further fun Scottish connection, this time with Ross. ‘Ross and Cromarty’ used to be a single Scottish county. I’ve always loved maps and atlases and Ross and Cromarty’s pink blob and far north location always fired my imagination when I was a little girl. It almost wasn’t in Britain! Officially, now, it’s lost its county status and since 1996 has been part of the unitary council area of ‘Highland’. It will always be the separate Ross and Cromarty to me, though, and when I wanted a name for one of the quad, and another for their much-loved home, I chose Ross for the former and Cromarty for the latter. So, that’s “Why Ross?” Nothing fancy – just a bit of fun laced with nostalgia.

Buy details for the novels (both ebook and paperback format) are on my Amazon Author Page at https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG . The first three books of the series are also available from http://www.rowanvalebooks.com . Thank you for reading.

A PS: I recently posted about Rugby Super League team, Wigan, and the team’s response to Catalans Dragons’ signing of Israel Folau. Because of Coronavirus, the match I referred to is off, of course. I hope everyone keeps well.

Jack Dickson’s Jas Anderson trilogy

I wouldn’t know how to write a good book review so this isn’t one. It’s a post around a set of books though: FreeForm, Banged Up and a story I’ve read so often I could probably recite it – Some Kind of Love.

This is probably a damaging admission, but I rarely read fiction. It’s not that I don’t want to, but doing so’s a struggle. I’ve mentioned before that I can’t, for the life of me, visualise my County Durham quad and hence there are silhouettes on all the book covers. (Ditto the cover of Scar Ghyll Levels, which isn’t about the quad) I’ve also mentioned that I struggle with depictions of scenery too. If I’ve actually been to the site of a story’s setting or seen something similar, then fine. If I haven’t, whole paragraphs are meaningless, formless in my non-picture mind. So, it’s no surprise that 99.9% of the books on my shelves are non-fiction and, of the the tiny space that isn’t, well, most of that is taken up with books by two authors: Reginald Hill, who wrote crime novels set in Yorkshire (my favourite county) and Jack Dickson, who wrote novels containing crimes that were set in Glasgow. (I’ve six JD books. He wrote seven.)

I’ve never been to Glasgow, but I know enough about it to feel that Jas Anderson, the hero (Hero? Antihero?) of the trilogy, inhabits a world I understand. There are so many parallels between Glasgow and my own home town, Liverpool. I’ve put that in the present tense. That’s probably wrong. Liverpool has altered from the city of my childhood. I remember it as a busy port with men employed in heavy industry, working class, pub on every corner, crime-ridden, with areas you didn’t go to… just like Glasgow was and possibly still is. And, of course, there was football. That needs to be written in capital letters; it’s so important: FOOTBALL. (This does have something to do with Jas Anderson, I promise!) Both the cities were and are football-mad. Intra-city rivalry: Liverpool and Everton, Celtic and Rangers. The rivalry had roots in religious differences and, in Liverpool, that’s changed. Now, there are teams from other cities for Liverpudlians to hate: inter-city rivalry, the Manchester teams especially. I don’t think it’s lessened so much in Glasgow. There’s no one to threaten the Glasgow pairing; they’re better than the other squads. Their fans are left with being nasty to each other and, in the process, they can keep alive all that old religious intolerance. The initial crime in Some Kind of Love (finally back to the books!) stems from this hatred. Sadly, I feel I understand it. There’s a sense in which I wish I didn’t. Curious fact: one of my idols, Steven Gerrard, ex-captain of Liverpool who grew up about ten minutes’ walk from where I did, is now the manager of Rangers. I imagine he feels as I do: Glasgow is a familiar world.

