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Growing Tales (Scales)

Ali Coyle

By Ali Coyle

The three stories that made it to the final version of Chrysalides have been in my head for a long time, rubbing shoulders and occasionally swapping pieces of themselves with all the other stories that live up there.

I have never been able simply to sit down and write a story. I need to think it out first, daydream it, tune out whatever is going on around me and imagine my characters occupying their universe in a myriad different ways. I write it all down, big chunks at a time, when their lives are spilling out of my skull. Sometimes I will pour 5-10k words into a document in a matter of a few hours, but I will have been simmering it in my head for weeks or months before it’s ready to be committed to a first draft.

Tuli and Rishona popped into my imagination some time in 2016. They had different names, lived in a different era and had different challenges to the Tuli and Rishona of “Good Genes” – one of the three tales in Chrysalides. I had been thinking of a fairytale about a princess guarded by a fearsome dragon until a brave prince came along with a very sharp sword and a dislike of large pets. And I thought, “What if the princess was the dragon and just didn’t fancy any princes?”

And so Tuli was born. At the beginning of the first version of this story, Tuli was sixteen and her transformation happened when she felt threatened. Princes would come to woo her because of the large dowry settled on her by her embarrassed parents. And the next day, Tuli would wake up with torn clothing, a dry throat, and maybe an odd taste of barbecue between her teeth.

A sneak peek inside Chrysalides
Write What You Know is Absolute Garbage
Writing Non-Binary Characters (a Very Personal View)

Ilma, as Rishona was originally called, was the maid who saw that Tuli was fed and had books and company. Over the time period of the story, Tuli and Ilma tentatively fell in love. I changed Ilma’s name because it looked and sounded too similar to Tuli. This version of Ilma was a trainee witch, but not a terribly competent one. She understood that Tuli’s transformation was because of a curse and offered her a choice: turn into a dragon forever on your 18th birthday or take this potion and remain human forever.

Desperate to be free of her imprisonment, Tuli took the potion. Only it didn’t work. The next prince that came visiting had heard about his unfortunate predecessors and came with an army. However, this time when Tuli transformed she retained her human consciousness and her ability to speak. And so Tuli took Ilma up onto her back and flew off into the sunset.

I can’t remember what she did with the final prince, but I bet it wasn’t pleasant.

A glowy green-gold drawing showing a young woman with an apron and kerchief on the left looking at a tall green-gold-red dragon on the right
Ilma and Tuli – December 2016 – Commissioned from Carro Ricketts

At one point, I needed to see Tuli and Ilma together. And so I commissioned art of them from Carro Ricketts, who had a lovely art style I’d seen on Tumblr. It’s utterly delightful.

The story changed gradually at first. I needed Tuli to know that there was a whole big world out there, so I moved the time from some kind of unspecified yesteryear to a modern setting so that she would have the internet. That had knock-on changes. Tuli couldn’t be locked in a tower anymore so she needed to be isolated in a different way. The curse became an unusual genetic inheritance. Quiet, nervous Ilma had to be more independent so she became Rishona, student and mouthy owner of a dangerous-looking motorbike. The threat changed from princes looking for a cash settlement to take a princess off her parents’ hands to hunters looking to bag a rare beast.

But two things stayed the same (spoiler alert!)

Tuli still changes into a gorgeous and fearsome dragon. And Rishona and Tuli still fall in love. Because that was the story all along.

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Ali Coyle is a science educator by day, a fiction writer by night, and has been an unapologetic daydreamer since birth. Whilst studying physics at university, Ali chose to interpret the 'scientists can't write' stereotype as a personal challenge and has been writing down their daydreams ever since. Along with publishing Chrysalides, her first book with Improbable Press, Ali has an extensive back-catalogue of fanfiction and currently writes as 'Rudbeckia' on AO3. Ali can also be found at @alicoylewrites and @rudbeckiaSun on twitter, and on her website. They are very fond of folk tales, mild horror, romance, and cats.

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