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Friday, February 27, 2015

Interview with Ilka Tampke, author of 'Skin'

 'Skin' by Ilka Tampke is going down as one of my favourite books of 2015 – a gripping historical fantasy novel set in Iron Age Britain, when the people of Caer Cad find themselves on the cusp of invasion by Emperor Claudius’ Roman army – and one woman called Ailia finds herself torn between two men, and setting out on a journey she never thought she could travel. 
 Luckily Ilka is in my writer’s group, and was kind enough to let me pick her brain...

Q: How were you first published – agent or slush pile?

Actually neither. I submitted a few pages of my early manuscript as part of an application for a Glenfern Fellowship in Melbourne. One of the judges was an editor at Text Publishing, and she followed up with a request to see a bit more. It was a great lesson to me to go for as many competitions and residencies I can, because it gets your work under editors’ noses.

Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?

For the writing of Skin I was an unmitigated ‘pantser’; I wrote all kinds of different scenes, characters and events, then I had to wrangle it all into a cohesive whole. I am currently trying to plot my second novel in advance of writing it, so I’ll let you know how that goes. I suspect, in my heart, I will always be a ‘pantser.’

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Skin', from first idea to final manuscript?

Almost exactly 5 years. But there were big gaps where I did other work.

Q: 'Skin' is set during Iron-Age Britain and you really transport readers there. Exactly how much research did you do for this setting - and was a trip to England part of it?

It began with a trip I took to the southwest of England several years ago, where I fell in love with the mystical world of ancient Britain. Once the novel was underway, I read extensively among the work of archaeologists, historians and scholars of druidism and paganism. In the book’s final stages I went back to England, to walk the site of the township in which ‘Skin’ is set, and see the recreated Iron Age villages that are peppered throughout the UK. It was so wonderful to walk into the actual environments, and breath the atmosphere of the world I had been imagining for so long.

Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
Mostly they start as fragments of dialogue or interactions between characters that flash through my mind. I’ve learned to trust these intuitive impulses, as my subconscious imagination is far smarter than my conscious mind. I also find the historical research very fruitful and generative of ideas. I might read about an excavation of an Iron Age burial pit and imagine my character being part of that ritual, placing those grave objects in beside her loved one.

Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to his bookshelves?
The sequel to Skin. It will take the reader more deeply into the fight for Britain to hold onto what is most precious in its culture, and delves into the fascinating stories of the real life British freedom-fighters.
Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?

Eva Hornung, Dorothy Porter, James Cowan, Margo Lanagan, Ursula Le Guin, Helen Garner, Jeanette Winterson, Truman Capote.

Q: Favourite book(s)?
Monkey Grip by Helen Garner. The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson.
Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.

Q: Do you have any advice for budding young writers?

Two things. Firstly: apply for everything that you can: competitions, residencies, fellowships, grants. I think it’s the best way to start building a profile and make people aware of your work. Be part of the writers’ community and opportunities will present themselves.

Secondly: finish your work. The very best writers I know are not published because they won’t finish their novels. Or even a short story! Your finished novel may get published. Your unfinished one never will.

'Skin' by Ilka Tampke

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Southwest Britain, AD 43.

For the people of Caer Cad, ‘skin’ is their totem, their greeting, their ancestors, their land.

Ailia does not have skin. Abandoned at birth, she serves the Tribequeen of her township. Ailia is not permitted to marry, excluded from tribal ceremonies and, most devastatingly, forbidden to learn. But the Mothers, the tribal ancestors, have chosen her for another path.

Lured by the beautiful and enigmatic Taliesin, Ailia embarks on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced.

Set in Iron-Age Britain on the cusp of Roman invasion, Skin is a thrilling, full-blooded, mesmerising novel about the collision of two worlds, and a young woman torn between two men.

Skin’ is the debut historical fiction/fantasy novel from Australian author (and member of my wonderful writer’s group) Ilka Tampke.

The book is set in AD 43 (Iron Age Britain), and our narrator is ‘skinless’ Ailia of Cad who was found by Cookmother on the doorstep of the Tribequeen. She is raised in the kitchens, and taught the art of healing by Cookmother, but still Ailia longs for what she cannot have and will not be without skin – a journeywoman.  

