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Trial and error?

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

If you want to write, you need to do it every day, says the author Monika Fagerholm. Trial and error are necessary for her – and so is not being afraid of getting lost in the woods in the process, because only then can amazing things be found

Writers write and writers write every day. I remember seeing this in one of those inspirational guides on writing I enjoy reading – even if they don’t necessarily help you in pursuing your daily writing as much as you would hope. At the worst, they give you a kind of exhausting energy which just leaves you drained. And yes, turning to these kinds of manuals almost always involves an element of desperation; you don’t need advice when everything is going great. More…

Language and tongue

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Authors

Kristina Carlson on Maritta Lintunen’s short stories

‘What does he think I’ve told him? And how? Shell fragments took my tongue and half my jaw.’ These are the thoughts of a war veteran on hearing his sons speech of exaggerated praise for the heroic deeds of the war.

Maritta Lintunen is a music teacher by education. She has published novels, collections of short stories and poetry. Many of the characters in Lintunen’s short stories are bystanders in their own lives, and the situation in the title story ofthe collection Tapaus Sidoroff (‘The Sidoroff case’, WSOY, 2008) is particularly ironic. Lintunen turns the typical Finnish situation on its head: veterans want to reminisce, but the young cant be bothered to listen. The father sits at the festive hall like a crippled monument to heroism, and wonders why his son didn’t become a hippie like his peers and oppose the Vietnam War. But no: the son becomes an army officer and a public speaker, and the father is made a reluctant human model. The father’s ruminations run parallel with his son’s fiery speech. His war experiences are made into a common heroic interpretation of history – and they are false. But how can a man with half a mouth dispute it? More…

The Canada goose

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Tapaus Sidoroff (‘The Sidoroff case’, WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Kristina Carlson

It was no use even trying the old cart track branching from the main road. I turned off the engine and glanced into the back seat. My aunt lifted the brim of her hat, her bright eyes peering at me questioningly.

‘We can’t get any farther by car. The road’s nothing but rough brush. What do you think, Aunt Alli, can you walk the rest of the way?’

My aunt shook her head and didn’t even bother to answer. She opened the car door and clambered out. A swarm of black flies wafted into the air from the brush at the bottom of the ditch.

‘For heaven’s sakes, there’s sure enough of these flies.’

She fanned at the air with her hat, straightened the hem of her dress and trudged across the ditch, without looking back, through the thicket of willows. In spite of her hip trouble, the old woman made her way in such a hurry that I had my work cut out keeping up with her. More…

A feminist and a dreamer

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Authors

The Swedish-speaking minority culture of Finland provided an unlikely crucible for the literary modernism that was to reshape western poetry in the early 20th century. Clas Zilliacus introduces the life, work and times of Hagar Olsson (1893–1978), writer and feminist

Finland-Swedish modernism – the most cherished ‘ism’ and period in Finland-Swedish literature – began in 1916, the year in which both Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson published their first books: a collection of poems and a novel, respectively.

The principal feature of Södergran’s poetry is a tautly compressed treatment of poetic symbolism; her poems could cross the solar system, but were also able to find the key to life in the raspberry patch. The literary style of Hagar Olsson (1893–1978) had many more uses, but none of them were poetic. The two women became close friends in 1919 but, due to the distance between the poet’s home in Karelia and the critic’s in Helsinki as well as to Södergran’s illness and poverty, they mostly communicated by letters. Their correspondence: from 1919 to 1923, was published more than thirty years after Södergrans death from tuberculosis (1923) in the book Ediths brev (‘Edith’s letters’, 1955). More…

I, Vega Maria Eleonora Dreary

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Chitambo (Schildts, 1933)

I was born in 1893, of course. That, as everyone knows, is the proudest year in the history of Nordic polar research. It was the year in which Fridtjof Nansen began his world-famous voyage to the North Pole aboard the Fram. Mr Dreary viewed this as a personal distinction and a sign that fate had fixed its gaze on him. He at once took it for granted that I was destined for great things, and he showed much skill in fostering the same foolish idea in me…. More…

A hole in the landscape

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Authors

Tomi Kontio

Tomi Kontio. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Jukka Koskelainen on Tomi Kontio’s new poems

Tomi Kontio (born I966) has often depicted suburban life both scabrously and romantically, a rather rare combination in Finnish literature. Poetically heightened language is not usually connected with apartment-block districts, but Kontio has the ability to zoom from the milk carton on the kitchen table to the Milky Way. It has made him one of Finland’s most read poets.

