The first four Dancing Priest novels were about Michael Kent-Hughes. In the fifth, Dancing Prince, the character who is stage center is Michael’s youngest child, Thomas, or Tommy, as he’s called by friends and family. He’s named for Michael childhood, college, and adult friend, Thomas MacFarland.
As the novel begins, Tommy is four years old. His mother, Sarah Kent-Hughes, is painting in her studio when she discovers that the boy has slipped inside to watch. The unwritten rule of the family is that no one watches Sarah when she’s painting – not Michael, not the other children, not friends, no one. And yet there’s Tommy, quietly watching her and doing his own little drawings.
At first perturbed, Sarah looks at what Tommy’s been drawing, and she realizes that the boy might have artistic talent. She encourages him and continues to allow him in her studio while she paints. Until the day Michael comes home unexpectedly and finds them both painting in the studio. What happens next will frame the next two decades of Tommy’s life and the life of his father. It also frames the novel.
The novel shows Tommy at 4, 6, 13, 15, 19, and his early 20s. In his relationship with Michael, there is a recurring pattern, leading to the estrangement between the two. David Hughes, Sarah’s twin brother, becomes the significant male influence in Tommy’s life. Because Tommy so strongly resembles his uncle; people often think he looks more like David’s child than Michael’s. David also becomes the chief counsel to Michael on the subject of Tommy, for it is to David that Michael turns at times of crisis.
What the story required was a boy and eventually a young man who somehow retain s the heart of a child. Tommy is known as the most devout of Michael and Sarah’s children. He’s also the most perceptive and intuitive. As his older brother Hank points out, from a young age Tommy always seems to know what is going to happen next, and he always seems to understand what is happening better than his older siblings.
Tommy was not the easiest character to develop. The section when he is 13 was actually the first part of the Tommy sections of the novel that was written. The scene of Michael accompanying Tommy and a friend to the Imperial War Museum is actually the oldest written part of the novel, having been originally drafted in 2006 and 2007 as part of a very different story about Michael and his family.
Tommy wasn’t supposed to be the main character of this novel. As the drafting got underway, Tommy kept poking his head into the story. It was almost as if I couldn’t keep him out or under control. It was a year ago that I finally threw up my hands and surrendered, completely revising the draft into something that is closer to what was finally published. Tommy turned out to be very content with being the center of attention.
Top photograph by Japheth Mast via Unsplash. Used with permission.