The princess who quit

27 February 2014 | Authors, Interviews

Alexandra Salmela. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Alexandra Salmela. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Interview with Alexandra Salmela, whose second book, Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos, 2013), is for children – and for those adults who admit their silliness

Once upon a time there was a boy called Sulo. Just a normal lad, more a middle-of-the-road character than winner material. And not even always brave, let alone cheerful. An ordinary sprog isn’t enough for Sulo’s parents, so they take the boy to a child repair shop. There, new parts are fitted to children: virtuoso fingers, football-feet and angel-faces.

In addition to Sulo, Alexandra Salmela’s Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’) introduces us to the misunderstood Flabby Monster, Adalmiina, who wings through trees like an ape, and a father who absentmindedly loses his head. The work is the second book by Alexandra Salmela, who was born in Bratislava, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and now lives in Tampere.

A-L E: How did the idea of a story-book come up? More…

The party’s not yet over

14 November 2013 | Authors, Interviews

Minna Lindgren. Photo: XX

Minna Lindgren. Photo: Ville Palonen

Ordinary, boring, controlled life in an old folks’ home takes an interesting turn as crimes are committed. But daily tramrides in Helsinki, the virtues of friendship and general joie de vivre are enjoyed by 90-year-plus-old ladies who refuse to act as expected – as Bette Davis put it, old age is no place for sissies. Minna Lindgren is interviewed by Anna- Leena Ekroos

Welcome to Twilight Grove, a Helsinki home for the elderly – the bright, institutional lighting in its parlour creating an atmosphere like a dentist’s office, the odd resident dozing on the sofas, waiting for the next meal. The menu often includes mashed potatoes, easy for those with bad teeth. Residents seeking recreation are offered chair aerobics, accordion recitals, and crafts. A very ordinary assisted living centre, or is it? In Minna Lindgren’s novel, Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death at Twilight Grove’, Teos), the everyday life of a home for the elderly is the setting for absurd and even criminal happenings, suspicious deaths and medical mix-ups.

Anna-Leena Ekroos: You’re a journalist and writer. Formerly you worked for the Finnish Broadcasting Company. In 2009 you won the Bonnier journalism prize for an article of yours about the last phases of your father’s life, and his death. Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa is your first novel. How did it come into being?

Minna Lindgren: I’ve always known I was a writer but the mere urge to write isn’t enough for a novel – you have to have a meaningful story. The more absorbed I became in the life of the old, the more important it felt to me to write this story. Writing a novel turned out to be carefree compared to working as a journalist. Many of the stories I heard would have become bad social porn in the media, dissolved into banality, but in a novel they become genuinely tragic, or tragicomic, as the case may be. More…

Love and marriage

31 October 2013 | Authors, Interviews

Sanna Tahvanainen. Photo: Cata Portin

Sanna Tahvanainen. Photo: Cata Portin

Victoria, a lonely, restricted child, grows up to be a mother of nine; in the eyes of the world, she is enormously powerful. The love she feels for her husband is equally strong. In constant, troubled search of herself as a woman, Victoria lives a long life.
Sanna Tahvanainen’s character is a queen – but her novel, Bär den som en krona (‘Wear it like a crown’, 2013) a surprising, rich portrait of a woman, is almost completely lacking in descriptions of Victoria’s regal duties. This extract is set at the opening of the London International Exhibition of Industry and Art in 1851. Janina Orlov interviews the author.

JO: How did you decide on Queen Victoria? I remember you once commented that you only had a very general picture of her, but once you started rooting around you must have found a wealth of information.

ST: I didn’t make any sort of concrete decision to write a book about her; she fascinated me in a peculiar way. I would return to her every time I was working on a new collection of poetry; I’d already written so much poetry that there was almost a hint of routine about it all, this was something I could really get my teeth into. Because we know so little about Victoria’s childhood, I actually had quite a lot of freedom. Of course, there are reams of books about her! But I’ve never found a novel about her.

JO: How did you go about creating her voice? More…

Journeys to nearby places

18 April 2013 | Authors, Interviews

Virpi Talvitie & Katri Tapola. Photo: xxx

Workmates: Virpi Talvitie and Katri Tapola. Photo: Teos

Short texts and vibrant illustrations merge composing capricious situations in Katri Tapola and Virpi Talvitie’s adult picture book. Mahdollisuuksien rajoissa. Matkakirja (‘In the realm of impossibility. Travel book’, Teos, 2013) turns the ordinary pleasantly askew

It is a different kind of travel book: instead of faraway places, it explores things nearby, where our gaze and our thoughts don’t usually pause – the little things at the bottom of a pocket, in a dark closet full of outdoor gear, quiet moments in noontime traffic.

The travellers are perhaps Nobody in Particular, or somebody called Random. We keep on travelling, but we don’t get any farther than the corner store. What’s small becomes large, what’s supposedly large shrinks. Our self-image is off-kilter, there’s a hole in our CV, and the world is pleasantly tilted.

A-L E: The book is in the form of short prose – a page, half a page. What was it like to write these compact texts?

