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County Durham Quad by Jude Tresswell

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Jude Tresswell
31 July 2021
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“A son! A child! How? Why? Fuck! Phil! You can’t have! And does this sperm-child want to see you?”

Abandonment, trust, suspicion and compromise—integral parts of a mystery that involves industrial espionage, sperm donation and coming to terms with oneself and the truth.

Sperm donors know that now, under UK law, offspring who reach eighteen have the right to learn a donor’s identity and last known address, but Phil Roberts donated before the law was changed. He is shocked and dismayed to learn that he has a son called Lewis who intends to visit. Phil’s husband, Raith, is furious—and very scared.

What does Lewis Lennon really want? The man he has always called ‘dad’ is dead. Was his death suicide or was he murdered? Lewis wants Phil to find out. So, Phil, Raith, Mike and Ross, the County Durham Quad, plus their special friend, Nick, are embroiled in another investigation, but, as always, their relationships come under scrutiny too.

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Guest Post By Jude Tresswell

The Quad tales don’t form a serial. Each of the seven books stands alone in the sense that there is a new mystery in every one. I can understand that the set-up might puzzle new readers though. For a start, there are a lot of protagonists to get one’s head around. Not only are they all male, their ages are similar! To offer a reference point, I try to identify who’s who quite early on. Then I cross my fingers and hope that people will keep on reading. All will become clear. (More hope!) But that sort of confusion could occur in a single, one-off book. The difference with writing a series is that time moves on. There is bound to be change.

Life has changed in Tunhead, the Quad’s little hamlet in the Durham hills of northeast England. Phil lives there now. He didn’t in Book 1. He and Raith are married now. They weren’t at first. Mike is no longer a cop. Nick wasn’t on the scene…Readers who arrive in Tunhead late aren’t familiar with the background. To help, I always include some ‘facts’. I know that doing so might irritate returning readers, but I try not to be too repetitious and I try to work the information in as naturally as possible. So, in A Right To Know, I had Mike provide some history during a lengthy chat with Lewis, Phil’s teenage son. They’re walking to a seat near Tunhead Quarry… (BOTWAC. The Beck on the Wear Arts Centre. The Wear is a river, ‘beck’ a local word for ‘stream’.)

“I bought Number One, not Ross,” he said, when they had sat down. “Did it up. I’d been here about six months when I met Ross on a case. Some work had been stolen from a gallery he worked at in Durham. We got together and, not long after, he moved in. That’s when we started callin’ the house ‘Cromarty’. Ross and Cromarty—they’re counties in Scotland. Next to each other. The names go together, a bit like fish and chips. Ross came into some money—an inheritance—and that’s how BOTWAC started. Bought his own gallery in Gateshead. Between us we bought the other buildin’s—I mean, you’d have to be daft to want a holiday home in a damp old place like this; we got them for next to nuthin’. We refurbished them and rented them out to artists, sorry, artisans, Ross knew. As you said, Raith was one. He wasn’t with Phil at the time, but I knew Phil. I met Phil a long time ago and, then, I met him again. Cuttin’ the story short, we all ended up together, but Cromarty was far too small to house four men and when the next-door tenant left, instead of re-lettin’, we or rather I knocked it through.”

The only part of this that really registered was “I knew Phil.”

“How did you know Phil?”

“I met him originally in a hospital.” Mike skipped the details—they were painful, still, after all the years between—and went quickly on to the next time they’d met. “Second time, in a hospital again. Warbridge. I was there in an official capacity, as they say. We recognised each other and got talkin’. It was winter. Winter lanes up here are treacherous especially at night. I started stayin’ at his place in Warbridge. For safety. Things went from there.”

Lewis said nothing for a minute. He wasn’t wholly comfortable with the turn the conversation had taken, but he was curious and in no way phobic.

“So Phil came to Tunhead because of you, not because of Raith?” he asked diffidently.

“Initially, yes. He’ll tell you if you ask him, you know.” ©Jude Tresswell

Having Mike provide some details was my means of furnishing some background in as natural a way as possible. If you are kind enough to buy A Right To Know, I hope you find that the strategy works for you. Of course, you could start at Book 1…!

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts



Phil sat at the big kitchen table. His beard, neatly trimmed as always, failed to hide the lack of colour in his face. He looked shocked. He was holding a letter.

