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

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.

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

More ace rep like this please…

Don’t know how many folk know this, but, every month, The Asexual Agenda blog puts out a call for submissions on an ace-related theme. This month’s theme is Literature, Academia and Storytelling, and some of the questions posed by Aria’s Hollow, December’s host, really caught my eye. These three for example: How do you feel about current ace representation in literature? What changes would you like to see? What kind of stories are you most interested in seeing more of? Now, I’m not an avid reader of ace-rep stories, and I think the reasons are connected with my answers to the questions.

Firstly, I want my ace characters to be explicitly ace. I don’t want to be asking the question ‘Are they or aren’t they?’ That might have to be something asked of fiction written before asexuality was a known and talked about orientation (which maybe contributes to my reasons for giving a lot of works a miss) but, for me, please, not now. If the characters are ace, I want to know it. I want to see the word used either on the page or in the author’s note to the reader. No ‘maybe’s. I want to think ‘Oh, there’s something here for me!’

Secondly, I want my ace characters to inhabit a world that’s mundane. By ‘mundane’, I don’t mean (Google search definition number 1) ‘Lacking interest or excitement, dull’, but, rather, definition 2: ‘of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one’. I would add ‘nor a fantasy nor paranormal one’ to that. I know that fantasy and the paranormal are much loved and very popular genres, but for some reason that I fail to understand, my imagination will not let me go to either. So, to identify with a story’s characters, to see my thoughts mirrored in theirs (or not mirrored if there is a learning curve), I have to read fiction that is deeply grounded in terrestrial soil. So, what sort of mundane (definition 2) explicitly ace stories would I like to see more of? One theme in particular: navigating a route through an asexual-sexual relationship. The reason is simple enough: it echoes my real-life experience.

I’m switching from reader view to writer view here and asking a couple of questions of my own. In what ways can writers approach the asexual-sexual scenario? What are the possible story lines? In each of the following possibilities, I’m assuming that the ace character experiences some sort of attraction to the non-ace one. Romantic, sensual… something.

People meet, but the relationship fails. Their a/sexual needs are so different.
People meet, and despite a life without sex, they live happily ever after.
People meet, and they compromise. Sex not often, but sometimes.
People meet, and both are poly-favourable. Perhaps there’s a QPR.

The first: my feeling is that this is a likely result irl; it’s certainly one that surfaces on forums. However, I don’t want to read about unhappiness in a story. I don’t want to be left with a feeling of sorrow and sadness. Life is hard enough without being brought down by a broken-heart tale. I want… I want a happy ending. The second plot line then, but how do you write a love story with protagonists who are content to dispense with sex? T. J. Klune managed in the delightful, funny, wonderful How to be a normal person. An ace/non-ace relationship that works, but (big but) there’s a tiny bit of me that feels that the outcome is almost too good, too happy to be true. Most sexual people (I think) do want sex, at least sometimes. I like my fiction to be truthful, if that makes sense, and so I think that sooner or later there would be a need to compromise. Hence, scenario three. But compromise is rarely satisfactory. By definition, neither party is really getting what they want; each is forfeiting something. It’s an idea that I explored in the story Scar Ghyll Levels. Its two young men are striving (and so far succeeding) to make their relationship work, but are either of them truly satisfied? One has sex he doesn’t really want. One has sex, but not as often as he’d like it. It’s a story line that I would like to see explored more often. I think there is scope for some really sensitive character development and for thoughtful navigation through a very tricky situation. (I’m not implying that I managed to do this successfully! Scar Ghyll is just a short ebook and YouTube video. It scratches the surface, no more.) However, the compromise trope necessarily excludes those characters who are sex repulsed or sex averse. How can a writer bring their stories to life?

I really would like to see more tales that focus on polyamory and queer platonic relationships. There is scope offered within those foci to explore situations whereby a sexual’s needs are met, but the ace’s well being isn’t threatened. There’d be boundaries to establish, problems to face, solutions to be worked out… The protagonists wouldn’t find it easy, but, by working together with commitment to the cause, they could reach their goal. These sorts of lifestyle choices fascinate me, and I’ve been working many of the details out in Books 3 and 4 of my County Durham Quad series. I don’t want to give everything away, but I do think Book 4 has an ace and a non-ace happy ending: all the characters get what they want. I’m sure that their future will have difficulties (Book 5?) but a poly/QPR/ace scenario is, for me, an interesting and exciting way to examine an asexual-sexual relationship.

