We caught up with Michael Kent, the lead character and hero of the novel Dancing Priest, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his background and his role in the book.
Michael Kent: Rather strange, actually. You constantly have to deal with someone putting words in your mouth. Ha! Seriously, it is a strange experience. You’re not only watching a story unfold but you find yourself part of that story.
FFF: What do you recall of your early childhood, before you went to live with your guardians in Edinburgh?
MK: Not much, I’m afraid. I recall the house as large, but that could have been because I was a child and things always seem bigger. I vaguely remember my parents, but I had just turned six when they were killed.
FFF: They died in a car crash?
MK: Yes. They were on their way to London when a lorry driver lost control and smashed into their car. I didn’t understand that at the time but my Da, my guardian Iain McLaren, explained it later.
FFF: How did you come to be interested in cycling?
MK: The one very vivid memory I have of my early years was Tony, the family driver, teaching me to ride a bike. He’d been a professional cyclist but a serious injury during a bike race ended his career. He still loved cycling, though. I can remember him talking through the big races in Italy and France, using maps that showed the routes. Today I know the races to be the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. He had put up the route for the Vuelta in Spain when my parents died and everything changed.
FFF: How did you natural parents meet?
MK: At a cancer hospice in Kent. Both of their spouses were there for treatment, although I understand the hospice generally accepted only terminal cases.
FFF: How did you meet your closest friend Tommy McFarland?
MK: At school. My guardians enrolled me in a private grammar school, and the fact I was English invited a fair amount of bullying, unfortunately. One day it began to get out of hand and some boys starting pushing me around, and Tommy came to my defense. We both ended up with black eyes, and from then on we were inseparable. We spent all of our school years together and then roomed together at university.
FFF: How did you decide on the Anglican priesthood?
MK: My guardians are Presbyterian and evangelical, and that’s how they raised me. There was an Anglican church, St. Bartolph’s, not far from our house and on the way to school. When I was old enough to bike to school, I rode by the church every day, at least during the spring and early fall. One day I stopped and went inside. I met Father Andy – Andrew Brimley – and got to talking with him. He was a young priest and as evangelical as my guardians. He hired me to do odd jobs during the summer. He became a kind of hero for me, I think. When I was 16, I prayed about becoming an Anglican priest, and my path forward became clear.
FFF: Yet you didn’t attend a traditional seminary.
MK: No. I wanted the experience of university, and Edinburgh had a program that was the equivalent of seminary training. And, to be honest, Edinburgh also had a cycling team.
FFF: It’s described in the novel, but could you expand upon your reaction to seeing Sarah Hughes for the first time?
MK: Which part, my heart palpitating, my hands sweating, my ears burning or the feeling that I had just glimpsed the woman who was to become part of me, and me part of her? (Laughs.) There I was sitting in a class on medieval art, and there she was, a few rows in front of me. I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t just her physical beauty, although that would have been enough, I suppose. I think I also sensed something about her, and about the two of us. It was like you just know. I had dated before, but nothing lasted, or lasted for very long. When I saw Sarah, though, I knew.
FFF: Do you have plans for being in a future novel?
MK: I think that’s the plan. I’ve seen the manuscript, and while there are some edits I’m going to suggest, I can say it takes a very different turn from Dancing Priest, a very dramatic and surprising turn. I didn’t expect it at all.