In 2012, I had a conversation with my publisher about the future novels planned in the Dancing Priest series. Dancing Priest had been published in late 2011, and the publication of A Light Shining was imminent. I walked him through what I saw as the main subjects and themes of several additional books (another six, if I remember correctly, which eventually became another three).
The fourth book was to focus on the conflict between Michael Kent-Hughes and the Church of England hierarchy, which would eventually lead to a reformation. The catalyst would be a child sexual abuse scandal, happening over decades and facilitated (as in, covered up) by the church. The inspiration for this was the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church; what I did was to transfer the Catholic scandal to the Church of England. Or so I thought.
Two weeks after that conversation, my publisher sent me an article that had just been published in Britain. It looked like the Church of England had its own, homegrown child abuse scandal, and didn’t need any fictional help from the Catholic church.
Dancing Prophet, the fourth novel in the Dancing Priest series, was published in 2018. That year, more revelations were unfolding about the Church of England. In 2019, an independent inquiry was established to look at what had happened and why. Last week, the inquiry panel released its study.
It sounded like the story line in Dancing Prophet. My wife says I need to stop writing about things that become true.
It gives me no particular joy that real events seem to follow several of the key events in the Dancing Priest stories. (Sometimes, the correlations aren’t horrific, like the DNA study made of Vikings that sounded a lot like what happens in Dancing Prince.) But it does seem uncanny at times. I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I’ve asked myself, how do real events happen that mirror the stories I wrote in my five novels?
I don’t have a solid answer. I have an idea of what happens, and it has to do with the research I do for the stories and the work experience I’ve had.
The Dancing Priest novels are not historical novels in the strict sense. They’re not about the past. They are more futurehistorical novels, because they’re set in the soon-to-happen future. (One reviewer has called them alternative historical novels.) But they are based on considerable reading and research and first-hand experiences on visits to London and England.
The streets Sarah’s car has to take from Buckingham Palace to the Tate Britain (Dancing Prophet)? I’ve walked them. The visit Michael makes with the two boys to the Imperial War Museum and the Guards Museum Shop (Dancing Prince)? I’ve done both. Taking a train from King’s Cross Station (Dancing Prince)? Been there, done that. A tube ride from South Kensington to the Tower of London (Dancing King)? Yep. And the books I’ve read have ranged from Peter Ackroyd’s multi-volume History of England and a history of coronations to a domestic history of the British royal household and a history of the Church of England.
My work experience has also served as a resource. Working for two Fortune 500 companies, a Fortune 1000 company, a public institution, a newspaper, and my own business has taught me a lot about how organizations respond to crises. Almost by default, the initial response is self-protection. The ongoing response tends to be self-protection. And that response can put public relations people in very difficult positions. The fact that the Church of England responded to its child sex abuse crisis almost exactly like the Roman Catholic Church did is no surprise.
You don’t have to be a prophet when basic human nature never changes.
Top photograph by Cajeo Zhang via Unsplash. Used with permission.