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.