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.

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