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Writing versus code: a new column by Teemu Manninen

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Seekers and givers of meaning: what the writer said

Seekers and givers of meaning: what the writer said

Pain and pleasure: writers on writing, and not

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From page to space: Books from Finland (1976–2008) digitised

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23 October 2014 | Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, authors discuss the difficulties of their trade. Jari Järvelä finds it difficult to stop gathering source material which then gets piled in towers on his desk and in sacks around it. He knows that it’s got to stop though – for when it does, the stories will finally emerge, and life is a bliss… for a moment

When I was younger I thought that writing a novel began with the moment when I sat down at my desk and pressed a key for the first time. A. Hmmm…no, H. No, let’s make that S. No no no, I need a more original beginning…Z!

That’s not the case. The writing of a novel begins between two and twenty years before the choice of the first letter and the first word. Sometimes longer.

In the case of my novel Särkyvää (‘Fragile’, 2014), I know the exact moment of its birth.

Before I began to make a career as an author, I spent a year as a teacher at Hamari school in Porvoo. It was the beginning of the 1990s. Hamari was an old sawmill community on the sea, full of wooden houses more than a century old and motor boats put-putting toward the horizon. The headmaster looked more like a sea dog than a teacher; one morning he announced that it was his fortieth birthday. After that he sat down on the staff-room sofa, fell into deep thought and suddenly ejaculated, ‘Why the hell does a person have to gather so much junk in their life?!’ More…

Journey to the first palm tree

16 October 2014 | Fiction, Prose

Teemu is a fat, desperate middle-aged man who’s had it with life – he drives his old Lada to Spain, where he intends to commit suicide by letting himself be trampled to death by bulls in the Pamplona bullrun. (However, there is a chance of this tragedy being cancelled, thanks to a tenacious hitch-hiker, female.) An extract from the novel Särkyvää (‘Fragile’, Tammi, 2014)

When I was seventeen, I yearned to leave behind the small town where I grew up. I heard the owl hooting in the forest: go to Europe.

I heard the dirt-track gravel crunching beneath my shoes: run, lad, run.

The birch in the yard rustled and whispered: if you spend one more summer hanging around the garden of your childhood, you’ll stay here forever.

A frog in the ditch gave a stern croak: look at your father; if you don’t escape you’ll end up an old codger just like him.

Even the smoke twirling up from the sauna chimney spoke to me in billows: I’ll show you the right direction, head south, and don’t stop until you see the first camel. More…

Letters from Tove

6 October 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Tove Jansson went to  Stockholm to study art when she was just 16. A letter to her friend Elisabeth Wolff, from November 1932

Early days: Tove Jansson went to Stockholm to study art when she was just 16. A letter to her friend Elisabeth Wolff, from November 1932

Artist and author Tove Jansson (1914–2001) is known abroad for her Moomin books for children and fiction for adults. A large selection of her letters – to family, friends and lovers – was published for the first time in September. In these extracts she writes to her best friend Eva Konikoff who moved to the US in 1941, to her lover, Atos Wirtanen, journalist and politician, and to her life companion of 45 years, artist Tuulikki Pietilä.
Brev från Tove Jansson (selected and commented by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson; Schildts & Söderströms, 2014; illustrations from the book) introduced by Pia Ingström

7.10.44. H:fors. [Helsinki]

exp. Tove Jansson. Ulrikaborgg. A Tornet. Helsingfors. Finland. Written in swedish.
to: Miss Eva Konikoff. Mr. Saletan. 70 Fifty Aveny. New York City. U.S.A.

Dearest Eva!

Now I can’t help writing to you again – the war [Finnish Continuation War, from 1941 to 19 September 1944] is over, and perhaps gradually it will be possible to send letters to America. Next year, maybe. But this letter will have to wait until then – even so, it will show that I was thinking of you. Curiously enough, Konikova, all these years you have been more alive for me than any of my other friends. I have talked to you, often. And your smiling Polyfoto has cheered me up and comforted me and has also taken part in the fortunate and wonderful things that have happened. I remembered your warmth, your vitality and your friendship and felt happy! At first I wrote frequently, every week – but after about a year most of it was returned to me. I wrote more after that, but the letters were often so gloomy that I didn’t feel like saving them. Now there are so absurdly many things I have to talk to you about that I don’t know where to begin. Koni, if only I’d had you here in my grand new studio and could have hugged you. After these recent years there is no human being I have longed for more than you. More…

