Okay. I'm guessing this is going to be a D'ni Age, and presumably there's a reason why the owner didn't simply build a bridge or supply a boat for going between the islands. They needed to be isolated, hence the nexus. The burning of the house, therefore, was probably the result of a failure of that isolation. Island One was where s/he did something dangerous, some sort of potentially explosive experiment, which is why it was barren. Island Two was where s/he lived, hence the house and the greenery. The underground complex was initially where the experiments were prepared.
When the house burned, s/he didn't simply Write another Age, so s/he wasn't a Writer him/herself. S/he had to make do with what s/he had got. Perhaps there was some reason why s/he couldn't approach the Guild for another Age--the experiments had reduced him/her to poverty, or maybe they were illegal and when the house burned the crime was discovered.
Okay. How about making our lead character female? That would explain the illegality of the experiments--I have it from a couple of sources that women weren't allowed to join a Major Guild, and the Minor Guilds don't deal with anything that goes BOOM. That would probably mean the caskets would need to be of husband and child. She practices chemistry or analysis or something surreptitiously while her husband is off being something important, and when it all blows up on her, incidentally killing her family, she takes it as Yahvo's judgment on her rather than a hint to be more careful with her experiments...
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