K T: I love having constraints; the short form is very rewarding. Focus and compactness make your whole life clear. And this has been good for me to learn because I’m naturally prone to long, extended forms of expression. More…

In the same boat

29 May 2012 | Authors, Interviews, Reviews

Pauliina Haasjoki. Photo: Tommi Tuomi

For the poet Pauliina Haasjoki, a writing process can begin in many ways, but particular periods – residencies, for example – are dedicated to writing. She attempts to create a cross-swell of influences in which she may read, watch movies, listen to music, have conversations and wander, collecting memories.

In the end, beginning to write becomes easy. Haasjoki may put music on to play, for example, for a certain time and use it to write ‘the poetry that belongs to that time, which sort of jostles there, waiting, because I have put it there.’

Haasjoki’s writing career began in Turku in the 1990s: she was studying literary theory at the university and was a witness to the birth of the poetic movement that developed there. Haasjoki has published five volumes of poetry, of which the latest,  Aallonmurtaja (‘Breakwater’), was published in 2011. More…

Movies and mores

16 April 2012 | Authors, Interviews

Tuuve Aro. Photo: Liisa Takala

Interview with Tuuve Aro, author of Himokone (‘Desire machine’): in these short stories she borrows titles and ambiance from the silver screen

A dark theatre, the smell of popcorn, expectation quivering in the air. Since childhood, the author and film critic Tuuve Aro (born 1973) has loved that magic moment when a new, exciting story is about to begin once again on the silver screen.

The stories in her fourth short story collection Himokone (‘Desire machine’, WSOY, 2012) have taken their names from films – Vertigo, Alien, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, for example. The book’s title comes from a certain Dr Samuel L. Brimstone, member of the ‘Royal Film Academy of Suffolk’: according to him, a film projector is a desire machine: it doesn’t give anything, it only shows, and for that very reason it is hard to resist. More…

Science and fiction

15 September 2011 | Authors, Interviews

Kristina Carlson. Photo: Tommi Tuomi

Interview with Kristina Carlson, author of William N. Päiväkirja (‘William N. Diary’, Otava, 2011)

‘Monsieur W. Nylander had died alone, his head resting against his desk. We’d known for a long while that your beloved relative was not well, but whenever he was walking along the street and someone enquired as to his health, he always replied that he felt fit and well.’

Finnish-born Monsieur William N. lives in Paris at the end of the 19th century. The grumpy old scientist spends his days studying lichens in his small, dusty apartment and writing bitter comments in his diary about the way of the world, all things meaningless, and the glory and reputation that he never achieved.

William Nylander (born Oulu, 1822 – died Paris, 1899) is a historical figure who truly existed, and the remarks quoted above are taken from a letter sent by William’s housekeeper to his sister Elise in Finland, but other than this William’s diary is entirely the work of Kristina Carlson. The hermetic botanist has now become the protagonist of a novel written in 2011. More…

Truths to tell

1 June 2011 | Authors, Interviews

Johanna Holmström. Photo: Irmeli Jung

‘In my writing I try to give as many angles as possible, and my agenda is to show that there’s not just one truth, that there are always several ways of seeing what one perceives at first sight. So I often have more than one main narrator. I constantly aim to question accepted truths. My stories always begin with indignation about something I feel I must write about. Fiction is a way of distancing oneself. After all, books are literary, invented things. When you work on the subject of a literary text it becomes less personal.’

This is how Johanna Holmström (born 1981) describes her approach to writing. Since her first collection of short stories published in 2003 she has produced a book every two years: three short story collections and one novel. Her books have been variously described as imaginative, committed and uncomfortable. Her short story ‘Stormen’ (‘The storm’) is a precisely observed account of a day when everything changes for its young protagonist.


One-night stand: an interview with publisher Leevi Lehto

17 September 2010 | Interviews

Leevi Lehto. Photo: Lotta Djupsund/Savukeidas

Founded by poet Leevi Lehto, ntamo is seen by many as the black sheep and enfant terrible of the world of Finnish publishing.

From its inception, ntamo (shortened from the word kustantamo, publishing company) has striven to subvert the familiar conservative models of publishing that audiences are used to.

Ntamo publishes books for small circulation, such as poetry and experimental prose. Its catalogue includes works both by celebrated writers, such as Kari Aronpuro, and by a whole host of authors making their literary debuts.

Lehto’s objective has been to publish as many books as possible, using a system of print on demand, and to have as little to do with the books’ content as possible. What’s more, ntamo’s publications are not marketed at all. Readers can find information on new publications by following the publisher’s blog [in Finnish only]. I met up with Lehto a while ago and we discussed ntamo’s current situation, new trends in the publishing world and the future of books and literature in general. More…

Challenged by colour

1 April 2010 | Authors, Interviews

Hannu Väisänen. Photo: Paula Kukkonen

Interview with Hannu Väisänen, author of the novel Kuperat ja koverat (‘Convex and concave’, 2010)

For the painter and writer Hannu Väisänen, colour speaks volumes.