The painter who wrote

6 October 2014 | Non-fiction, Reviews

tovebrev.skyddsomslag.inddBrev från Tove Jansson
Urval och kommentarer Boel Westin & Helen Svensson
[Letters from Tove Jansson, selected and commented by Boel Westin & Helen Svensson]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 491 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-52-3408-7
€34.90
In Finnish (translated by Jaana Nikula):
Kirjeitä Tove Janssonilta
ISBN 978-951-52-3409-4

Nothing could be more mistaken than to describe Tove Jansson as ‘Moominmamma’. In her statements she was both cutting and complex – conflict-ridden and full of paradoxes. And she was nobody’s mamma.

Tove Jansson (1914–2001) became world famous (especially ‘big’ in Japan) with her Moomins – the characters of her illustrated books for children (1945–1970) – and her books for adults are a part of her work that is at least as interesting. Her training, ambition and artistic passion were, however, focused on painting.

Anyone who has read Boel Westin’s excellent biography –  now available in English, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words‘knows’ all this, but to experience it through Jansson’s own letters, in an alternating process of reflection and recreation, brings the problems close to the reader in quite a different way: one that is shocking, but also deeply human. More…

Profiles

2 October 2014 | Fiction, Prose

Rosa Liksom’s first book, in 1985, was a collection of short prose; she has also written novels, children’s books, plays, comic and picture books. Her new book, Väliaikainen (‘Temporary’, Like, 2014) – a return to her signature very short prose – features beasts, machines and men

He’s there in the living room. We’ve gotta be very quiet. I left the computer on, and the reading lamp. I’ll go in and turn them off, quietly. Or the computer at least. I can watch Emmerdale on the little tv in the kitchen. You wait here. OK, I turned off the computer but I left the lamp on so I wouldn’t wake him up. I put his nap blanket over him. He’s laying on his left side now. That’s good. Whenever he wakes up on his right side he gets awfully grumpy. Let’s go in the kitchen so we don’t disturb him. The poor guy. It’s been hours since he’s had a good sleep. You know, I think it’s the depression again. It started on Monday when he was supposed to go to his guide’s job.He didn’t taste his breakfast, even though I brought it to him in bed. I had to go to the hospital, my shift was starting, and he just laid there in the bedroom with his eyes open… I don’t know how long it’s gonna last this time. Last month he was depressed for three days. I think it’ll pass more quickly this time because he’s napping a little bit, and licking his paw now and again.

textdivider More…

Finland, cool! The Frankfurt Book Fair 8–12 October

30 September 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

Finnland. Cool pavilion in Frankfurt

Finnland. Cool. pavilion in Frankfurt, designed by Natalia Baczynska Kimberley, Nina Kosonen and Matti Mikkilä from Aalto University

It starts next week: Finland is Guest of Honour at the Book Fair in the German and global city of Frankfurt. This link will take you to it all.

Approximately 170,000 professionals from the literary world are expected to visit the exhibition halls from Wednesday to Friday; the weekend is reserved for the general public, c.100,000 visitors. Since 1980s different countries have been in focus each year. More…

Reflections on light

24 September 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Speaking House #12, 2006. Photo: Marja PIrilä

Speaking House #12, 2006. Photo: Marja PIrilä

A camera obscura (‘darkened room’) is the optical device that made photography possible; it is a box – or a room – with a hole in one side. Photographer Marja Pirilä has been using this method as a tool for almost 20 years. The book Carried by Light spans more than 30 years of her photography.

In the book artist and researcher Jyrki Siukonen notes in his essay ‘Eyes and Cameras’ that ‘in photographing spaces Pirilä also depicts people. The dreams continue on the walls of the empty building, as if after the people the house had become like them and were dreaming the dreams itself.’

Photographs and text extracts from Carried by Light by Marja Pirilä (Musta Taide, 2014)

More…

In all honesty

18 September 2014 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

 To puke or not to puke? Despite appearances, Jyrki Lehtola thinks there is too little truth on show on social media

I recall two brilliant articles that appeared years ago in Finland’s biggest gossip magazine.