So why blog about the trilogy now? Because a group of people have got together and formed a company called ReQueered Tales. They’re publishing work that has gone out of print and three of their recent ‘requeerings’ are the three Jas Anderson stories. They published the last one just a week or so ago. Here’s a thing: the new cover for Some Kind of Love features a footy pitch. It’s so much more thoughtfully designed than my old 2002 one was. I know that my own covers are minimalist, but I do think hard about the stance and positioning of the silhouettes. That old GMP cover… well, I thought it was awful, actually. (Likewise, the old Banged Up cover)

Two more things before I close… these books… there are some women in them, but the focus is on men. I’ve posted about this before – often! I can’t deal with depictions of het-norm relationships, nor, in fact, with any sort of relationship that isn’t M on M. If there’s love on the page, it has to be gay. (One of my favourite books – one of my few fic books! – is the exception that proves the proverbial rule. It’s Zane Grey’s The Light of Western Stars published over a century ago. It’s very het-norm, but I’ve sort of erased the heroine and her antics from the story. Who needs her when the hero is the intense and darkly brooding fictional love of my life, Gene Stewart? There’s something of Gene in my Mike Angells although, firstly, Mike is gay and, secondly, he rides a motor bike and not a horse.) The other thing is, you’d get a lot more out of Some Kind of Love if you’d read Banged Up first. The relationship between Jas and Stevie is… well… it’s just lovely (wipes tears), and you would understand it better if you had read the two books in order. I’d better stop or else this will turn into a review. Gosh – a leap year day post! Thank you for reading – Jude

Jack Dickson’s Jas Anderson trilogy: republished by ReQueered Tales whose website is at http://www.requeeredtales.com

My own books: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG (All 4 County Durham Quad tales in paperback and e-book; Scar Ghyll Levels e-book only. County Durham Quad 1, 2 and 3 also at http://www.rowanvalebooks.com and via usual outlets.) Audio version of Scar Ghyll Levels available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/M6xSuQ9utWg

Wigan makes me proud!

This is an LGBTQ+ based post with refs to rugby, to Israel Folau and to Wigan! Nothing about my polyam quad, but a ref to the e-book and YouTube vid, Scar Ghyll Levels.

I’ve always been fond of Wigan. It’s a town mid-way between Liverpool and Manchester that grew prosperous on coal. It has a soccer team, but in common with many of Lancashire’s and Yorkshire’s old colliery and mill towns, the big thing there is rugby. Rugby League, that is, not Union. I’ve always been fond of the place because I used to live nearby. In fact, both of my children were born there; they’re Wiganers officially. I’m even fonder of Wigan, now – and that’s because of January’s events at Wigan Warriors. They play in the Rugby League Super League along with eleven other teams – and one of the eleven has recently signed a player called Israel Folau.

Israel Folau is (perhaps, was) a hugely popular Australian rugby union star who, in the past, has also played rugby league. I posted about him last April (link below). It had struck me as ironic that, at the very time that I published the short story, Scar Ghyll Levels, Israel Folau was in the news for voicing views that mirrored those spoken by the preacher in the story: people who were gay would go to Hell. Like my preacher, Folau’s views are bible-based. My preacher was talking in the 1880’s though, so I suppose he had a bit of an excuse. In Folau’s case, one thing led to another. Rugby Australia sacked him. He accused Rugby Australia of religious discrimination and took them to court. A financial settlement was reached in December. Some sports personnel came out (bad word choice, or perhaps a very good one) in Folau’s support. The majority deplored his homophobia. And then, late in January, to the anger and dismay of that majority, Super League team Catalans Dragons offered him a one-year deal.

The Rugby Football League and the Super League say that they deplored his previous comments, but that they are powerless to veto the registration of players: the ‘moral responsibility’* resides with the clubs. Even Catalans knew that, morally, they were on sticky ground. They say that they’ve built in safeguards that will ensure that Folau keeps his views to himself. To people who are LGBTQ+ and who are in sport, in fact, to everyone who believes that orientation should be respected, offering Folau a contract of any sort seems to endorse his homophobic views – and Wigan decided to do something about it!

Shortly after news of the Catalans deal was released to the public, Wigan announced that their match against the French side on March 22nd will become ‘Pride Day’. The chair of the club, Ian Lenagan, said that the club felt it was important to say that Rugby League is ‘a diverse and inclusive sport’. * So, the players will be wearing rainbow socks and laces and the club will be inviting LGBTQ+ groups along to help promote equality in the game. This is ‘just’ Pride Day, of course. Wigan has had a proper Pride Parade since 2016. This year’s is on August 8th. I think it’s great that a little town halfway between two giants is going to do this. Good on yer, Wigan.

