Responsibility of Writing Poly-fiction

One of the reasons I wrote Ace in the Picture was that I wanted to represent asexuality as it really is, or, rather, accurately represent one section of the ace-spec to the best of my ability. I am ace so I felt that I could do that. When I write about polyamory, though…it’s different. I don’t even know any poly-people irl. (Not knowingly, that is. “Hello. I’m name and I’m poly” is a pretty unlikely greeting.) And yet, I’m part way through my fourth fictional novel about four polyamorous men. I’m not even male. I couldn’t be more cisgender, monogamous and female if I tried, but here I am, throwing my quad into crimes and mysteries with er…gay abandon…and I don’t know if I’ve got their lifestyle spot-on or insultingly wrong. I don’t take this as lightly as it might sound. Fictionalising lifestyles, especially non-normative ones, is a responsibility. I reckon one can do a lot of harm via casual misrepresentation.

I started off the County Durham Quad series with a real life quad in mind, three members living, one, sadly, dead. (See link below.) I don’t mean that my fictional men are based on these real ones – they’re not – only that I saw an interview and I was deeply touched by the obvious mutual affection, and amused by the references to domesticity. Those were two things that I’ve tried to bring out in the books – the supportiveness of such a relationship and its total normality. In all honesty, I think that in Book 1, Badge of Loyalty, I was simply finding my way through the ins and outs of an alien lifestyle. (Alien to me. The stories are neither fantasy nor paranormal.) As I ran with the plots, though, and developed the characters, I found myself analysing the lifestyle, wondering what might threaten, destabilise or even tear a poly quad apart, and, equally, wondering what would cement it. Hence the title of Book 2: Polyamory on Trial. In my head, I was placing polyamory in the dock. I hope, I really do hope, that I did the lifestyle justice.

Ace in the Picture was different. I looked at polyamory, or, rather, my take on it, from my own ace perspective. Well, not quite from my perspective for I’m not homoromantic, as Nick, the ace character, is, and I don’t share all his hang-ups, but, really, in that book, it was poly through asexual eyes. So, if a reader should be polyamorous and think, “It isn’t like this, actually,” I wouldn’t be overly worried. From my own-voice Ace POV, it is a correct interpretation.

And the next in the series? Well, Nick will be there again, trying to sort himself out, but I want to return to the poly-centre of the stories and, in particular, explore trust and fear of loss. I might take a while to finish it because I need to get it right. I owe it to people who are polyamorous to do my best to get it right! That’s what I mean when I say that writing fiction carries responsibilities. I can’t experience the lifestyle I’m writing about directly, so I need to read and read and not just run with my imagination, which, basically, is what I’ve done before. I’ve found some wonderful blogs and I’m trying to learn from them. There’s Carmen’s for example at https://ohmymermaid.com. If any one should wish to recommend others, please do comment below. Thanks – suggestions much appreciated.

Links: https://polyallsorts.wordpress.com/2018/04/25/inspirational-colombian-throuple/

Amazon author page: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

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No Choice No Sin-the Israel Folau case

This case interests me because it’s so timely. ‘Hell awaits gay people’ is the thought that bothers the narrator of Scar Ghyll Levels, the short story I uploaded recently.

A Vision of Hell: Life down a Victorian Lead Mine. Copyright Jude Tresswell

A little background, some of the details adapted from BBC On-line, 11th and 17th April. Israel Folau is a professional Australian Rugby Union player with a huge following. Last year, one of his Instagram posts reflected the biblical content of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators should repent because only Jesus saves. Rugby Australia issued a warning, saying that it accepted, but did not support his position. Folau then posted (on Players’ Voice) that the verses from Corinthians didn’t just refer to homosexuality, that he was a sinner too, that he had been guilty of some of the sins referred to, and that it was never his intention to hurt anyone. He was coming from the point of love. (That is, he didn’t want anyone to spend an eternity in Hell.) So, in a sense, he wasn’t being homophobic. To me, though, he was totally missing a point: whilst sin is (presumably) a choice, being gay isn’t.

But, even in a year, the Australian zeitgeist seems to have changed, and when, recently, Folau criticised the Tasmanian Parliament, Rugby Australia couldn’t ignore his viewpoints any longer. (Tasmania has made it optional to include gender on a birth certificate – the first Australian state to do so.) Rugby Australia decided to sack him, stating that Folau “cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies, or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.”

