A mother’s last words, a father’s final message, and a strange painting. Michael Kent-Hughes faces personal tragedy, one that leads to long-lasting damage to the relationship with his youngest child, Prince Thomas. As the young boy grows to adulthood and the estrangement with his father continues, he finds his own way in life. But in the boy’s hands and heart will lie the future of the kingdom. Dancing Prince is the moving conclusion of the Dancing Priest series. Coming July 2020.
The manuscript sits with the publisher. A fifth novel, it’s the last of a series. The story arc that began with listening to an airplane music program in 2002 is coming to an end some 18 years later.
You’ve lived with the characters for almost two decades. Sometimes it feels like you know the characters better than your family and friends. You know their history, their quirks, and their strengths and weaknesses. You know their pasts. You know their stories because you’ve written their stories, and you’ve written the ongoing story they’re part of. You know how an agnostic, what today might be called a “none,” became a believer. You know when the hero was ridiculed and disparaged. You know when characters had nothing but faith and courage to go on.
Now the story is ending. The story you had to tell, that dominated your waking hours and many of your sleeping hours, that story that often drove you crazy, is now finished. The characters who seemed so real to you and your readers are now turning out their lights.
To continue reading, please see my post today at the ACFW blog.
Photograph by Radu Florin via Unsplash. Used with permission.
The four, soon to be five, novels in the Dancing Priest series are set in the near future, at least far enough away from the actual present to avoid any notion that the characters are based on real people. But they’re essentially contemporary fiction, falling into the space between general fiction and Christian fiction.
Why would contemporary novels require extensive research? Lots of reasons.
You’re writing about a country or culture not your own. You’re writing about people who do things you’ve never experienced. You write about a painter when you’re not one. You’re writing about an institution you’ve never been part of. You’ve put your characters into a geography, even if ever so briefly, you’ve never visited.
Many people – historians and novelists alike – write about the American Civil War, or World Wars I and II, but were never part of it. Some write mysteries set a generation before they were born. Some write about peoples and cultures that aren’t their own (an often-dangerous thing to do these days).
When Dancing Priest first started in my head, I didn’t know a lot of things about what I was writing about. But other people did, and other people had written about them, published books about them, even created online courses about them. All these sources were readily available.
Here’s a partial list of the reading I did, the web sites I visited, and the courses I took to create the Dancing Priestseries. It does not include an untold number British novels, play scripts, and poetry collections, but they, too, were part of the research effort.
History and Biography
Crown, Orb & Sceptre: True Stories of English Coronations – David Hillam
King John – Marc Morris.
Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace – Amanda Foreman and Lucy Peter.
The King’s Speech – Mark Logan and Peter Conradi.
Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour.
A Brief History of the Bodleian Library – Mary Clapinson.
Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the British Royal Household – Adrian Tinniswood.
The History of England series: Foundation, Tudors, Rebellion, Revolution, and Dominion – Peter Ackroyd.
London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World – Arthur Herman.
London: The Illustrated History – Cathy Ross and John Clark.
Windsor Castle – John Martin Robinson.
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 – Andrew Roberts.
God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible – Adam Nicholson.
Tyndale – David Teems.
The Life and Prayers of St. Patrick.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields – Malcolm Johnson.
Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope – Justin Welby.
Reinventing the Idea of a Christian Society – R.R. Reno.
This is London – Ben Judah.
J.M.W. Turner – Michael Bockemuhl.
J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free – David Brown.
Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and His Circle – Rachel Dickson.
Nothing But the Clouds Unchanged: Artists in World War I.
Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life – T.J. Clark and Anne Wagner.
Anselm Kiefer – Exhibition at the Royal Academy.
Various London, England, and Britain guidebooks by Rick Steeves, Eyewitness Travel, Knopf Map Guides, National Geographic Traveler, and American Express.
On Glasgow and Edinburgh – Robert Crawford.
London Walks, London Stories – David Tucker.
London – A View from the Streets – Anna Maude.
Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English.
Night Walks – Charles Dickens.
A Guide to Dickens’ London – Daniel Tyler.
Walking Dickens’ London – Lee Jackson.
The Royal Line of Succession.
Imperial War Museum Guidebook
The British Library.
Christ Church, Oxford – A Brief History.