Born to the skinless, or lost to their families before naming, the unskinned were not claimed by a totem. Their souls were fragmented, unbound to the Singing. If they remained little seen, they were not despised, not usually harmed. The townspeople gave them enough grain, cloaks and work, if they would do it. But they could not live within the town walls because no one could be sure of who they were. 
I quickened my pace and Neha trotted beside me. 
Skin was gifted from mother to child by a song. 
I had no mother. I had no skin. 
But I had been spared. Just.

When she is of age at Beltane, Ailia meets the warrior Ruther who affectionately calls her ‘Daughter of the Doorstep’ and may wish to make her kin. She also meets the mysterious Taliesin one day by the river, not sure if he is bard or magician. And when Ailia starts exhibiting powers the skinless should not possess, her life seems destined for greater things ... 

This book gripped me from the first, with a haunting scene of spirit and sacrifice in the opening pages that left me horrified and intrigued;

The journeymen and women started to sing down the songs of our tribe in powerful harmony. I could sense the expectation in the gathering, the pulsing of hearts and the coursing of blood. This ritual was part of our story, part of our truth, but the terribleness of it was never forgotten.

From there I could barely pull myself away from the book and Ailia’s journey.

Tampke transports readers to an incredible moment in history, to Iron Age Britain when ‘the tendrils of Roman ways had touched Caer Cad’ and Emperor Claudius’s Roman army are preparing to invade. It is a time of druids and tribelands, a reach back into a very real time that Tampke recreates so viscerally with language and these characters.

Isobelle Carmody provides an endorsement quote for the book, which is so fitting because I would recommend ‘Skin’ to anyone who enjoys the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’ – for both author’s rich language and world-building, but especially the incredible journeys of their female heroes. While reading I also thought of Margo Lanagan’s short stories and dark fantasy tales, and Melina Marchetta’s ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ fantasy series. Because there is a touch of magic woven throughout ‘Skin’, which works seamlessly with the mystery of the Iron Age – Ailia’s unexpected powers, Taliesin’s mysticism and transformation – and always, the ‘journeypeople’ druids, their religion and sacrificial ways. Indeed, while ‘Skin’ is an adult novel, I found that there’s a lot here young adult readers will love too. There is romance and brutality, but it’s nothing young readers haven’t read before or will be shocked by in the context of history and fantasy.

I loved this book, and our hero Ailia. Tampke carries readers to a most remarkable time of the Iron Age – when druids were revered and the tribal lands of Britain were about to be changed forever, when Skin was everything and magic seemed inevitable. Ilka Tampke's book is already creating buzz in Australia and overseas, and for good reason - we’ve just welcomed a remarkable new voice in Australian literature, and I can’t wait to read what she comes up with next.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

'Every Move' Every #3 by Ellie Marney

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

The sequel to Every Breath and Every Word.

After the dramatic events of London, a road trip back to her old home in Five Mile sounds good (in theory) to Rachel Watts, with her brother Mike in the driving seat. But when Mike picks up his old buddy – the wildly unreliable Harris Derwent – things start to go south. Back in Melbourne, Rachel’s ‘partner in crime’, James Mycroft, clashes with Harris, and then a series of murders suggest that the mysterious Mr Wild – Mycroft’s own personal Moriarty – is hot on their tail. When tragedy strikes, Rachel and Mycroft realise they’ll have to recruit Harris and take matters into their own hands…

‘Every Move’ is the third and final book in Ellie Marney’s ‘Every’ mystery YA series.

I didn’t want to read this book – not because I wasn’t excited for it, and I certainly wanted to catch up with James Mycroft again … No, I didn’t want to read this book because I knew it was the last we’d be reading of Mycroft and Rachel Watts, and I didn’t want their adventures to end. But, it was Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote; 'What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.' And I suppose after all that Mycroft and Watts have been through in this series, they deserve a rest now, huh?

Certainly, ‘Every Move’ is set deep in the aftermath of second book ‘Every Word’, and the horrifying London events that see Watts and Mycroft now distant and uncommunicative. Rachel in particular is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the form of nightmares, sleepless nights and a new, frightening awareness of the world around her and the danger she and Mycroft have found themselves in. Adding to Rachel’s woes are the fallout from her London trip with her family – her mother in particular is expressing her fear for Rachel’s safety through anger and hurt, not entirely without justification … but it’s taken so much of a toll on Rachel, that her brother Mike drives them out of the city and back to their country home in Five Mile for a reprieve.

