Written by Liz Flanagan
When I do school visits, I often get asked, ‘How do you come up with your characters?’ I would love to say Milla was like me. In fact, I wish I was more like her! She’s cheerful, practical, loyal, has great ideas and is very resilient.
However, in that first scene, where Milla has been running around doing errands, so busy that she hides for a moment, just to have a rest –I’ve definitely felt like that with jobs I’ve had! Also, I loved to climb and find hidden places when I was a child: that’s why Milla is hiding in an orange tree, perfectly placed for the world-changing discovery of the last four dragon eggs.
Milla was the very first element of the story. She arrived in my imagination, sitting in that tree. However, her character is definitely influenced by feelings I’ve had; people I know; characters I’ve loved in films and books.
All these character portraits are by Molly Hill, who is the daughter of my friend Sally Ashworth. She created this artwork based on the book and I love what she’s made. She’s a young artist, just taking her art GCSE this year, but I am confident we will see more of her artwork in future!
Another reader asked me this week why Milla is a servant girl –great question! I wanted to show her as an ordinary person whose life is utterly transformed. I wanted her to receive vast power, in the form of her dragon, and to see what happened. By making her a humble servant girl, she gets to have more of a story arc, more of an adventure, so that by the end, her life has changed enormously –though perhaps she’s not that different in herself.
Milla’s friends Tarya and Isak are twins. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of twins and how completely different two people can be, even though they’ve had the same upbringing. This was reinforced by my amazing daughters, not twins, who are total opposites in many ways.
Tarya is reckless, brave, loyal. She’s got exceptional physical courage and is great at strategy, though she’s sometimes impatient and can be a bit focused on herself! Her brother Isak is quieter, though brave in a different way, rejecting the path his father has chosen for him. Isak is usually gentle and kind, except when he falls under the influence of Duke Olvar for a while…
Vigo is another character who changes a lot. His perceived arrogance is actually shyness, but it takes a while for the reader to find that out. Although Vigo is Duke Olvar’s son, he doesn’t like or respect his father. It wasn’t intentional while I was writing the story, but I noticed afterwards that the young characters of the story all seem to search out alternative parent figures in the place of absent or rejected real ones.
Which brings me to the duke, the villain of the piece! Writing baddies can be enormous fun. I wanted Duke Olvar to be attractive and charismatic at first, with hidden vulnerability. It’s only very latein the story that we discover the terrible loss that drives his controlling behaviour. Still, he is thoroughly nasty, and that can be very enjoyable to write, though I had to be careful to make him appear three-dimensional and believable –I remember Rosie my editor led me back to round out his character a bit more.
Milla doesn’t have a living mother in the story, but she does have two older women who both love and protect her in different ways. They might seem like opposites but there’s a scene near the end where they are united and single-minded in action. There’s Josi, the down-to-earth cook of the household who has hidden skills and whose temper and cursing are legendary. Then there’s the elegant Duchess Serina, who sees more than anyone realises and who uses her healing talents for the good of her people. Both women have secrets, and they each reach a tipping point, where everything changes for them.
And we mustn’t forget the dragons! I’ve noticed in real life that baby animals, like the kittens I foster, all have distinctive characters right from the start. As soon as the dragons hatch, they are different from each other. They choose a person to bond with. They know who and what they want. I loved writing Iggie so much. Milla and her dragon adore each other, in a unique bond that will last a lifetime. They communicate without words, and the dragons are able to read people’s thoughts, in a way that will prove vital to the story!
Readers have been writing to me with their own dragon artwork and ideas: this has been such an unexpected joy and privilege. I love hearing about their dragons, and seeing these gorgeous drawings.
Please do let me know if you have a favourite character: person or dragon! I can be reached via my website or on Twitter: @lizziebooks.
Dragon Daughter is published by David Fickling Books ISBN: 978-1-78845-021-8
The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.