In one of them, a vaguely famous radio host talked about his divorce and how badly he was doing since splitting from his wife. There’s nothing interesting or pioneering about this level of openness per se, but fortunately the magazine saw fit to depict the radio personality’s plight in a series of photos.

They published a photo story consisting of nine images showing him walking down the streets of Helsinki, until he suddenly recalls his divorce. More…

Life: facts and fiction

10 September 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

arch In his latest book, the architect and author Arne Nevanlinna (born 1925) recalls, among other things, his Helsinki childhood and family, the wartime period, his fellow architect Alvar Aalto, various aspects of the spirit of the times, his own work and writings. His first novel Marie was published in 2008. Extracts from Arne. Oman elämän kintereillä (‘Arne. On the trail of one’s life’, Siltala, 2014)

My attitude to my own identity has developed from the unconsciousness of childhood, the uncertainty of early adulthood, the artificial arrogance of middle age and the self-analysis of approaching retirement, to my present situation.

Despite the fact that my first book had some degree of success, it took many books before I felt I was a real writer. The process continued for well over ten years, by which time I was already over eighty. Before that, I thought of writing as a way to pass the time and combat loneliness. I imagined that I was writing for a living, and that I lived in order to write. I was in the fortunate position of not to think about my income.

Even then, I knew that this was just a catchphrase for the event that it occurred to someone in the audience to ask me why I wrote. That never actually happened. No wonder, as both question and answer would have been unnecessary, to put it mildly, and stupid, to put it harshly. More…

Rooms with views

21 August 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Most of us live in box-shaped houses; the long-prevailing laws of modernist architecture relate to cubes, geometry and masses. Together with an architect, artist Jan-Erik Andersson designed a leaf-shaped house for himself. Could it be both art and architecture? In his new book he takes a look at non-cubical buildings in Finland and beyond, attempting to define what makes ‘wow factor architecture’: good architecture requires freedom from strict aesthetic rules.
Extracts from the chapter entitled ‘Det inre rummet’ (‘The inner room’) in Wow. Åsikter om finländsk arkitektur (‘Wow. Thoughts on Finnish architecture’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2014)

I remember from my childhood in the 1960s how my brother and I each lay in our beds in a little room late in the evening and stared up at the ceiling, onto which the lights from cars outside cast patterns. The patterns were constantly changing, they were like the doors of imagination onto eternity. Along with the hum of the engines they lulled me into a kind of half-stupor.

During the days the floor of the room grew to a town as we threw ourselves into a world of adventures and sped around with Formula 1 cars. Or the waste-paper bin was squeezed into a corner between the bookshelf and the wall, and the room took on the dimensions of a basketball court.

When defining a room it is difficult to distinguish between the outer, physical room, and the inner room formed by your consciousness. More…

The many arms of Krishna

14 August 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

A feast by the Ganges: from  Atman by Pirjo Honkasalo

A feast by the Ganges. Photo from Pirjo Honkasalo’s film Atman

Cinematographer, camerawoman and director Pirjo Honkasalo has travelled and filmed widely – Japan, Estonia, India, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Russia – and her documentary films in particular have gained fame. American film critic John Anderson interviews Honkasalo; they talk about her documentary film Atman (1996) about a pilgrimage in India.

Edited extracts from Armoton kauneus. Pirjo Honkasalon elokuvataide (‘Merciless beauty. The film art of Pirjo Honkasalo’, Siltala, 2014; translated from English into Finnish by Leena Tamminen)

You can almost catch a whiff of the Ganges watching Atman [Hindu term, ‘self’], a documentary film in which religious pilgrimage, devotion, exhilaration and hysteria compete with tormented bodies, physical mortification, corpses, pollution and the acrid smoke of ritual cremation for domination of the viewer’s senses. The fact that it won the top prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 1996 proves there is, if not justice, then good taste in the world. With all due respect to her previous work, Atman signified the full manifestation of Honkasalo’s genius.

