Writing Skin

Monday, April 7, 2014
Ilka Tampke

Photo of Ilka Tampke
Photo of Ilka Tampke

Long-time WV member and newly published author Ilka Tampke spoke to Sharona Lin about her debut novel 'Skin' published in 2015.

It took you about five years to write Skin. What was your thought process over that period of time? Were there points where you didn’t want to keep writing, or were you always motivated to keep going?

Writing Skin was a pretty intense emotional journey. There were definitely periods of profound doubt and mental exhaustion. Sometimes I’d sit at my desk and cry! It was the encouragement of other people—particularly one close writer friend—that carried me through. Once I’d signed a publishing contract it was easier, because I knew I had to finish it.

There is a lot of fascinating mythology and history in Skin. How did you go about achieving that authenticity? How much research was involved?

The novel springs from my own love of the British landscape and its ancient monuments that I discovered as a back-packer over twenty years ago, and that I return to as often as I can. In terms of research, I read quite a lot of books by archaeologists and historians, as well as travelling to the UK to study the sites and museums there. The recreated Iron Age villages that pepper the English and Welsh countryside were incredibly evocative.

Have you always been interested in Iron Age Britain, or did something in particular pique your interest?

Southwest Britain has always been something of a ‘spiritual home’ and I had been interested in ancient Britain generally for many years, but as I began to research more deeply, it was late Iron Age period, with its powerful druids and its Roman invasion narrative that emerged as a rich and resonant setting for a story.

Can you offer any advice for other authors working on their manuscripts or who are perhaps thinking of writing a novel?

The first and most obvious advice is to finish the novel. I can’t tell you how many stunning aspiring writers I know who have not been published because they don’t have a finished work. Once you’ve finished a project you can shape it and work it and show it to publishers. A finished novel may get published, but an unfinished one never will. You weren’t published through an agent or a slush pile, which are the more traditional ways of publishing.

Can you tell us a bit about the publishing process, and offer any advice for other authors who are trying to get published?

I was lucky to by-pass the slush pile because I submitted for a Glenfern fellowship and one of the judges was an editor with Text Publishing. She wrote to me afterwards, asking to see the manuscript once it was finished. My advice to all authors is to submit for as many grants, opportunities and competitions as you can. It is a great way to get your work read by editors and publishers and you never know where it may lead.

You’ve been a long-time member of Writers Victoria . Are there any particular opportunities that you’d recommend our members should take advantage of?

With regards to my advice above, The Victorian Writer magazine is my key source of information about upcoming competitions and opportunities. I regularly use Writers Vic meeting rooms to meet with other writers for workshopping, and I also attend various talks and info sessions throughout the year. The magazine always has a gorgeous cover too!

Obviously we believe that having a strong writing community is very important. How have you benefited from other writers?

Others writers are my lifeline. I have a couple of very strong and supportive writing groups, without whom I don’t think I could have finished my book. My writing colleagues provide me with a crucial sense of community in an otherwise very isolating field of endeavor. They inspire me, question me, encourage me and help me figure out what it is that I’m trying to say.

Can you recommend any other upcoming Australian writers?

I have just finished another debut historical novel, The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader, which is exquisitely drawn. In a completely different vein, Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands has thrust me straight back to my student days in my early twenties, and I’m loving it.

About Ilka Tampke

Ilka Tampke is the author of ‘Skin’, the story of a young woman’s rise to power set in Iron Age Britain on the cusp of Roman invasion. ‘Skin’ has been sold in the UK, US, Germany and Sweden. Ilka completed the graduate diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT in 2012 and has had stories and articles published in several anthologies. She is currently working on a sequel to ‘Skin’.

Update: Ilka will be running a Winter School workshop on Historical Fiction at Writers Victoria in July 2015 and will be the Author in Harrrow in August 2015 thanks to the generosity of the Grace Marion Wilson Trust.