7 ways geology and fiction meet in Jude Tresswell books

One. The whole of the short story, Scar Ghyll Levels resonates with geology. The protagonists are young Yorkshire lead miners and the story is sprinkled with mining words like ‘bouse’. I love the adaptation of the cover that became the splash for the YouTube version.

It speaks of the hellish conditions in a 19th century lead mine, but mining provided a living and there wouldn’t have been any mining if it weren’t for the rocks and the processes they underwent deep underground: hot mineral-rich brines rising through fissures and faults and, as far as the lead veins were concerned, often threaded through layers of limestone. You can see relics of the mines on the dozens of photographs I’ve put on YouTube. They’re the background to the audio version of the story.

Two. Over to Weardale in North-East England, the setting of the County Durham Quad tales. More lead (similar geology) in Book 5, A Share in a Secret. Nick has fallen down a bell pit and Ross and Raith have to try to hoist him out. Miners would often dig a shaft, then open it out at the base so that the mine resembled a long-handled bell. A lot of the early mines were unregulated. They’re not always on maps but they’re recognised by the depressions they leave on the ground and a grass-covered ring of debris. The shafts can be capped and back-filled, but, sometimes, the capping gives way. It’s usually hares or walkers’ dogs that take a tumble. In Book 5, it’s Nick.

Footage by Andy Ditchfield: the YouTube splash for Book 5. Video link below.

Three. And still in Weardale, grouse moors. Those upper slopes of the Durham hills – just heather on the grits that lie on top of the cycles of limestone, sandstone and shales. Nothing else will grow, but the heather is great for nesting grouse, and grouse shooting is profitable. So, the moors are well-managed by the owners of the large estates. Fire is one of the ways they do that. The patchwork appearance that results is beautifully shown on the Body Parts and Mind Games video. In the extract, Mike commits arson – to flush out the men who have kidnapped Ross, not to flush out the grouse. It works.

Four and Five. This cyclicity… repeating sequences of limestones, sandstones and shales. They’re called Yoredale cycles after the old name for the R. Ure in Yorkshire. There, they are seen to perfection. The cycles are probably caused by periodic changes in the Earth’s tilt and orbital radius with respect to the Sun. The changes affect insolation and, hence, relative water depth and river profiles as well as temperature more directly. Those affect the kinds of sediment deposited in, on or near the rivers, lakes and huge deltas that, millions of years in the past, dominated this area of northern England. (You could check out Milankovitch Cycles to find out more.) The sediments, buried, solidified, exhumed… gave rise to the quarrying industries that feature in the Quad tales, Ace in the Picture and Body Parts and Mind Games in particular.

The quad live in a fictitious abandoned quarry village, Tunhead, at the head of Tun Beck, an imaginary tributary of the River Wear. Tunhead Quarry (also fictitious) is where Raith nearly lost his life at gunpoint, and where Ross suffered burns when a carelessly discarded cigarette set dry, overgrown vegetation on fire. Those burns have ramifications: they set the story going. There’s a lot about the quarry in the stories – its history, its modern use – and there are a lot of quarries in Weardale, although, like Tunhead, nearly all of them are abandoned now. Smallish ones, overgrown hollows on the hill sides and near the river banks, and much larger ones that clearly show up from the air. Andy Ditchfield, who lives in Weardale and filmed all my videos, used drone footage of two, the quarries at Stanhope and Eastgate. Eastgate’s enormous quarry is the backdrop to the scene in which Raith is in danger but I think that Andy included Stanhope’s because he knew I would love to see it.

Andy’s shot of Stanhope Quarry. The video link is below.

Six. As you travel eastwards through Co. Durham, these Weardale strata dip below the younger deposits and what you get is coal. Or, did get. The Durham coalfields were some of the UK’s most important, and towns and villages developed to supply the fuel that helped turn iron into steel in towns like Consett, or, literally, heat the nation. Whatever I might think about fossil fuels, I totally and absolutely empathise with Mike’s anger in A Share in a Secret. The region (not unlike my own) has never really recovered from the political decisions made in the seventies and eighties to get rid of the unions and the industries they represented. The resulting continual unemployment is part of the background to the story and helps to explain why Mike is determined to make the bad guys pay.

Seven. Waterfalls. Not Weardale, Teesdale, the valley of Co. Durham’s other major river, the Tees. The Whin Sill outcrops in Teesdale. It’s an igneous rock (dolerite) that extends for miles within and atop parts of northern England. Hadrian’s Wall, the old barrier between England and Scotland, takes advantage of it, and so do geologists and tourists when they visit Teesdale and gaze at High Force.

Weardale doesn’t have anything quite as wonderful, but I pretend that it does and call it Harnell Force. It’s Raith’s ‘special place’ – where he goes when he’s upset. His husband, Phil, has a limp, caused by a landslide there, but Khaled, the boy at the centre of Polyamory on Trial, well, he suffers far more than Phil does when he climbs it. High Force is spectacular. It’s also dangerous. It’s also privately owned and aerial photography isn’t allowed so, when Andy wanted to film a waterfall to go with the relevant Poly on T extract, he travelled over the Co. Durham border into Northumberland and filmed Ashgill Force instead.

On previous blogs, I’ve mentioned that I find it really difficult to describe the setting of the tales in terms of their scenery, even though the hills and rivers and quarries are firmly in my head. So, the stories are very stripped down into what I see as essentials: dialogue, introspective reflection and narrative. Weardale, Teesdale, Arkengarthdale…they are stunning, though, and, obviously, although their landscapes have been much modified, the geology shines through. Here is the link to my YouTube channel. There are some stunning videos, all shot by Andy over me reading extracts from the Quad tales, and Scar Ghyll Levels is there too.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhPb-WpyW3fUXnqjvTnCqA

Buy link:  https://amazon.com/-/e/B07PDGWWPG

Video footage by Andy Ditchfield : http://www.skywardaerial.co.uk

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.

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

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

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.