Okay, as this was written in response to a blog request, I don’t wish to offer PR details of my own work directly: it would seem wrong to do so! There are plenty of details on my other Poly All Sorts posts – novel buy links, YouTube link – all there. I will just say that the latest novel, Body Parts And Mind Games (which does contain one short, intimate description) is available as an ebook and in paperback and I wrote it precisely because it’s the kind of thing I like to read and the kind of thing I’d like to see more of! Thank you for reading this – Jude, at Poly All Sorts.

An Ace-happy Solution?

A bit self-promotional, but it deals with a seriously ace issue so… I’ve had a busy fortnight. I finally uploaded an audio version of the short story Scar Ghyll Levels onto YouTube together with 200 photos of the story’s setting. I also released the fourth novel in the County Durham Quad series. Both explore a similar theme: navigating one’s way through a sexual-asexual relationship. (Not the main theme in the novel, but it’s pretty upfront.)

Without giving anything away, if I were the ace in the two stories, I’d be happier with the resolution offered in the novel. Its plot involves my gay quad solving another endangering crime, this time, linked to organ trafficking and far-right nationalism. Detective Nick Seabrooke (the eponymous Ace of Book 3, Ace in the Picture) reappears. How will he react to working with the quad again? How will they react to him? I’m really pleased with the outcome! It isn’t one that would suit me, but I think that it’s right for both Nick and the quad and, yes, everybody’s happy! (Sorry to be enigmatic, but spoilers…)

On the other hand, although Scar Ghyll Levels seems to have a satisfactory conclusion, I’m not sure if, from an asexual perspective, it does (or, even from a sexual one). Both of the men make compromises, one regarding frequency of sex, the other, well… the fact that he has it. Compromise always involves sacrifice and, when the compromise involves a/sexuality, then it’s a lot more sacrificial than backing down on what you want for dinner and decor. Even if one loves the other person, and the two young men do love each other, it isn’t the ideal way to manage a sexual/asexual relationship.

OK, both these works contain refs to intimacy, and both contain one explicit sequence. (At 22 minutes in the video – in the spoken word, that is. The photos are all landscapes.) I’m thrilled to bits with the photos, though, so, if you’re interested in seeing the Arkengarthdale area of North Yorkshire, you could always mute the sound! (Have you seen the film God’s Own Country? That’s filmed in a different part of Yorkshire. Arkengarthdale is equally bleak and equally beautiful. It was a lead-mining area and several photos are of derelict mine buildings: my two young men were lead miners.) Links to the video and to the new novel are below. Currently the novel is an ebook only, but I’m working on a paperback conversion. (Edited 14th November: I’ve uploaded the paperback version. It should be live in a day or so.)

YouTube Audio version of Scar Ghyll Levels: search on sgl asexual audio story or click https://youtu.be/M6xSuQ9utWg The thumbnail is the same as part of the ebook cover, that is, the hellish conditions of the lead mine with the two men reaching for each other. (Buy link for the ebook, which was published in March, is https://amazon.com/dp/B07Q4787J6 )

Buy link for the novel, which is called Body Parts And Mind Games https://amazon.com/dp/B08126BMCH

As always, the characters are in silhouette: I can never imagine their faces!

If I’d known I was asexual…

Lately, I’ve been thinking about ‘ifs’. If I’d known about asexuality when I met my husband, would we have stayed together for so long? Would the relationship have even got off the ground? I’m almost glad I didn’t know; it might have wrecked everything.

Often, I tell myself I wish I’d known I was ace years ago. I spent most of my life believing I was frigid: asexuality simply wasn’t within the vocabulary. I didn’t want sex. I didn’t enjoy sex. I made excuses not to have it and, gradually, sex as in P to V stopped entirely. Perhaps, if we had had the words, we could have found some common ground or ways to compromise. We would at least have had some understanding. But… over the years, our relationship altered, and would have altered regardless of the complications introduced by different sexual agendas: relationships do change. I wouldn’t say that the romantic, fairy-tale, walking-on-air quality of the early years faded, for ‘faded’ seems so negative a word. Rather, it morphed into something less overtly romantic and, instead, more sensual and emotional. Certainly different from how it was originally, when, I now realise, I confused romantic and aesthetic attraction with sexual attraction. Today, there is true friendship, real concern, genuine care. I love my husband to bits. He is my best friend even if, at times, I could gladly strangle him. (Not really.) I have been so lucky to spend my life with him – and I admit that I’m the kind of person who needs to spend my life with someone.