In his debut volume, Tanssisalitaivaan alla (‘Under the ballroom sky’, 1993), Kontio had a tendency towards a freewheeling, painterly imagery. In Vaaksan päässä taivaasta (‘A span from heaven’, 2006), the volume before the present one, he wrote a series of short narratives about the hard side of living on a housing estate. Kontio has also published children’s books, among other things, and was awarded the Finlandia Junior Prize for his novel Keväällä isä sai siivet (‘In the spring father grew wings’, Tammi, 2000). More…

The sea so open

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Delta (Teos, 2008). Introduction by Jukka Koskelainen

Like wave-polished stones
we sit on a seashore rock, shading our eyes
from the sun, each other, the deltoid sails, the water.

You ask nothing more,
you know the sum of the angles of a triangle,
that you have your sides, as I do

sometimes they near each other
as if to penetrate each other, cut
a hole in the landscape.

A seagull settles on a crag,
without a glance aside, you’re up and disappear
from my side.

Sails, other sails.
the sea so open and the sky open. More…

An adventurer in history

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Authors

The most popular Finnish writer of the 20th century, Mika Waltari (1908–1979), was a prolific author whose historical novels were best sellers in other languages, too. Sinuhe egyptiläinen, The Egyptian, (1945) was filmed in 1950s Hollywood. In these extracts from her book on Waltari, the Czech translator and publisher Markéta Hejkalova takes a look at his life and his famous novels.

For Mika Waltari, but not just for him, the early 1920s ushered in a beautiful, intoxicating and youthful world that promised freedom, love and adventure after the horrors of the First World War. And yet the writers of the 1920s are sometimes referred to as a lost generation – maybe because the world failed to fulfil all their dreams; ideal love no longer existed, and they were all too often aware of the dark side of free love: syphilis, still an incurable disease at that time.


The mistake

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story (‘Erehdys’, 1956, last published in the collection Lukittu laatikko ja muita kertomuksia, ‘A locked box and other stories’, WSOY, 2003). Introduction by Markéta Hejkalová

My feet are smarter than my head. On an April night in Naples they carried me along the Via Roma past the royal palace and the giant illuminated dome of the church. The people of Naples walked up and down the immortal street like the cool of evening, looking at each other and at the brightly lit display windows. I had nothing against that, but at the comer of Via San Brigida my feet turned to the right. The snow-cold breath of my homeland radiated toward me from Saint Bridget Street.

When I had turned the corner I could see a restaurant window still lit, with its fruit baskets, dead fish and red lobsters. The most hurried diners had already finished their meals. I stepped into the long dining room of the restaurant, the sawdust on the floor stuck to my shoes, a frighteningly icy stare pierced me from behind the counter, but I gathered my courage and whispered bravely, ‘Buona sera, signora.’ More…

Works in progress

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

Olli Jalonen’s latest novel, 14 solmua Greenwichiin (’14 knots to Greenwich’, 2008), was 19 years in the making. He ponders the joys and tribulations of such a slow maturation

When you spend years or decades writing the same book, what is the drive, passion or compulsion that keeps the cogs turning through the quieter months? Or are the months when you don’t write silent at all? Isn’t it the case that the core of a text or a book is born out of a state of peaceful nothingness?

More often than not, the most important ideas, the strongest details and the sturdiest structures of the art of writing come into being somewhere other than at the computer keyboard. One of the greatest benefits and pleasures of a writer’s work is carrying that work around in mind and body. At these times the writing machinery is whirring, quietly, calmly, freely and unpressured. More…

Over the rainbow

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Poet, novelist and dramatist Juhani Peltonen (1941–1998) wrote about love, loneliness and melancholy in a manner uniquely distinguished by a playful gloominess, a sense for deeply gripping-comic tragedy and a virtuosic ability to mould language into any shape he pleased.