Sources of information and quotes at * from BBC on-line, 28th January and wigantoday. net , also 28th January

Link to my previous post https://polyallsorts.wordpress.com/2019/04/18/no-choice-no-sin-the-israel-folau-case/ and, in case you’d like to listen to the audio version of the Scar Ghyll Levels story, the YouTube link is https://youtu.be/M6xSuQ9utWg Focus is nineteenth century lead mining/ sexual/ asexual relationship. Spoken to a background of 200 photos of Arkengarthdale, an old lead mining centre in Yorkshire.

Protagonists you could live with & an e-book freebie

Fictional protagonists that is. It’s something I’ve wondered about. Could I live with the four, gay, polyamorous men who comprise my County Durham Quad? I like them all, but would I want to share my life with them? Take Raith, for instance. Artist, ceramicist, and extremely high-maintenance. (Not financially. Mentally and emotionally.) He’d wear me out. Here’s Nick (who isn’t one of the four) expressing echoes of my own thoughts regarding Raith’s relationship with the rest of the quad:

No wonder it takes three of them. They can pass him to the next one when they’ve had enough. He pictured a conveyor belt, Raith travelling along it. Lifted off at appropriate times. Redeposited a little later. Then he felt ashamed of himself: it was an unkind thought.

Unkind, maybe, but understandable. Raith’s lovely, but he’s such hard work!

So, what about Raith’s husband, Phil? Colorectal surgeon. Conscientious, caring, careful. Maybe too careful for me, which isn’t to say that he’s boring; he isn’t, and he has a sense of humour (tho’ I’d have to dig deep to find it). He lives life in a bubble, though. His work and the quad. Nothing else really matters. Phil would always be there when I needed him – he’s very reliable, the antithesis of Raith – but I might want to shake him at times, screaming “Let your fucking hair down!” Phil’s lovely, too, but he’s a bit too ‘safe’ for me.

Mike, on the other hand – biker and ex-cop – is anything but safe. If Phil is a list of ‘C’s, then Mike is a list of ‘A’s – apparently. He’s the action-man. Aggressive. Adventurous. Assertive. In some ways, I really admire him, but I think that I’d find his attributes almost as hard to live with as I’d find Phil’s quiet safety especially as, beneath the genuine toughness, Mike is the most anguished, agonised man in the books. Mike is so intense. He’d sacrifice himself for love – and drag everyone else down with him. In his own way, he’s as much a liability as Raith is. As much anti-hero as real hero. So, no. I couldn’t live with Mike. I am hard to please! Would Ross, Mike’s civil partner, do instead? (In England, there are options: marriage or a civil partnership.)

Ross is bright and lively and clever and friendly. He’s at ease with himself and his lifestyle. He’s very… nice, I suppose. He did a really crass, stupid thing when he was younger, though, and that would worry me. Yes, lots of us do things that, with hindsight, we regret, but it adds a question mark to Ross’s… not reliability exactly. More his scruples. I think that Ross could still act underhandedly if he felt he had to so, no, not Ross either. Oh dear! I love them all as book characters. Their differences mean that they are individuals within a four: they think and act differently; they speak differently. I have fun (and tears) writing about their adventures, but, no, they might love living with each other, but I wouldn’t love to live with any one of them.

If you’d like to read about the quad and see if you’d feel more like having them around the house than I would, their latest story, Body Parts And Mind Games, is available as both an e-book and a paperback. The e-book is free on Amazon from 16th to 20th January (2020) inclusive (midnight to midnight Western Pacific time) tho’ it’s always free on Unlimited. If you’ve already seen refs to it, that’s probably because of the great work done by Lily at Gay Book Promotions, and by Dani and the crew at Love Bytes Reviews. Buy links and links to their sites below. Thank you for reading. I hope you have a very very happy 2020!

All four County Durham Quad books are available via my Amazon Author Page at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG . The first three are also available through Rowanvale Books at http://www.rowanvalebooks.com.

Gay Book Promotions https://gaybookpromotions.wordpress.com

Love Bytes Reviews http://lovebytesreviews.com/2019/12/05/book-review-body-parts-and-mind-games-county-durham-quad-4-by-jude-tresswell/