So, I look at the advice that’s so often given on social media platforms and I wonder… You’re asexual. You don’t have to indulge in sexual activities that you don’t want. You should never (strong word) do something you’re uncomfortable with. Establish your boundaries. Tell a potential partner at the outset. Et cetera. In a sense, such advice seems absolutely right to me. Honesty is important. It would be very wrong to lead a partner on with promises you knew you wouldn’t keep. But, what if by following this advice, by being true to yourself, you do yourself out of the chance to develop other aspects of a relationship – the ones that can hold it together despite the problems caused by different agendas. OK, not knowing about asexuality caused my husband and me a helluva lot of heartache, but if I’d had the knowledge, if I’d have set out my boundaries, if he’d have said ‘Sorry, I’m off’… maybe ignorance is bliss after all.

Sometimes, I envy today’s asexuals. There’s AVEN, the Asexual Agenda, podcasts like AOK, YouTube vlogs, WordPress blogs, even books (I include some of my own!)… There are lots of possibilities, in some areas at least, to meet with other aces, dozens of ways to know that there are people like yourself out there and that, no, you’re not a frigid weirdo. Then I think a little more. Perhaps knowledge solves nothing. It simply brings a different set of problems. I just don’t know.

Lead mining in 19th century England

This is a very factual post with no polyamory, a little bit of asexuality, some social history and a lot of statistics. TW: refs to death. Not sure if I should apologise for that, but the blog is called polyallsorts, so..

I get very wrapped up in the characters I create. It’s painful for me to imagine, but the two young men who feature in the short tale, Scar Ghyll Levels, would probably have died by the time they were fifty. By then, they would have been ill, bent and misshapen – a combination of of mining accidents, spending half their lives in cramped conditions and long exposure to consumption, aka TB. ‘My’ boys worked in a relatively dry lead mine, which, maybe surprisingly, would have exacerbated their ill-health. The drier the mine levels, the dustier they would have been, and the greater likelihood of lung damage. Emphysema, silicosis…so Jake (asexual) and his partner, the story-teller (sexual), would have been more susceptible to TB than the people who worked down wetter mines – or who didn’t work down the mines at all.

My story is set in Arkengarthdale in Yorkshire, in the 1870’s. There are really clear stats that show the effects of working down the local lead mines on ill health. They apply to dates that are a decade earlier, but I’m assuming that improvements would have only been gradual, especially as the lead mining boom years were over, and profits and wages dropped accordingly. Little incentive for mine owners to make improvements. The figures that follow are derived from data collected for the Reeth Registration District, in part for census purposes. They apply to the period 1859 – 1861. (Reeth is the town at the junction of Arkengarthdale and Swaledale. It’s been in the news lately because Reeth and the surrounding area suffered bad floods. Bridges down, sheep drowned, property damaged.)

In the story, the narrator’s dad and Jake’s dad both die in their forties. They would have been around 30 in 1861, the time of the census. For a 30 year old miner in the Reeth District, in 1861, life expectancy was 49. So I wasn’t adding drama to the story. Just realism. A non-miner, aged 30, could have expected to live to 62.

Both the fathers die of some form of lung disease. Consumption was by far the greatest killer amongst the miners in the Reeth District. Deaths of males age 10 and older in the period 1859 – 1861 show that 32 miners died of consumption whereas only two non-miners did. That’s an astonishing difference. The worst hit group were the 35 – 39 year olds. Two hundred males in their thirties were registered as living in the District at the start of the period . Statistically, you would expect six of the two hundred to die with the three years 1859 -1861. In fact, twenty men in their thirties died. Eighteen of them were miners. Still young, and dead. What a harsh, harsh life.

I don’t know how much the weather would have weakened ‘my’ boys. I’ve walked over the ridge between Arkengarthdale and the once-prosperous Old Gang Mine and Surrender Mine in the middle of June and I’ve been drenched to the skin by driving rain and nearly blown off the hillside by cold, strong winds. I was wearing proper wet weather gear and it failed to keep me either warm or dry. At least I could place my clothing near a radiator when I got in. Jake and the narrator would have put cold, damp clothes back on next day. (No wonder they cuddled up closely at night. Warmth as well as love.) Bad weather on a diet that just about provided the calories their hard work needed, and was devoid of fruit and fresh veg.

