Sunday Snippet, 3.12.23

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian cross-class romance, Mr Warren’s Profession, featuring hurt/comfort and a happily-ever-after – available now wherever fine books are found!


The theatre’s interior had cream-coloured walls gilded with gold inlay, framing murals of frolicking youths. Aubrey wondered how anyone could concentrate on the stage with the house so decorated, though his own interest lay in the electric chandelier far above the audience. He tried to restrain himself, but Lindsey caught him looking up.

“The, er, lights,” Aubrey explained. “Electric.”

Lindsey followed his gaze upward. “So they are!”


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Sunday Snippet, 2.19.23

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian cross-class romance, Mr Warren’s Profession, featuring hurt/comfort and a happily-ever-after – available now wherever fine books are found!


“Then to business: our dear Lindsey, and his best interests.”

Aubrey resisted the urge to plant his forehead in his palms. “If I may be so bold as to interrupt, I believe I’ve already held this conversation with Sir Lindsey’s friends.”

“Have you?” said Miss Althorp coolly. “And what sort of conversation was it?”

“The sort where I’m told to bring no harm to Sir Lindsey, lest greater harm fall on my head.”

Miss Althorp caught a fluttering laugh in her delicate fingers. In response to Aubrey’s bewildered expression, she replied, “That wasn’t the conversation I had in mind. I intended to congratulate you on the happiness you’ve brought Lindsey, and to express my hope that you’ll continue to make him just as happy in the future.”

Aubrey thought it was rather the same talk dressed up in different clothes, but kept that thought to himself.


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The Ballad of Daniel Durst, or; What’s in a Name?

Some character names come unbidden. Others are agonized over.

For Aubrey and Lindsey of Mr Warren’s Profession, it was very simple. I have a lifelong fascination with the arbitrary gendering of names and how a name’s gender can change throughout history. Many names we consider “feminine” today were often “masculine” in earlier centuries. The name Aubrey, for example, was used almost exclusively for boys until the song “Aubrey” by Bread hit the radio in 1973. The lyrics even remark upon the name being unusual for a girl.

And Aubrey was her name
A not so very ordinary girl or name
But who’s to blame?

Cue millions of girls born throughout the 70s and 80s getting the name Aubrey.

But before Bread, there was Beardsley. Specifically Aubrey Beardsley, a late Victorian artist who leant his pen-and-ink talents to illustrating, among other things, Oscar Wilde’s Salome. It is in his honour that Aubrey Warren is named Aubrey.

With Aubrey settled, his soulmate still required a name. I ran down my list of Victorian masculine names that had since leapt over to femininity and settled on Lindsey. Simple and satisfying.

For Hold Fast, I wanted to continue my habit of granting my masculine heroes names which had shifted from 19th century masculinity to 20th and 21st century femininity. Evelyn, absolutely unapologetic about who and what he is, received a name now considered unambigiously feminine. Morgan, however, keeping his true desires hidden not just from the world around him but also arguably from himself, received a name that still retains its gender ambiguity.

The protagonists of The Haunting of Heatherhurst Hall received the same treatment in reverse. The name Catherine has (to the best of my knowledge) always been considered feminine. Kit, however, is a nickname fit for anyone regardless of gender. And the genderless ambiguity of Alex as a nickname for Alexandra, Alexander, and any variation thereof, is almost a cultural meme.

And now we come to Oak King Holly King.

I struggled for ages with what to call the heroes of Oak King Holly King. One was a mortal clerk, the other a fae warrior. I knew I wanted the fae to have a name from the natural world. Beyond that I was stumped.

After hours of deliberation I finally decided I would give one character the name Wren, it being both a delightful bird and also a common enough given name for humans.

Unfortunately I originally assigned it to the fae.

It felt wrong from the start. Yes, the fae was fierce like a wren. But beyond that it didn’t sit right. And I still had no name for his mortal counterpart.

One morning, tearing my hair out over my laptop, I realised that if Wren was a good name for a human in my world, then it would probably suit a Victorian mortal. So I slapped the name Wren onto my mortal clerk and it stuck. Suddenly his character clarified; a wee speckled figure who appeared docile at first glance but would loudly and fiercely defend itself and its territory at the slightest provocation.

And since I already had a bird theme going, it seemed only natural to continue it and call the fae Shrike. This likewise gave both character and story the vital direction they’d lacked. An established method of attack (skewering), a particular appearance (masked), and a preferred habitat (thorns).

Naming the characters unstuck the story’s wheels and allowed it to roll out into the book you know now. Secondary characters came still easier. Daniel’s name is a reference to the BBC’s 2012 miniseries adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where the camera pans over the sign beside Mr Grewgious’s door, it reveals his clerk’s name as Daniel Bazzard. (Dickens himself never bothered to grant Bazzard a given name). Sukie is even more straightforward; I named her after my favorite character from Gilmore Girls.

I delved back into the world of Oak King Holly King to write its sequels in Tales from Blackthorn Briar. Daniel would finally be the protagonist of his own story. As I began writing The Ballad of Daniel Durst, I realised I knew Sukie was a nickname for something, but had no idea which name it came from.

Enter Behind the Name, one of my favorite websites for researching and collecting names for characters.

