Promo: Blue Billy's Rogue Lexicon by David Lawrence

I'm delighted to welcome historical fiction author, David Lawrence, to Ruins & Reading. We're sharing an enticing excerpt from his fabulous novel, Blue Billy's Rogue Lexicon

I'll also be posting my review of the book next week, so watch this space!

Blue Billy's Rogue Lexicon is currently on Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Check out all the wonderful stops here.

Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon

David Lawrence


NOTE: The opening of the novel. It was such fun naming these chapters. The terms are taken from actual 18th century street slang I found during my research, and, thankfully, I found something to fit each chapter. Here Billy is arriving at a place he was formerly employed in, a bawdyhouse called Marathon Moll’s. He was kicked out years ago for stealing but he has fallen on hard times and hopes Moll will take him back.

Chapter 1

Abram Cove

among thieves signifies a naked or poor man; also a lusty strong rogue


“And what have we here?”

“Let us in, Moll. Beast of a storm tonight, ain’t it?” 

“Aye,” returned Moll, cinching her silk wrap while maintaining a hand behind the front door she’d opened just an inch. “Stormy for some by the look of it.” 

The wind sent rain barrelling into this secluded yard in the Mint, taking the standing, shiftless dregs of chamber pots for an airy jaunt. Souls Yard, a misshapen cul-de-sac of three freestanding abodes consisted of a squat, squalid cottage, from which no light entered or emerged. A converted barn with modish ventilation in every wall and door, the slope of its gambrel roof rather like hands praying for intervention. And the jewel of the Yard, Marathon Moll’s: a double-fronted, two-story block tethered at east and west with slender chimneys touched with scoliosis.

“Have you lost your way tonight, Billy?”

With a look of wounded indignation, William Dempsey said, “Ain’t it enough to wish the company of an old, dear friend? ‘Old’ meaning previous-like,” he added, “nothin’ more.” 

The door remained unmoved; Billy was left to shiver on the tilted stonework of the front elevation. Wiping the endless stream of August rainwater from his face, he pressed himself against the opening until their faces nearly touched. Moll’s – with its native jaundice, like dirty lemon juice upon features which arrived at too many points. Billy’s – a canvas of creamy white, flushed with health and whose boyish pout Moll herself had often declared a criminal provocation.

“‘Old’ you have defined, Billy, but how do you define ‘dear friend’?” said the bawd, pushing up her aquiline nose. “That term implies paying calls of friendship, or at least of courtesy (which are not calls to steal from my house, mind you), and I’ve not seen your pretty face these two years.”

“That Blue Billy outside?” came a second voice from within. “Let him in out the rain, for God’s sake.”

Recognising the voice of one of the house’s most devoted patrons, Dempsey said, “‘Dear friend’ I define as Dip-Candle Mary there behind you, who I hear’s set to be married next week, so I come to bestow my congratulations.”

All around Souls Yard, eyes were opening within cracks in the ramshackle barn and, one sensed without ever quite knowing, at the darkened front window of the cottage. For though a code of honour kept the inhabitants of each from inquiring into the business of their neighbours, scenes in the Yard were fair game for all. 

After a moment, and a great sigh from Moll, the door withdrew just enough to allow into the vestibule Dempsey’s small, slim form. Mary hurried forward to embrace him. He was a tallow chandler from Shoreditch, Dip-Candle Mary being his house name. Such names were customary in these houses, which referenced either one’s profession or physical appearance. Indeed, Billy had never known him by any other, though the man had always been sweet on him. Sweet enough to forgive the trinkets Billy had lifted from his dressing table when staying the night. That silver-handled comb the man really didn’t need seeing as how he kept his hair so short. That errant bit of coin taken from coat pockets…

From the dark vestibule, Billy looked toward the glow of the front parlour. The room was filled with claret wallpapering before which replicas of Roman forms thought or gloried or sported in alabaster relief. Chintz upholstered sofas and settees of various conditions reclined before the fireplace, currently cold, its salt shelf crammed with crucibles of scented oil waiting to ignite on crackling nights. The parlour was lit by two fat beeswax candles stuck into halves of an antiquated urn hung over the mantle. The widely cast light lifted a glow from the gold threading of the furniture and, for a moment, a glow in Billy himself as he recalled the handful of good times he’d enjoyed while living here. 