“You alright, Phil?” Mike was puzzled and concerned. “Bad news?”

“Not ‘bad’ exactly. Unexpected. Very.” He sighed. “I’ve an eighteen-year-old son. Sperm donation.”

Raith, Phil’s husband, dropped the glass of juice he was drinking. It rolled off the table and smashed as it hit the floor.

“A son! A child! How? Why? Fuck! Phil! You can’t have! And does this sperm-child want to see you?” Raith snatched the letter from Phil’s hands. “I can’t read this fucking stuff; it’s in joined-up. Why didn’t he type it?”

“He probably felt that this was more personal,” Mike suggested, retrieving the letter from the floor where Raith had slung it in disgust and shaking it free of orange juice.

“It’s fucking personal alright. You always said they couldn’t identify you, Phil. What the fuck’s gone wrong?”

“It looks as though we might find out,” said Ross, the fourth member of the quad. He was reading the letter over Mike’s shoulder. “He intends to visit. I think we need to talk.”


Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil, four men who shared a home in Tunhead, a tiny hamlet in the Durham hills. Tunhead derived its name from Tun Beck, a little stream that flowed into the larger River Wear. Tun Beck lent its name to BOTWAC too—the Beck on the Wear Arts Centre. Ross managed BOTWAC, Raith provided paintings and ceramics and Mike carried out the maintenance. Phil was the only one whose work was separate. He was a surgeon at Warbridge Hospital, an hour’s drive away and, in a sense, his medical background was the cause of the morning’s shock announcement. The four of them talked about the news that evening.

“You knew I’d donated sperm, Raith.” Phil had always made it clear that when he was a medical student, like many others on his course, he had donated both for research and for procreation.

“I know that, but you’d always done it anonymously. You said so, and you never did it after they changed the law.”

Raith was referring to a change that occurred in 2005 regarding data held at UK fertility clinics. At licenced clinics, that is. Prior to the change, offspring conceived by sperm or egg donation could learn some information about their donor when they reached sixteen, but what was released was very general. If donors wished to remain anonymous, they could do so. From 2005, though, anonymity was lifted. Sixteen was still the age of release of the ‘non-identifiable information’, but at eighteen, offspring conceived by donation had the right to be told their donor’s name and date of birth and, also, their donor’s last known address.

“I didn’t donate after two thousand and five. I think I’d know if I did.”

“Sperm can be frozen though, can’t it, Phil? Perhaps it was used after the change was implemented.”

“Only for another year or so, Ross, and under the old anonymity rules. There was a transitional period but, after that, sperm could only be used in exceptional circumstances. To create a sibling, for example. I remember being contacted about it. I had the option of… going public, if you like, but I chose not to do so. I didn’t want…I didn’t want a child, well, not one that I’d feel some responsibility for. I suppose, if I’m honest, I did want to pass on my genes, have that sense of immortality—I knew it was unlikely that I’d ever father a child with a woman. I just wanted to… be helpful, I suppose. I gave a brief self-description at the time, but the details would apply to thousands of people: eyes, hair, height, weight, ethnicity. Even if you narrowed the count with ‘student medic’ and my year of birth, you’d still be talking hundreds. I was careful not to leave traces.”

“How thoughtful of you!”

“That’s not helpful, Raith.”

Ross chastised gently but, tonight, too harshly for Raith.

“Helpful! It’s not help Phil needs—it’s a fucking vasectomy, but he’s eighteen years too late. I’m going up.”

No hugs, no kisses—the little goodnight habits that told the men that they were loved and cared for and cared about. Just “I’m going up” and heavy footsteps on the stairs.

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The County Durham Quad Series


Tales that track the exploits of Mike, Ross, Raith and Phil, four men who live and love in County Durham, North-East England. Together with, from Book 3 onward, their friend, Nick Seabrooke, the Quad solve crimes, are accused of crimes and, occasionally, commit crimes. Their actions jeopardise their relationships. Sometimes, the biggest threat they face is staying together. Each tale comes with its own plot, and background is included to aid new readers. Feel free to jump in anywhere.


Jude Tresswell lives in south-east England but was born and raised in the north, and that’s where her heart is. She is ace, and has been married to the same man for many years. She feels that she understands compromise. She supports Liverpool FC, listens to a lot of blues music and loves to write dialogue.

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