Fresh Talent: Skin by Ilka Tampke

Fresh Talent: Skin by Ilka Tampke

Skin – Ilka Tampke

It is AD 43. For the Caer Cad, ‘skin’ name determines lineage and identity. Ailia does not have skin; despite this, she is a remarkable young woman, intelligent, curious and brave.

As a dark threat grows on the horizon – the aggressive expansion of the Roman Empire – Ailia must embark on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people, and their pagan way of life, from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced… and it is this unskinned girl who will come to hold the fate of her people in her hands.

Ilka Tampke Biography

Ilka Tampke was born in Sydney in 1969. She studied theatre at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst NSW and completed honours in performance at University of Western Sydney.

Ilka directed the Sydney Women’s Festival, Mallacoota’s Festival of the Southern Ocean and numerous other arts and cultural events in Australia and the UK before commencing post-graduate study in writing at RMIT, Melbourne.

She was writer and editor of Quest, National Journal of Adult Learning in 2010 and 2011, and was awarded a Glenfern Fellowship in 2012. Her short stories and articles have been published in several anthologies.

She lives in Woodend, Australia, with her partner and two children. Skin is her first novel.


Ilka Tampke on the Inspiration Behind Skin

SKIN is set in Iron Age Britain on the cusp of Roman invasion. It tells the story of a young woman called Ailia who serves the queen of her tribe. Ailia does not have ‘skin’, which is a form of totem or spiritual kinship with other people and the natural world. Without skin, Ailia is excluded from almost all aspects of society, but as the Roman invasion becomes imminent, she starts to realise that she has a key role to play in determining whether her people fight or succumb.

SKIN is about our connection to place and our yearning to belong.

As a white Australian, I live in a place where (at least in an ancestral sense) I definitely do not belong. My stories, my ancestry, my ‘dreaming’, belong to another land. Writing SKIN has been my attempt to find it.

I was living in London as a young backpacker when SKIN was first conceived. It was on the crest of the Glastonbury Tor, overlooking the misty fields of the Somerset levels in the depths of midwinter, that I first experienced a feeling that I could be indigenous to this landscape; that this place was worshipped by people who could be my blood ancestors.

From this point on I read all I could about ancient Britain, and the tribes of the Iron Age Celts. I found a people with whom I felt a great kinship: they were deeply spiritual, they valued knowledge above power, and they lived with a profound reverence to the natural world. I was especially captivated by the mysterious ‘druids’, who enjoyed their heyday in the Iron Age, and have enthralled and confounded us ever since.

I did not set out to write a fantasy novel. But fantasy found its way in. SKIN began as historical fiction with a toe-dip in the mythology of ancient Britain, but very quickly I became so entranced by the shamanistic, pagan ideas embedded in the spirituality of this time, that I found myself writing about them as if they were true. Water as a threshold to the Otherworld; altered perception through taking animal form; and spirit ancestors being present in the landscape—these ideas became as real to me as they must have been to the Iron Age Celts.

The mystical aspects of my book attempt to imagine and narrate these belief systems as the mythic truths that they must have been to these people.

Their story falters, as does that of the first people of Australia, with invasion and cultural decimation. In both instances, precious knowledge is irretrievably lost.

Writing SKIN has made me think a lot about what gives us a sense of belonging in the modern world. For me it is my children, my writing, my garden, the smell of the mountains in which I live, my incredibly naughty dog and the friends with whom I walk it.

Inhabiting Ailia’s world has given me a delicious taste what might possibly be my own spiritual heritage. I am so excited that SKIN has been published as a paperback in the UK and I hope that it invites readers to imagine their own stories and ancestries, stretching back for thousands of years.