I’m interested in ‘condemns’. I would like to believe in an all-knowing God who could make sense of a chaotic world. In some ways, I would like to believe that the Bible is His word. There are passages in Isaiah and in Habakkuk that bring tears to my eyes: they are so beautiful (in the King James Version anyway). 90% of Ecclesiastes is 100% of my feelings. I love the sentiments in parts of the Gospels, but, and such a big fucking but, if people are going to go to Hell because they’re gay, then there’s something very, very wrong – and with the Bible, not with them.

I wish I could write all 5000 words of Scar Ghyll Levels here and send a copy to Israel Folau. Not that it would change his mind. And yes, I know, beliefs are beliefs. You can’t really argue with them, so I’ll just vent my feelings on WordPress instead. Actually, I’ll quote the first few lines of the story – they seem so relevant here. I can remember sitting in the little chapel one spring morning. It were the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to feel the sunshine, smell the air, see the sky- but no, I had to sit there and hear I’d be burning in Hell. As if life weren’t a hell-hole already, working six hours a day, six days a week down a Yorkshire lead mine. I remember one of the parson’s sermons in particular. He were using words I didn’t know or understand, but I got the gist of it, all right. Jacob must ‘ave felt me staring at the back of his head. He half turned round and caught my eye. Then, I remember, he turned back to the front and stared at his hands or the floor. It didn’t feel like ‘an abomination’ to me, or ‘perverse’ or ‘unnatural’, and I didn’t see why I should be ‘cut off from among (my) own people’ because of it. To me, it felt like love.

Scar Ghyll Levels is set in Northern England in the 1870s. It describes an affair between two young miners, one sexual, one ace, at a time when asexuality was unknown, and being gay was considered an abomination. Sadly, it clearly still is to some people. Link to Amazon Author Page: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

Post script: Israel Folau has asked Rugby Australia for a Code of Conduct hearing rather than accept dismissal, so, at the time of writing, his future career is uncertain.

An Ace and Allo Tale

(Edited after publication to say that I’ve learnt that ‘allo’ is considered a demeaning term by some non-asexual people. I’ll use a different term in the future.)

A recurring theme on forums: ace-allo relationships. One positive feature of such posts is that at least the writers have access to terminology – not a panacea for a partnership’s problems, but a definite aid to meaningful conversation. I speak from experience. I know, and I wanted to write about what I know, or, rather, about what I didn’t know when, for years, I groped round in the dark. The result is Scar Ghyll Levels, a short story that I uploaded recently. Scars and ghylls are northern England words for limestone crags and mountain streams respectively, whilst levels are the working horizons in a mine.

I ‘thought’ Scar Ghyll Levels in the northern accent and dialect of its narrator, a young lead miner living in Victorian, nineteenth century England who is sexual and gay. I enjoy reading stories written in dialect – it’s a reason why I list Jack Dickson as one of my favourite authors – but I’ve largely cut dialect from the published version of the tale. I wasn’t sure if a reader would have the desire, in a mere thirty-minute read, to want a load of stuff that was non-standard. So I’ve simply stayed with ‘I were’ for ‘I was’ and retained the occasional Yorkshire word. I want to produce a YouTube version though, backed with a slide show of photographs. Ideally, there’d be a young, male-voiced, Yorkshire-born-and-bred narrator, but, as I don’t know one (!) I’ll read it myself if I have to. Be a shame though. I’m a northerner, but I’m a female from the wrong side of the Pennines, so neither my tone nor my accent are right. (Historically, there’s been animosity between the counties either side of these hills. Hence ‘the wrong side’.) Here’s the cover. I think it’s really dramatic and ‘hell-like’.

Copyright Jude Tresswell.

Something else I enjoy: researching the background of my stories: art fraud and tetrachromatic vision for my third novel, Ace in the Picture; illegal immigration and asylum procedure for the second, Polyamory on Trial (Not that that was in any way fun. It was saddening.) and soccer rules and police procedure for Badge of Loyalty, the story that started the trilogy off. For Scar Ghyll Levels, I read several books about lead mining so I’m fairly confident that the hard, harsh life I describe is an accurate description of conditions. I also researched Victorian attitudes to being gay – and what I discovered was surprising. I suppose I’m conditioned by the publicity surrounding the Oscar Wilde case of the 1890s. I assume the furore was because he was high-profile. I might return to the topic, and blog about the research, for it seems that, the church apart, most Victorians couldn’t give a damn if a man was gay. For one of my two miners, though, the problem is that phrase ‘the church apart’.