Looking up Sukie on Behind the Name revealed it was a nickname for Susan, derived from the Biblical name Susanna. In the story of Susanna and the Elders, the innocent Susanna is accosted by two lecherous old men. When she refuses them, they accuse her of adultery in revenge. She is arrested and about to be executed when a young man speaks up and demands her accusers be questioned. The elders are interrogated separately, which reveals a massive hole in their false story; one claims Susanna met her fictional lover beneath a mastic tree, and the other claims to have seen her with her fictional lover beneath an oak. As Wikipedia puts it:

“The great difference in size between a mastic and an oak makes the elders’ lie plain to all the observers. The false accusers are put to death, and virtue triumphs.”

Why repeat all this? Because the young man who spoke up in Susanna’s defense was named Daniel.

I had no idea of this connection when I originally named and wrote these characters. In retrospect it feels like fate. Their roles in Oak King Holly King and The Ballad of Daniel Durst are reversed; it is Sukie who helps rescue Daniel from the unwelcome advances of a lecherous elder. And through that rescue both Sukie and Daniel are able to find their happily-ever-after with each other.


Tales from Blackthorn Briar is the sequel to Oak King Holly King, featuring hurt/comfort and many happily-ever-afters – available now wherever fine books are found!

Shrike, the fae Butcher of Blackthorn, and Wren Lofthouse, a mortal Victorian clerk, are bound together by love and fate. Their continued adventures (and those of their friends) are told in this collection of fantastical tales following the story of Oak King Holly King, including…

• Wherein Shrike and Wren repay their debt to the Court of Hidden Folk.

Mr Grigsby’s Clerk
• Wherein Mr Grigsby finds a replacement for Wren – and perhaps more than he bargained for.

Jack in the Green
• Wherein a certain Horse Guard wanders into Blackthorn Briar.

Winter Solstice
• Wherein the Holly King surrenders to the Oak King.

The Holly King’s Peril
• Wherein Wren and Shrike discover danger in the wilds of the Fae Realms.

The Ballad of Daniel Durst
• Wherein Daniel embarks on his authentic life in a bold new land.

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New Cover Reveal! Mr Warren’s Profession

     “It took some time for me to bring myself to try reading just a sample of this novel. The reason being, the cover page is so awful and ugly. The art work is just totally off-putting. It’s as if the publisher deliberately is trying to turn off readers. HOWEVER, the novel is wonderfully written. It is such an unexpected surprise that I would unequivocally recommend this novel to all.”
               — J Kevin Barry

     “It is a really great book. Disregard the cover and try it. […] I wouldn’t be the first to the mention the cover. I accept it has a quaintness, but I am not partial to to the artwork. I didn’t like it before reading the story, and as such, went into this not expecting much from the story other than a light read. Instead, I was totally charmed.”
               — Reflection

     “like i thought the cover looked kinda goofy so i was a little reluctant to start, but i’m so glad i trusted the premise and got started on it because i got totally hooked and binged most of it in two days.”
               — The Knights Who Say Book

     “Ignore the Cover, Read the Book! This is a book which I passed by several times because of the cover.”
              — Bo

     “I will say though that i nearly did not read it. shallow as I am, the book cover was not appealing. just goes to show, never judge a book by its cover…or something like that…”
              — Patdbooks

     “I thought the cover was a bit off putting – Mr Warren looks like an unattractive gnome!”
                — Sally

     “Although others like the cover art, I found it distracting because both men are supposedly far more attractive than this is.”
               — Rhode

     “Truth be told – DON’T judge this book by its cover! […] I rather like the cover art and understand why it’s used, but I add the disclaimer at the beginning of this review because I can imagine (perhaps in error) that some potential readers might interpret the style as frivolous, too old-school, as indicating that the book is a parody or even conservative.”
                — R E

     “This book first attracted my attention when I saw it ‘compared’ (associated?) with North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I love that book and the idea of an m/m version of it was so intriguing, that not even Mr Warren’s Profession’s cover could dissuade me from giving this a try.”
               — Elena

     “Terrible cover, great book.”
              — Jane Harper

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when so many otherwise positive reviews mention how much they hate the book’s cover, the author might do well to consider changing it.

Mr Warren’s Profession is my first published novel. When I sent it out into the world, I knew absolutely nothing about cover design. I think that much is evident from the typography. I did it myself, and boy howdy, it shows. (Note to Sebastian of the past: adding a white drop shadow will not fix black text over a black top hat.)


And so, in the hopes that readers might be able to recommend the book without a cover caveat, I contacted two talented professionals to help fix the issue.

The first, Jann of Thistle Arts Studio, is a fantastic painter. You can see further examples of his work on his Instagram, Patreon, and Etsy. (Warning: NSFW!) You’ll see more of it when Oak King Holly King is finally released. But for now, he has created a brand new cover painting for Mr Warren’s Profession.

The second, Kelley of Sleepy Fox Studios, is a mastermind of cover composition and typography. You’ve already seen her work on the cover for Hold Fast, which received a quiet redesign about a year ago. You’ll see it again when Oak King Holly King is finally released, and you’ll see it very shortly on the brand new cover design for Mr Warren’s Profession.

And now, without further ado: the new cover. I do hope you approve, and that Aubrey and Lindsey are finally as handsome in pictures as they are in words.

Continue reading “New Cover Reveal! Mr Warren’s Profession”