No question, Moll had come up in the world. When his eyes returned to hers, pride shone in her face as though to say: only observe all I have accomplished since I got rid of you. When Billy took a tentative step forward she held up a thin finger, forbidding him to take another step, dripping like a rainforest. He began to undress.

“You keep those sodden clothes on ‘til we fetch you a robe,” said Moll, ordering the house fiddler, presently dozing on the chintz sofa, to grab an old, dirty robe from the back of the parlour cupboard – “the one Lord Chesterfield died in whilst having a frisk with Sook Stockings.” Then she reached forward to slap at Dempsey’s hand, which, despite the injunction, had continued to open his fine Holland shirt to his navel. “Sook Stockings, Billy. The boy I discovered after I kicked you from this house despite your prediction that I could never replace you. Well, let me tell you – he not only replaced but has indeed outshon’d you.”

Billy returned to Dip-Candle Mary. The man smiled and kissed him, tugging at the stubborn tie in his long, drenched hair before venturing one large hand over his narrow belly. “Tremulous as a new calf from that chill rain,” said the tallow chandler. “Upon my word it is lovely to see you. They tell me you are kept by the Marquess of Argyll these days – he is a lucky man.”

After taking Mary’s hand for a kiss, Billy slipped from his shirt and into the filthy robe presented to him which smelled of all shades of nastiness. Stepping wide to leave his shoes, knee breeches, waistcoat, and frockcoat in a steaming pool in the vestibule, he took Mary to the spot on the crimson sofa previously warmed by the fiddler. Then, hitching up his robe, he bid the man unfasten his garters so they might peel away his silk stockings. “But do it ever so carefully. They’re my best vampers.”

As Mary reached tentatively up his thigh to begin the operation, the lady of the house entered the room, cinching her wrap violently across jutting hip bones. “Moll is my dear friend too, despite her abuse,” continued Billy. Then, addressing the man directly: “Not in a hundred years would I begrudge you another attraction; I wish you ten pairs of Sook Stockings if they fetch the cash. And now, while my Marquess tends to some important business in France for a few months, I’ve decided to make myself available to you again.” 

At which point Dempsey squirmed and, touching his attendant’s shoulder, said, “Mary, a lad don’t tie garters that far up his leg.”

“Get your bloody hand outta there!” shouted Moll, and after an imposing look from his hostess, Dip-Candle Mary withdrew in a cloudy frown to the opposing end of the sofa. 



“Uproarious… racy humor, rich atmosphere, and vivid characterization.”
– BookLife Reviews

“A gritty and emotional tale of a complex young protagonist… a satisfying and moving novel.”
– Kirkus Reviews

William Dempsey was a wonder among wonders.

By 18, he had risen from a gang of London street rogues to be the personal plaything of the Marquess of Argyll. Maintained in splendour, celebrated at masquerades – with everything he could wish for.

Now all has come crashing down. He is put out in the rain without patronage, his West End apartment, or a place among the ton.

So on a stormy night, he arrives at a house in Southwark. Marathon Moll’s in the Mint – the bawdyhouse he worked in during his ascent and where he earned the name Blue Billy.

But is Marathon Moll’s a place from which to rise again? For there is one in the crowd, who catches his eye. Who takes his hand and promises something better.

Or does Moll’s signify a return to his roots? For one day, a second and very different young man raps on the door. Takes his hand and asks him to return to his past.

To the cat language of vagabonds. The canting dialect of thieves.

To the schemes, and the dreams, of his youth.

People are loving Blue Billy:

“a beautifully written novel… a deep, poignant book with a moving storyline and complex characters. It was a wonderful read!”
– The Historical Fiction Company

Buy Link: Universal Buy Link


About the Author:

David Lawrence

David Lawrence is the author of two queer historical novels – ‘Hugh: A Hero without a Novel’ and ‘Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon’. As a writer, he loves taking a deep dive into the politics, social norms, and events of 18th century England while presenting humorous and unique coming-of-age tales.

A native of the American Southwest, David has spent much of his life in Great Britain, France, and Finland. He now lives in the American Northwest – Helena, Montana – with his Finnish partner.

By day he loves hiking under the Big Sky of his beautiful adopted state.

By night, however, he prefers wandering the byways of 18th century London... 

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