In his novel Maanäären viinitarhurit (‘The vintners of the ends of the earth’, 1976), Juhani Peltonen tells of the ‘atheistic Orthodox’, who are afflicted by an incessant wanderlust, but who never go anywhere. The atheistic Orthodox do not believe in God themselves, but they are convinced that the painters of the icons that adorn their beautiful churches must have seen God, if even just a glimpse.

This sort of coincidentia oppositorum, in which the longing for faraway places and homesickness combine as a melancholy wanderlust, symbolises the whole of Juhani Peltonen’s output.

The author of seven collections of poetry and seven novels, four plays and four collections of short stories, Peltonen debuted as a poet. He is best known for his novels and short stories, though he wrote those with his poet’s pen as well; reckless lyricism in even his declarative statements became his trademark. More…

Elmo’s fire

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Elmo (WSOY, 1978)

After returning to Finland and Kainalniemi, Elmo got to feel like a celebrity. The various sport clubs were insufferably keen on getting Elmo into their training rings, but Elmo rebuffed them. He had belonged to Kainalniemi Sweat since he was a little boy, and that was enough for him. His mind was occupied by other matters. In the end, even his mother and father began to wonder at his attitude.

‘Why don’t you just go, since they keep asking, and since you do seem to have some talent in that direction,’ his mother urged as she made Sunday coffee from the can Elmo had brought as a gift.

‘Right. Somewhere down the road you could snatch a few gold medals out from under the noses of the others, just for the hell of it,’ his father said. More…

Blocks and locks

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

For the writer, not being able to write is just one of the profession’s occupational hazards, says the author Eeva Kilpi. She recalls a particularly debilitating attack of the affliction, and offers suggestions for escaping it

I had no idea I was currently suffering from writer’s block until I was asked to describe the condition.

Now I feel – as I sit at my oId, muscle-powered, Facit typewriter – that a horror of words is the first and normal reaction every time I have to begin a piece (let alone a book). Words dart into hiding like a frightened flock of birds that has barely settled to rest. (And now I hear successful, prolific colleagues rushing to explain how easy it is to use a computer to correct mistakes and move entire paragraphs even from one chapter to another, but I am paralysed by the very thought of a flickering screen, ready and waiting, and of the fateful key by pressing which one may destroy an entire immortal manuscript, as I have heard has happened to some people.) More…

A hard day’s night

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Arne Nevanlinna. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY.

Arne Nevanlinna. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY.

Marie Myhrborgh was born in Strasbourg on the last day of the 19th century. A hundred years later she is living her last days in a Finnish nursing home. Her mind wanders, searching for a vanished time in the landscapes of her childhood and her later life in Finland, where she was brought by a hasty marriage, formed amid the clamor of the First World War.

In his first novel Marie (WSOY, 2008) Arne Nevanlinna follows his protagonist’s associations and reminiscences, creating comic and ironic, as well as tragic parallels between the eras and the cultures that it describes.

With her marriage, Marie’s life as a Frenchwoman under the authority of the Germans changes to that of an outsider in the narrow social circles of the Finland-Swedish gentry, which her outsider’s eyes see in an ironic light. More…

Dinner with Marie

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Marie (WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

For once, Marie decided to plan a dinner without the same old roast beef, boiled potatoes, peas, red wine and berry kissel. And particularly no game. The thought of rabbit reminded her of the hunting trip to Porpakka, the hounds puking up rabbit skins onto the parquet floor, the smell of singed birds, the feathers that turned up even weeks later in a corner of the kitchen, the buckshot in the goose that broke her tooth. Mind you, she had to admit that brown sauce was quite good, especially as an aspic. She had tasted a spoonful once the morning after it was made, when Martta had gone out to buy milk and Marja was cleaning the drawing room, and then Martta had come back quite suddenly, and Marie had panicked and swallowed it the wrong way and had a fit of coughing. ‘Good heavens,’ Martta had said, ‘what’s the matter? I just came back to get my purse. I forgot it on the sideboard.’

The true reason for the plan was that she wanted to show them what a real French formal dinner was like, how much better it was. She planned the menu secretly for months, first in her mind, then in writing, at her bedroom dressing table – the only place she had to herself, although the door wouldn’t lock – at first on wrapping paper, which she later burnt in the tiled stove in the dining room when no one was home. More…