Dilani Kahawala chats about how her Sri Lankan heritage inspired her book “Blood Moon Prophecy: The Legend of the Nyx”

Dilani Kahawala is the author of Blood Moon Prophecy: The Legend of the Nyx. Blood Moon Prophecy: The Legend of the Nyx follows Tilly as she soon finds herself plunged into the world where her story began—a world of oceans and sailing ships, of feuds between ancient magical families. The book explores South Asian heritage and diverse friendships. YEM was able to speak with Dilani about why she decided to write her book based in an ocean-based fantasy realm, if her main character Tilly Nyx was inspired by anyone in her real life, and what it mean to her to be able to write a book that celebrates her South Asian heritage. 

Young Entertainment Mag: How does it feel to have your debut book Blood Moon Prophecy: The Legend of the Nyx out?

Dilani Kahawala: I have to pinch myself a little bit. I can’t quite believe it’s finally out in the world. Overall, feeling just so so excited and really thrilled by some of the wonderful things that people have said about it. 

YEM: How has your Sri Lankan heritage inspired your book?

Dilani: Sri Lanka is a beautiful little island in the Indian Ocean. When I lived in Sri Lanka, I went to a school that was right next to the beach and you could hear the waves crashing on the rocks, and frequently see little sail boats going out to fish. Because of that, I think the oceans have always fascinated me. In Blood Moon Prophecy, the world of Marea is an ocean-world, where people live on the high seas and travel in fleets of ships. A lot of that was inspired by the sights and sounds of my early childhood.

The other way you’ll see my heritage come through is in the food of Blood Moon Prophecy. Food plays a really important role throughout the story, in bringing friends together through good times and the bad. The reader will get to experience a few Sri Lankan specialties such as ‘short eats’ and crispy hoppers. There’s also Ma Gita, the ship’s head chef, clad in a glamorous saree, infusing a little bit of spice into literally everything, including crème brûlée.

YEM: How would you describe your book in three words?

Dilani: Gripping

Adventurous

Heartfelt

YEM: What made you decide to write your book based in an ocean-based fantasy realm?

Dilani: Like I said, oceans have always fascinated me. I love the romance of old-world sailing ships (minus the scurvy). But I’m also a fan of space movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. In both space and at sea, putting a group of people in a vast, and unknown place leads to really interesting situations, discoveries and constraints. I absolutely loved the challenge of figuring out how life would work in a world where people spent months in fleets of magic ships!

YEM: How long was the process of writing your book?

Dilani: It was long! It took me 8 years. Early on, it was more about figuring out how to write and who my characters were and figuring out what this new world was all about, and falling in love with it all. Then later, I spent a great deal of time revising and iterating until I felt like everything fit together just right.

YEM: Was your main character Tilly Nyx inspired by anyone in your real life?

Dilani: I short, yes.  I think we all know someone who is a bit obstinate and headstrong; who thinks she thinks she knows best (when she doesn’t), but ultimately just really cares deeply for her friends. In my case, that’s me. It wasn’t really intentional but when you spend so much time with a character, you impart some of your own personality into them. Other parts of Tilly are inspired by my favorite heroes – the ones who are not perfect, but struggle, and figure out how to do the right thing, even when it’s very difficult.

Dilani Kahawala

YEM: What does it mean to you to be able to write a book that celebrates your South Asian heritage?

Dilani: It means a great deal to me that I could create a story that celebrates a diverse set of characters and weaves in parts of my upbringing and culture that are core to my identity. I grew up reading fantasy novels like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, which are very classic European fantasies. I loved those stories! But when it came to writing my own, I wanted to create a story that infused a little of what it was like to grow up in a different culture. Even more importantly, I wanted the reader to feel what it was like growing up as a Sri Lankan in the melting pot of cultures that is Melbourne, Australia. So you’ll see some South Asian influences, but you’ll also see other cultures and cuisines pop up too! You’ll also see what it’s like to be different, and the challenges of figuring out where you fit in.

YEM: What do you love most about writing for a young adult audience?

Dilani: YA audiences are in that perfect sweet spot where you can truly transport a reader to a completely different magical world, and yet write a story with a complex mystery and nuanced characters. They can viscerally relate to the struggles of the characters in the book, and the hard decisions they have to make, even if they are battling magical sprites in an ocean world.

YEM: What was your favorite part of the writing process?

Dilani: I have two. The first was creating this deep and complex mystery that is Tilly’s past. Figuring out how the threads came together at the right time was so satisfying and also one of the most challenging things I had to figure out. The second was creating a really rich and colorful set of characters. Over the eight years I spent on this, I loved getting to know them and their quirks.

YEM: How did you incorporate the cultures of New Zealand and Australia into your book?

Dilani: You’ll see a few Aussies pop up here and there! But beyond the Aussie accented characters, I wanted the life of the cadets on the fleet to reflect the diversity of people and cultures I grew up with in Melbourne. My high school friends came from all over the world and I still maintain and cherish those friendships. Our gatherings would be an Aussie style BBQ at the park with pavlova, but also with dumplings, samosas and fish rolls. You’ll see the characters in the book from a variety of different backgrounds, coming together and having similar experiences.

YEM: What is the biggest thing you learned from the making of this book?

Dilani: Patience! It takes time to figure out who your characters are, how all the details of your world come together to make it feel real for the reader, and how the pieces of the story come together. It takes trying and failing many times and trying again to get it right, and even then, it’s still a work in progress.

YEM: Are you thinking about making this book into a series?

Dilani: Absolutely! Blood Moon Prophecy is just the beginning of Tilly’s journey. There are so many twists and turns on her path toward figuring out who she is and the secrets of her family. The mystery goes deep and in unraveling it, the crew of the Kaluza will be in for quite a few hair raising adventures.

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