What is it about? Eternity. Also, Jamana Lal: a member of the low-caste of Baila, a wifeless, crippled devotee of Lord Shiva whose mother has died, and who must – according to Hindu tradition – take her ashes from the ostensible mouth of the Ganges to the foothills of the Himalayas. More…

Love is the only song

7 August 2014 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Helise, taivas! Valitut runot (‘Ring out, sky! Selected poems’, Siltala, 2014). Introduction by Marja-Leena Mikkola

Who will tell me?

Who will tell me why white butterflies
strew the velvet skin of the night?
Who will tell me?
While people walk, mute and strange
and they have snowy, armoured faces,
such snowy faces!
and the eyes of a stuffed bird.

Who will tell me why in the morning, on the grass,
the thrushes begin their secret game?
Who will tell me?
While black soldiers stand at the gate
in their hands withered roses
such withered roses!
and broken tiger lilies.

Who will tell me, quietly in the sun’s shadow
how to bare my heart?
Who will tell me?
Come to me over the fields
Come close and softly
so softly!
Open the clothes of my heart. More…

Light songs and dark

4 August 2014 | Authors, Reviews

Aulikki Oksanen. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

Aulikki Oksanen. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

On my wall at home are paintings given to me by the artist and poet Aulikki Oksanen. A watercolour from 1966 is a stylised depiction, a little in the manner of Modigliani, of a room with a girl by the window. In the background are a harbour and ships.

The work reminds me of the time when I got to know Aulilkki when we both moved in University Theatre circles and I visited her in the room shown in the painting. The flat was later the scene for Lapualaismorsian (‘Lapua bride’), a film which Aulikki (born 1944) took part in.

To me, with her blond, straight hair, she was like a beautiful, slender young filly, so I was not in the least surprised when her debut work included some enchanting horse symbolism. Her first book, an original, fresh collection of poems entitled Hevosen kuolema (‘Death of a horse’, 1966) gained immediate attention. More…

Two men in a boat

25 June 2014 | Fiction, Prose

The meaning of life, Bob Dylan, the broken thermostat of the Earth, the authors Ambrose Bierce and Aleksis Kivi…. Two severely culturally-inclined men set out to row a boat some 700 kilometres along the Finnish coastline, and there is no shortage of things to discuss. Extracts from the novel Nyljetyt ajatukset (‘Fleeced thoughts’, Teos, 2014)

The red sphere of the sun plopped into the sea.

At 23.09 official summertime Köpi announced the reading from his wind-up pocket-watch.

‘There she goes,’ commented Aimo, gazing at the sunken red of the horizon, ‘but don’t you think it’ll pop back up again in another quarter of an hour, unless something absolutely amazing and new happens in the universe and the solar system tonight!’

Aimo pulled long, accelerating sweeps with his oars, slurped the phlegm in his throat, spat a gob overboard, smacked his lips and adjusted his tongue on its marks behind his teeth. There’s a respectable amount of talk about to come out of there, thought Köpi about his old friend’s gestures, and he was right.

‘Sure thing,’ was Aimo’s opening move, ‘darkness. Darkness, that’s the thing. I want to talk about it and on its behalf just now, now in particular, while we’re rowing on the shimmering sea at the lightest point of the summer. More…

The private I? Me and my home

17 June 2014 | Reviews

Photo: Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin / Jaanis Kerkis

Art Nouveau with a modern twist. Photo: Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin / Jaanis Kerkis

Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin
[Keys to timeless Finnish interiors]
Design: Hanni Koroma, text: Sami Sykkö, photographs: Jaanis Kerkis
Helsinki: Gummerus, 2014. 123 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-20-9507-0
€32.90, hardback
Katja Lindroos
MOMO. Koti elementissään
[MOMO. The home in its element]
Photography: Riikka Kantinkoski, Niclas Warius
Helsinki: Siltala, 2013. 154 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-164-8
€32.90, hardback
www.momokoti.fi (in Finnish only)

‘Interior decoration’ has become an extremely popular pastime in Finland – as elsewhere where the standard of living allows it.

Innumerable magazines and blogs keep churning out photos of rooms with large white, cushioned sofas, glossy white kitchen cabinets and white floors on which furniture seems to float forlornly. Walls are decorated with wooden or metallic letters forming words: love; home, sweet home. In the kitchen the bread bin bears the word BREAD. (Bookcases, with actual books, are rare.)

Why is it that in our age which worships ‘individuality’, trends rule? More…