It is while home in Five Mile that Rachel and Mike catch up with one of his old friends, one Harris Derwent whom Rachel describes as; ‘sun-bleached, Driza-Bone-wearing, dickhead, tearaway.’ Harris wants to follow in the Watts’ footsteps and get out of Five Mile, so Mike offers him a lift into the city and their spare couch to crash on, much to Rachel’s dismay.

Meanwhile, Mycroft is following new leads, based on evidence gathered while in London – these threads will take him dangerously close to finding out who killed his parents, and why – but at what cost to him and Rachel?

I’ve got to say, this book is high-adrenaline and high-emotion. There’s a lot that needs hashing out – particularly between Watts and Mycroft, Rachel and her family – and while no stone is left unturned, Marney isn’t afraid to break reader’s hearts and leave them gasping with every page-turn. I don’t feel like I can say a hell of a lot about the nuts and bolts of the story, except the pacing is exquisite and the whodunit marvellous … the end will leave your heart racing and mind reeling.

But onto the really good stuff that drove this series – the characters – and I’m thrilled to say that Watts and Mycroft don’t disappoint. The characters we first met back in 2013 feel like they’ve come full-circle in this finale, and Marney really does give them room to shine and reflect on their past adventures and ramifications of those adventures. I particularly appreciated that Rachel is given time to grapple with her PTSD following the events of London, and Marney really does explore it with infinite patience and compassion. 

Mycroft and Watts’ romance has always been such a tender counterpoint to the oftentimes brutal crime-thriller aspect of the series, and I was delighted to find that their last dance is a damn good one for the emotional outpourings;

 ‘Covalent bonds are a type of molecular bond formed by the sharing of a pair of electrons between adjacent atoms,’ I recite. 
‘Yes! Covalent bonds are about the strongest molecular bonds in biochemistry, right? So you’ve got this molecule, it’s very strongly bonded ….’ 
Mycroft is close enough now that I can feel the warmth of him through his white shirt. He slips one of his hands into one of mine, and holds our joined hands high. Our fingers twine together, and some of the heat in his palm radiates out into my body. My stomach starts to do gravity-defying things again, and my cheeks flame. 
His voice has gone low. ‘But then the molecule comes into interaction with other molecules, where it can be affected by something called dispersion forces …’ 
‘Dispersion forces. Uh-huh.’ My heart is hammering. 
‘… also called London forces.’ 
‘You’re shitting me.’

And while this was an end, there was one new addition to ‘Every Move’ that bought a surprising freshness to the finale – in the form of new character Harris Derwent. He’s a tough bloke on the outside, but with an all-too believable back-story that had me thoroughly in his corner. And while he is coming to this series literally at the eleventh hour, I couldn’t help but feel like we haven’t seen the last of him either … at least I hope so.

I’ve loved this series from the start, and I’m so happy to see that it’s gone on to enjoy great success overseas. It introduced us to a fantastic new voice in Aussie YA, and even though I’m sad to see the last of Watts and (especially that delicious) Mycroft, I can’t wait to see what else Ellie Marney has in store for us.
While this series started out as the perfect read for fans of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, it quickly became a must-read in its own right as a gutsy and exhilarating crime-thriller for readers young and old.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Writing Digital Content - additional resources


If you're here it's most likely because you're part of the 'Digital Contexts - the Reader Perspective' talk over at RMIT and you're looking for some additional resources and info on people/books/sites that may be of interest.
For everyone else - this is a temporary break in my regularly scheduled blogging. Don't mind us, we're just talking Writing Digital Content up in here like it ain't no thang.  



·      Digital Writers Festival - @digitalwriters
o    “An online carnival dedicated to what happens when technology and the written word collide.”

·      Emily Nussbaum - TV Critic for The New Yorker
o   Twitter account – @emilynussbaum – she live-Tweets her reactions to the shows she’s watching … interesting to then go read her New Yorker column, and see those initial 140-characer thoughts expanded into quite amazing cultural critiques.

·      Clementine Ford –columnist for Daily Life
o   Twitter account – @clementine_ford  – she writes on a range of predominantly feminist topics, and her columns are often inspired by what she encounters in the digital space. Take, for instance, a hashtag she started #QuestionsForMen – a Twitter conversation that morphed into an examination of the ways women continue to be harassed and marginalised, both in everyday exchanges and wider, systemic issues.

·      Josephine Rowe - Australian writer of short fiction, poetry and essays.
o   Twitter account  @josephinerowe – Once upon a time I would have included @tejucole here as someone who wrote Twitter poetry, but he’s been on hiatus since July 2014. Check out Josephine Rowe instead – a wonderful example of an author using Twitter to showcase her art.