I can only trace the outline of their lives. Its harshness is outside my experience and beyond my imagination. I hate to think of my boys being physically wrecked or dead before their time. I hope they get out of Arkengarthdale. I suppose that, as I created them, I can let them escape, but, for them, it would probably be too late. At the end of Scar Ghyll Levels, they are in the early twenties. They’ve already been exposed to dust and damp and other people’s TB-ridden breath for years. Even if I’d sent them to New Zealand, as Jake wants, they might not have lived for long.

A man who was sexual and a man who was ace managed to find each other, and loved each other enough to make compromises that both of them were satisfied with, even though neither of them understood the nature of the other’s needs…In real life, that kind of love is hard to find. I hope they were the lucky ones. I hope they lived long and were healthy. I doubt very much that they did. I hope they died within minutes of each other.

I have two hundred photos of the landscape and, as I’ve posted before, I want to use them as a back drop to an audio version of the story. There have been some hitches recording the text. Hopefully, I’ll sort this out soon. Meanwhile, here’s one …

Spoil tips and chimney at Old Gang Mine. Copyright Jude Tresswell

Scar Ghyll Levels is available as an eBook from Amazon. My Amazon author page is https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

There are lots of great books on lead mining. The stats I used are in Mining and Miners in Swaledale & Arkengarthdale by Alan Mills. It doesn’t seem to have an ASIN or an ISBN. I got it from Swaledale Museum.

Aces and Friends: Where’s Home?

(A brief response to Coyote’s request for submissions to the Asexual Agenda’s Carnival of Aces on the theme of ‘Home’)

Lack of time to use the internet a lot, but I regularly check the Asexual Agenda and AVEN sites. Usually on my phone or tablet. Sometimes seated at a desk in front of my PC. I don’t find the desktop set up very relaxing. Putting up with the discomfort has one big advantage when I’m forum-ferreting though: if users wish to offer it, there’s extra personal info. I always want to know the answer to the question, “Where is home?”

Some people inhabit places found in books, or dark spaces of the mind. Others make something wonderful up. They should be publishing poems and stories – there are some brilliant locations. (I’d give some examples, but I doubt it would be ethical.) The majority of users simply state a genuine place you can find on a map. I love geography. Homelands interest me.

It probably comes as no surprise that the asexual (and ace-friendly) community seems to be strongest in the United States and the United Kingdom. At least, it does when I’m looking. I’m sure there are lots of reasons. A time-zone bias perhaps. I tend to be on-line mid-evening, UK time. Not good for catching posters from Australia and Japan. Language bias maybe…although I don’t really think that language is the barrier it would have been, say, thirty years ago. A brief look the other night showed posters living in Poland, Belgium, Sweden and the Czech Republic. All were posting in English. Many homelands are represented – but others rarely or never are.

I can’t believe that the reason is that no one in those missing countries is ace. I’m prepared to believe that they don’t know that they are ace, though. I don’t like to think that there are people who are living with all the problems caused by ignorance of their orientation. Because their political and social and/ or religious systems are so repressed, they don’t have access to information, and they’re denied the comfort that comes from sharing on-line with a community of like-minded people. It’s so helpful to share like that, particularly if actually meeting other aces isn’t possible. However, this blog, or any blog published in response to Coyote’s request, is unlikely to be read by people who live, for example, in mainland China. Mine is hosted by WordPress, as is the Asexual Agenda’s, and I understand that although the WordPress software is unrestricted, all blogs hosted on wordpress.com are blocked there. Ditto if posts go out on Tumblr and Blogger. (Not sure about Pillowfort or Dreamwidth.)

But, occasionally, information does get through. When I last looked, there were over 7,000 posts on AVEN’s Alternate Language Forum (dating back, admittedly) and they included some from China. I shouldn’t have written that sentence. All that’s going through my head right now is Katie Melua’s ‘Nine million bicycles in Beijing’ and, sorry, it’s totally stoppered more blog-thoughts. If one or two per cent of the cyclists are asexual (the usual aces-in-the population figure that’s quoted), that’s a helluva lot of aces on saddles.


the Asexual Agenda: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com

AVEN: https://www.asexuality.org

Wiki has a lengthy article on internet censorship. Dates aren’t current, but under ‘Around the World’ there’s a neat map that shows the degree of restriction, and many links and briefings. For China-specific info, there’s https://pgamboa.com