I aim to take several photos of Yorkshire’s long-disused lead mines and their beautiful, but grim scenery when I’m next up there. Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the ruins of a former mine at Gunnerside Beck, in Swaledale – the home of my favourite sheep.

For info on the work mentioned, here is a link to my Amazon Author page: https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG . Scar Ghyll Levels is only available on Amazon Kindle (currently free on Unlimited). The novels are available from other distributors of ebooks and paperbacks – not just from Amazon.

My County Durham Setting

More ‘all sorts’ than real poly or ace this time. My three novels contain frequent references to the physical setting of the stories, and I posted a series of captioned photographs some time ago. (See link below.) There are never any detailed descriptive sections within the stories’ texts though. No verbal paintings of the moors, rivers, waterfalls or rocks, even though all of these features are often integral to the plot lines. So, this post is really a bit of a geography trip, and I’ll start with the River Wear itself. (Rhymed with ‘ear’ not with ‘air’ .) We’re in North East England if you’re looking at a map.

I took advantage of the fact that none of the real towns along the Wear take their name from the river. My main town’s called Warbridge (I omitted an ‘e’ – that’s all) and as Mike, one of the stories’ protagonists, says, it feels like Warbridge on a Saturday night. It’s not so clear how the Wear itself got its name. It’s very winding and, according to one source (David Simpson – see below) an earlier name, attributed to Welsh-speaking Celts was ‘ Gweir’, meaning ‘Bending’. I speak a little Welsh – modern Welsh, admittedly. I’m not entirely sure about that derivation though. I can’t see ‘gweir’ in the dictionary. Perhaps there’s confusion with ‘gwynt’. It means ‘wind’, but the kind that blows the leaves off the trees, not the kind associated with meandering rivers.

David Simpson also talks about becks and burns. Both are very ‘northern’ words for streams or small tributaries. I called the stream that runs through my four men’s garden Tun Beck, but, given that it runs northwards from the Wear, I’d have been more geographically and dialectically correct to have called it Tun Burn. ‘Becks’ tend to flow to the south. No matter. There’s one stream in Weardale called Bedburn Beck so even the locals couldn’t make up their mind. The becks and burns bring to mind the town of Whitburn, near Sunderland, the city at the mouth of the River Wear. Whitburn is Ross’s surname – Ross is one of the quad – and it has nothing to do with water. It means ‘the white barn’ – a reference to the colour of the paint or the building stone. Which leads neatly on to rocks – and I love rocks.

Most of the rocks in the quad’s part of Weardale are limestones of the Carboniferous Period. Geologists feel that they’re around three hundred million years old and were formed when what is now land was warm sea, full of marine life, much nearer the Equator. These are essentially the same limestones that stretch into the northern parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, though differing cycles of inundation and exposure mean that strata differ in their composition. There are many disused quarries in the thick limestone deposits and I’ve made great use of one of them in the stories. My men live in Tunhead, an imaginary hamlet at the head of the equally imaginary Tun Beck valley. The houses were built for quarry workers but Ross and Mike renovated them and now they are rented by BOTWACers. (Nothing to do with BDSM. BOTWAC stands for the Beck On The Wear Arts Centre and is one of business-savvy Ross’s ways of making money and actively encouraging local artisans.) Tunhead’s disused quarry plays an important part in the third tale, Ace in the Picture.

The local limestone was quarried for road and building stone, but there’s also a metre-thick layer of a dark-grey to black limestone that is full of fossils – mainly one type of coral, but echinoids and other shelly things too. It polishes beautifully and is used, for example, for ornate columns and church decoration. It outcrops near the village of Frosterley and so it’s called Frosterley Marble. I’m holding a piece of black, fossiliferous limestone below. I’m forgetting my geology: I think it’s full of crinoids so I don’t think it’s Frosterley, but it’s very pretty.

Polished crinoidal limestone. Length approximately 3 cm. Copy if you wish but please credit me . Ta.