·      John Green – bestselling young adult author of The Fault in Our Stars
o   Twitter account  @johngreen – Whatever you think about him and his writing in general, he is the undisputed king of authors on social media … to the point where most agents/publishers are holding him up as an example to all other authors of what they can do with their social media presence and to build their "brand". He and his brother Hank started the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel together, and now have over two million ‘Nerdfighter’ followers. The brothers’ popularity reached fever pitch in 2013, when they sold out Carnegie Hall.

·     Zoe Sugg - British beauty vlogger, author, and internet personality.
o  Twitter account  @ZozeeBo - she has over 2 million followers on Twitter and was given a young adult book deal, the result of which went on to outsell JK Rowling upon release. The book has since been through a 'ghostwriter' controversy, but she's an example of someone coming into publishing because they have an established brand and social media readership - expect to see a lot more of this in the future. 


·      Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age and Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

·      Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

·     Lev Grossman’s 2011 TIME piece “The Boy Who Lived Forever” 

·      The Writer’s Room – Novelist Charlotte Wood's bimonthly digital magazine. Each issue she interviews an established writer about the hows & whys of their writing practice.

·    My book club landed a publishing deal - this article appeared on Daily Life today. Very clever bit of book marketing, an excellent example of author self-promotion. 

·    No Baggage or False Freedoms?: On Anonymous Book Reviews - Wheeler Centre article on legitimate news outlet, The Saturday Paper, adopting an aspect of book reviewing that book bloggers had long been practicing. 


· - Best Australian Blogs. Each year the Australian Writers’ Centre gathers a shortlist of best blogs in various categories – it’s always a good place to check out some new and innovative online writing.

· - booksellers, media, librarians, educators, reviewers and bloggers use NetGalley to discover, read and review new books before they are published. 

· - Chart Collective is a not-for-profit publishing venture concerned with exploring the ways our stories are woven into our environments and places.

· – A publishing alternative for writers.

· - blog of Jo Case, senior writer/editor at the Wheeler Centre and former books editor at the Big Issue

· - blog of Angela Meyer; writer, editor, professional reader, recently appointed commissioning editor at The Five Mile Press. 

· - blog/website of author John Birmingham (He Died With A Felafel In His Hand) who also writes columns for various online papers. CheeseburgerGothic has turned into another dimension of his gonzo journalism and creative writing – as Birmingham said in an interview with Readings in 2008: “I think what’s great about blogs is being able to engage with your readers in a very direct way. You basically act as a leader of discussion, you get things started with three or four hundred words, and then you throw it open to everyone. The internet’s changed the way people read, and it’s good to work with your audience like that, I think that it’s mutually rewarding, and I owe a lot to my readers.”

· Fanworks Day, celebrating “the myriad ways in which fans create art inspired by the things that they love.”

· - The BEA (Book Expo America) Bloggers Conference. To give you some idea of how bloggers have become such a part of the publishing infrastructure. Remember, BEA is the #1 book and author event in North American. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

'Agent Carter' and the future of the female superhero

I'm back at Kill Your Darlings today, with a piece on Agent Carter and the future of all female-led superhero franchises:

The future of female-led superhero franchises should not come down to whether or not Agent Carter succeeds commercially, or how successfully Peggy battles sexism in her workplace (leave that to Peggy Olson).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

'The Flywheel' by Erin Gough

I interviewed Erin for my Kill Your Darlings article, ‘We Read To Know We Are Not Alone: Examining the Lack of LGBTQI Characters in Australian Youth Literature'She’s amazing, and this debut YA is a triumph: I should know, because I was given an advanced copy … and I’d like to share with you the endorsement quote I wrote for the book: 

Erin Gough writes lightning on the page - her words leaving a resounding thunderclap in the heart! I wished so hard for The Flywheel to be a real place, so I could go there and knock back caramel milkshakes with Del and Charlie while we waited for the Flamenco Hour. This reads like progress in Aussie YA diversity, a move away from coming-out stories to explorations of the perils and pleasures that come when you are finally true to yourself, but still dealing with the small-minds of others. I do think that the Australian youth literature community will embrace this tender-true story of girl meets girl, falling in love and finding your feet. I eagerly anticipate Gough’s next novel.

(see how I rambled there? That’s because it’s awesome and WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS!)