Nyla is not like the other characters I’ve created. That’s because Nyla—Queen of Tirragyl—created herself.
In Chains of Gwyndorr, I introduced you to a cast of characters. There was Shara, yearning to know more about her past, and prepared to go to dangerous lengths to discover it. There was Nicho, the lowborn Parashi, breaking the rules to empower his people. There was unloved Tessor, slinking around behind the stone walls of Lord Lucian’s manor, trying to discover a way to bring down her husband. There were many others and each of them had at least one thing in common: I, the book’s author, had created them.
But that’s not what happened with Nyla.
When I sat down to write Heirs of Tirragyl, the second book of The Poison Tree Path Chronicles, I knew that for a part of the story I wanted to follow Lord Lucian into the palace, where he seeks to gain control over the newly crowned King Alexor. It was all planned out in my head.
And then everything was turned upside down. I did an exercise for Alexor where, to get to know your character better, you take on his voice and write down whatever comes to mind. It went something like this:
I am Alexor, king of Tirragyl. I am tall and blonde and look the part of the noble king. I’m good at… I like… I fear…
And then he dropped the bombshell:
I have a twin sister.
Wait a minute. You have a what? No you don’t. You don’t have a twin sister!
But Nyla had stolen into the story and I couldn’t get rid of her. I know…I know. You’re all saying, “Of course you can! You’re the one who writes the book, aren’t you?”
Honestly, it’s not like that. These characters have minds of their own. Nyla was here and she was here to stay.
Looking back, I recognise that Nyla had been forming in my head long before this moment.
In 2012 I went to a South African Christian writer’s conference and sat on a bus with one of the other delegates. She was a young, beautiful Zulu girl and we began to talk about our faith. That’s when she told me her story. As a Christian, she faced a dilemma because many of her family members held traditional beliefs, dominated by ancestral worship. Recently it had come to the fore when her twin brother died. Her family members now feared that—because of the bond between twins—the ancestors would come back to claim her too. Their solution was for her to lie on her brother’s coffin in the open grave and ‘fool’ the ancestors into believing she was already dead.
Twins are regarded with suspicion in traditional African cultures and suspicion and false beliefs become the heart of Nyla’s story too. The character I did not plan and the circumstances I had not foreseen become central to the story of Heirs of Tirragyl.
The last sky omen had appeared on the day the royal twins were born. That day, eighteen years ago, a double rainbow with a single base had arced across the sky above Tirragyl. It had heralded chaos and conflict, for the birth of the royal half-souls had almost torn the House of Taus apart. (Heirs of Tirragyl, Prologue)
Nyla’s story ultimately shows us that even if the world thinks we are insignificant or inconvenient, each one of us has unimaginable worth. The character who created herself, reminds us of the One who creates each of us for His wonderful purposes:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Ps 139:13-14)
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. (Jer 1:5a)
May Nyla’s story remind you that you are beautiful and unique, no matter what the world tells you. You were created by God Himself and for that reason alone your life has immeasurable worth.
Heirs of Tirragyl releases on 10 October 2017.
Read the Prologue.
Pre-order Heirs of Tirragyl.