And, of course, there are the waterfalls. They play an important part in both Polyamory on Trial and in Ace in the Picture. One of England’s highest waterfalls is High Force in Teesdale in County Durham. The Tees is County Durham’s other main river and its valley is, in some of its sections, lovely. My imaginary police constabulary is TTW, short for Tees, Tyne and Wear. ‘Force’ is a bit confusing. Sometimes, the police force, but also a local word for a waterfall, old Norse ‘fors’ or ‘foss’ . There’s a lot of Norse or Viking influence in the place names in this region. Here is a photo of High Force. The river drops 22 metres (71 feet) over a volcanic sill.

High Force : attribution: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki. Copyright Clem Rutter High Force 7180.JPG

According to David Simpson, Weardale’s waterfalls should be called ‘Linns’ not ‘Forces’, but I like ‘Force’ more, and I write the stories so…! David Simpson’s information is found at https://englandsnortheast.co.uk (November 2016). There’s a huge amount of info on this site and some lovely photos. Talking of photos, my earlier photo-full post is https://polyallsorts.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/county-durham-photos-and-fiction/

And before finishing…I wish I could write the sound of the County Durham accent that I attribute to Mike. Softer than Tyneside (Newcastle, Gateshead). More gentle than Mackem (Sunderland). I could only give a flavour of it by omitting every final ‘g’ (190,000 words without ever using a spell check!) and, occasionally, writing a phrase as I think Mike would pronounce it.

I think that’s it. I’ve an Amazon Author Page. It’s https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

Asexual Identity: Using Colours

I love colour, so, this being March and the third month in my particular calendar, I’ll blog about three ways ace colours are involved in my life. I use them in clothing, in jewellery and in my books.

I love rocks as much as I love colour and, strolling along an Irish beach, I found small pebbles that were black and white – miniature versions of 60’s style Op Art designs. I made earrings from them, and one piece is still waiting to be mounted as a finger ring, but I also made a necklace – and I wear it nearly every day. I’m very aware that I’m wearing something coloured with an ace connection and, daft though it might seem, that knowledge gives me satisfaction. I identify as ace. You mightn’t know it – person in the street who sees the necklace – but I know it. Here’s a photo. The black background is carboniferous limestone. The white and grey streaks are calcite.

A piece of ace rock from north of Dublin

So, on to clothes. Mine are mostly grey or black, but I’ll be honest, the choice is down to agedness not acedness. The days when I felt comfortable meeting the day in vibrant reds and blues are long gone. If I were true to my place on the acespec, I’d just have a wardrobe of black, but grey suits me – I think. Grey is good.

So, books. My own. I was very aware of the Ace colours when I was working on Ace in the Picture. The book, my third, is published at the end of March.

The colours in Tunhead’s moorland backdrop began to change to purples and shades of grey is almost the story’s final sentence and, as I wrote, I was wondering if any reader would see the words as significant. They were so to me. The cover colours too. I specified a purple in the Pantone range for the backdrop – very like the darker purple in the Asexual Agenda motif. Printing being what it is, the actual colour is closer to the Agenda’s paler, pinker quadrants. No matter. If it’s good enough for the AA, then it’s good enough for me. So, I’ve white writing, grey and black silhouetted characters, a purplish background… I blogged about the cover in January, though (in An Ace Cover?) and posted a picture, so I shan’t repeat stuff here. Suffice it to say that colours, Ace colours, were in my mind throughout and I felt that using the colours was important. They are part of how I see myself, and, as I’ve posted before, there’s a fair amount of #own voice in that third story, even though the plot isn’t driven by the ace who’s in the picture.

That’s colour and me. I hope that the constant use of British English spelling doesn’t irritate. Typing ‘color’ seems very strange to me.

Asexual Characters: Easier in Fantasy?

I’ve never written fantasy. I’d find it very difficult to do so and I’m envious of those who can. There’s one sense, though, in which I think that writing fantasy might be easier than writing stories that take place in a non-fantasy world. (I’m not sure. As I say, I’ve never done it.) The fantasy characters might still be realistic, but the reader is entering a different environment from the one that contains their own experiences and anxieties. Their prejudices too. So, they don’t need to feel threatened by what they read. They don’t need to feel that they’re being lectured at. Realism, but beyond-realism at the same time. Are writers more likely to put people on the defensive when their stories are set in the here and now? I don’t know.