Discover Kensington Palace.
Westminster Cathedral Guidebook.
Canterbury Cathedral Guidebook.
Charles Dickens Museum.
Tate Modern and Tate Britain guidebooks.
A Guide to the National Gallery.
National Portrait Gallery Guidebook.
Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – University of Nottingham.
England in the Time of Richard III – University of Leicester.
Robert Burns: Poems, Songs, and Legacy – University of Glasgow.
A History of Royal Fashion – University of Glasgow.
Introduction to the U.K. Parliament: People, Processes, and Public Participation – Houses of Parliament.
Wordsworth: Poetry, People, and Place – Lancaster University.
World War I Heroism: Through Art and Film – University of Leeds.
The Tudors – University of Roehamption / London.
Books and research specifically related to Dancing Prince, last in the series
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms – Claire Breay and Joanna Story.
Mercia – Annie Whitehead.
Ivory Vikings – Nancy Marie Brown.
The Lewis Chessmen – British Museum.
The Lewis Chessmen – Caldwell, Hall, & Wilkinson.
The World of the Vikings.
Dragon Lords: The History and Legends of Viking England – Eleanor Parker.
Online course: Hadrian’s Wall – Life on the Roman Frontier – Newcastle University.
Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond – University of Reading.
Top photo by Clay Banks via Unsplash. Used with permission.
The news is rather bittersweet.
The sweet news: The fifth novel in the Dancing Priest series is in editorial production. Tentatively entitled Dancing Prince, it’s the story of the youngest child of Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes. The story covers almost two decades, from the time Thomas Kent-Hughes is four until he’s 23. It’s also the story of Tommy’s father, Michael, and the relationship the two have over the course of those two decades.
This story was never planned. Early in 2019, it began as something entirely different. But this young boy nicknamed Tommy kept sticking his head in the narrative. He wasn’t being very helpful, because I was having a lot of trouble with the writing. At first, I fought the writing and the unwanted character; I told myself that Tommy could wait until later. As a sop, I gave him a small part. That was a mistake. Or perhaps it wasn’t.
I don’t recall a specific “Aha!” moment, but sometime in the early spring, I realized Tommy was the story. I went back and rewrote the draft. That’s when I realized that Tommy had been lurking there the entire time. The story clicked in my head, and more than that, my understanding of the entire series clicked at the same time.
And that’s the “bitter” part of the bittersweet news, for me at least. Dancing Prince is the last in the Dancing Priest series. It’s the right conclusion to the idea that started in 2002 on an airplane to San Francisco and was first published in December 2011. It’s coincidental, but the 18-year development of the Dancing Priest series almost exactly tracks the 18 years of Tommy’s life covered in this final series entry.
I’ve lived with these characters for a long time. Michael Kent-Hughes first started as an image, an image of a Catholic priest dancing on a beach in Italy. In my head, he became an Episcopal priest for a short time, and then I moved him to Scotland and made him an Anglican theology student who was also an ardent cyclist. Sarah Kent-Hughes was originally imagined as a young woman in a tour group, who are sitting at dinner when they’re joined by a priest. Gradually she became an American exchange student at the University of Edinburgh, trailing in the wake of her twin brother David Hughes.
David has always been a relatively minor character. But I always inherently liked him, and I wanted to do more with him. He gets a much larger and more important part in Dancing Prince than he’s had in the earlier books. He comes into his own as a character.
Dancing Prince also has something of a pleasant problem. One of the characters writes a story. The story is about novella-length, and it’s too long to include in the main narrative. We’re trying to figure out what to do with it. It might become a bonus section at the end of the novel, or it might be a standalone. The subject is unrelated to the main narrative to the Dancing Priest novels. The writing of it plays a significant role in the development of two characters. I think I wrote it to get it out of my head.
Look for the new book in late spring.
What’s next after Dancing Prince? There’s a possibility of a collection of short stories and two novellas. I also have four standalone novels in various stages of development, ranging from a long outline to 40,000+ words. They’re unrelated to and completely different from the Dancing Priest series and each other.
I will say this: I’ll miss Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes and their friends and families. You don’t live with characters for almost two decades without coming to learn a lot about them. And learning a lot about yourself.
Top photograph by Jenny Hill via Unsplash. Used with permission.