It wasn’t an issue when I was writing solely about my four men. Perhaps I was just insensitive. Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil are opinionated, but they weren’t necessarily expressing my own opinions (on, for example, polyamory, civil partnerships and marriage. They were on trafficking!) At least, that wasn’t necessarily the intention. The men were, if you wish, speaking aloud their characters. Also, in Books 1 and 2, I let them do their speaking by means of little end-of-chapter monologues or ‘asides’. In one way, these monologues could be extracted from the actual stories and read separately. I’d love to make them into little podcasts, only a) I’ve no idea how to and b) I can’t do the voices. Different with the third tale, Ace in the Picture, though. This is partly because Nick Seabrooke, the sergeant sent to investigate the art fraud that involves the quad, does intentionally express some of my own opinions, and partly because, unlike the little ‘asides’, his thoughts are written into the story. They’re not omit-able in the manner of Badge of Loyalty or Polyamory on Trial.

The result of all this – at times I’m probably lecturing the reader. Confronting people with a rant on being ace when all they want to do is enjoy a tale. Telling people rather than suggesting. And, although spreading ace awareness was not a motivation for the story, putting people’s backs up is hardly an effective means of doing so incidentally. Equally important, what’s described is only a single type of aceness. Perhaps broad strokes are also something that a fantasy writer would find easier: there could be different types of aces in the cast – the whole spectrum – and they could interact. There’s no need to restrict their numbers to the one or two percent that exist in this world, and to the reality that many of that one or two percent will go through life without ever meeting another ace. 

(I wrote this after participating in a thread on AVEN’s forum. It set me thinking. )
Ace in the Picture will be published at the end of March. All formats.

An Ace Cover?

I’ve finalised the cover for the third book in my series about a gay polyamorous quad who live in North East England. The house style is  similar to that of the previous two, but there are five silhouetted men this time instead of the usual four. Here it is. Design copyright is Billie Hastie’s of Rowanvale Books:

Ace_Final_20.11.18cropped.jpg

Normally, Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil, my gay quad,  are black against a solid background. Introducing a character who is asexual posed a problem. In terms of ace colours, he should be black, not them, and the quad, being allo, should be white. I settled on black for Nick, the asexual detective, and a less saturated black for the quad. So all the colours of the asexual flag are there – black, white, purple and grey – even though, in a sense, they’re somewhat mixed up. The story ends with these colours, too, as they’re the colours of the moorland that frames the little hamlet that’s the focus of the action and is the setting of the final scene.

I’m not aphantasic, but I have no real idea what any of these men look like. I know how my gay quad act, but  they are very vague, physically. I only ‘see’ some basic details – general build, general age, eye colour. I can’t visualise the details at all. The men are faceless. It’s one reason why I like using silhouettes, but, also, the silhouettes let me focus on the grouping. The quad are very  ‘together’ in this story. There are none of the tensions that threatened their harmony in Polyamory on Trial. Nick, on the other hand, is an onlooker. Hence his separation.

The little infinity heart is there, next to my name. That’s just me being silly in a way. It’s a symbol that has featured on both the previous covers and it’s symbolic of the way that the quad run their lives: the infinity sign for honesty and openness, the heart for love and passion. Just like Nick, the quad know that passion (sex) and love are different. Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil may occupy a very different place on the ace-to-sexual spectrum, but each of them has that awareness. If I write Nick into a  fourth story, I may make him see that he has more in common with the quad’s attitudes than he thinks he has and that they have more in common than they think with his.

Please do let me know if you like the cover. My covers are very stark and spartan compared to the majority of M/M genre jackets, but I like them like that. Also, I suppose that what lies inside the cover is never as sassy as M/M usually is, so no titillating bare torsos in evidence. Two little flames at most.

Ace in the Picture will be published at the end of March and will be available in all the major formats. I’ve booked an April slot on Lily Blunt’s brilliant Gay Book Promotions, and I’ll probably also use NetGalley, but I’m happy to offer a copy to anyone who reads this and blogs, vlogs or pods and could thereby offer a little publicity. So, if you’d like a copy, again, please do let me know.

Ace in the Picture tbp by Rowanvale Books at https://www.rowanvalebooks.com

Lily Blunt’s PR site: https://www.gaybookpromotions.wordpress.com