In the novel Toiset kengät (‘The other shoes’, 2007, Otava) awarded the Finlandia Prize for Fiction), teenage wannabe artist Antero manages to escape his grey northern hometown of Oulu; he is heading for the eastern Finnish town of Savonlinna, where he will go to art college. Triumphantly Antero dyes his blond hair black in the bus station toilet.

‘Perhaps it was all a question of the right colours and the right timing of colours,’ Antero thinks. In Kuperat ja koverat (‘Convex and concave’, 2010), he leaves for the capital, determined to get into the academy of art. His hair is still black. More…

Animal instincts

23 December 2009 | Authors, Interviews

Roman Schatz. - Photo: Veikko xxx

Roman Schatz. - Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

Animals exist to make people rich. This wretched and wrong capitalist obsession is gleefully debunked in Roman Schatz’s first children’s book, with illustrator Pertti Jarla’s zany depictions of an animal revolution. Maria Antas interviews the author.

Zoo – eläimellinen tarina (‘The Zoo, a bestial story’, WSOY, 2009) is a children’s book that also appeals to the kind of adults who might love the exploits of John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline in the film Fierce Creatures – this book, like the film, is about attempts to make animals seem more dangerous and attractive to an ever more jaded audience accustomed to the pace of action movies.

Christmas is coming, and a dynamic new Zoo director wants to make an unprofitable zoo into a money spinner. The zoo’s inhabitants, however, refuse to be slaves to the market economy: led by an old Sumatran tiger called Gandhi, the militant mandrill Che, dreaming of revolution, and a bat named Mother Teresa who sees the world upside-down, the animals rise up in a wild, but ultimately non-violent, insurrection. Schatz’s story evokes 20th-century utopians, and the animals’ expressions, as visualised by illustrator Pertti Jarla, awaken the reader’s conscience and our  nearly forgotten ability to laugh at the way the world works. More…

Poetic excercises by the sea: Herbert Lomas (re)visited

21 November 2009 | Authors, Interviews

Down by the sea: Herbert Lomas in Aldeburgh. - Photo: Soila Lehtonen

Poet ahoy: Herbert Lomas in Aldeburgh. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

The prize-winning British poet Herbert Lomas has been translating Finnish poetry – much of it for Books from Finland – for more than thirty years. Soila Lehtonen, our Editor-in-Chief and his long-time collaborator, interviews him on the occasion of the publication of his collected poems, A Casual Knack of Living

The shoreline and the seaside promenade stretch out along the windy East Suffolk coast in Aldeburgh, where Herbert Lomas lives in a pink house called North Gable.

In summer thousands of tourists frequent the picturesque village, particularly during the music festival in June, founded in 1948 by the local composer Benjamin Britten. A poetry festival, too, takes place every autumn, this year for the 21st time.

Herbert – Bertie to those, like us at Books from Finland, who know him well – has just published a handsome tome of poetry, A Casual Knack of Living, containing poems from nine earlier collections plus a selection of previously unpublished poems, entitled Nightlights. The home of his publisher, Arc Publications, is in the village where he was born, 85 years ago, Todmorden in the Pennines. More…

In Darwin’s garden

3 September 2009 | Authors, Interviews

Interview with Kristina Carlson, author of Herra Darwinin puutarhuri(‘Mr Darwin’s gardener’, 2009)

Kristina Carlson. Photo: Tommi Tuomi

Kristina Carlson. Photo: Tommi Tuomi

Time: late 1870s. November. Place: the village of Downe, Kent, England. Villagers gather in the church on a rainy Sunday. Thomas Davies stays at home with his two children.

After the death of his wife, Thomas has been unable to get over his grief and anxiety. The villagers don’t approve of Thomas’s way of living – he isn’t sociable, keeps to himself, doesn’t go to church, and reads too many books. His employer is Charles Darwin: a famous – or notorious – man who writes too many books. ‘Mr Darwin lives here, and atheism is a worse threat than in the neighbouring villages,’ says Stuart Wilkes, voicing the views of the villagers.

Thomas is the central character in Kristina Carlson’s new novel, Herra Darwinin puutarhuri (‘Mr Darwin’s gardener’, Otava, 2009). Ten years ago her previous novel, Maan ääreen (‘To the end of the earth’), set in 19th-century Siberia, won the Finlandia Prize for Fiction.

As 2009 is the second centenary of Charles Darwin, the author of On the Origin of Species (published in 1859), the first question that comes to mind is whether this is coincidental or not… More…

Tough cookies

30 March 2008 | Authors, Interviews

Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen’s quirky duo Tatu and Patu delight readers of all ages. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

Once upon a time there were two remarkably round-headed, thin-haired brothers. They were named Tatu and Patu and their principal personal attributes were curiosity and adventurousness. In the boys’s hometown of Outola (‘Oddsville’), things were done a little differently from around here. So when the boys leave their stomping grounds on an expedition into our world, perplexity and amusing situations ensue. More…

Besotted with colour

30 June 2007 | Authors, Interviews

Hannu Väisänen

Photo: Otava/Petri Puromies

Colours, smells and sounds paint a vivid word-picture of a small, northern Finnish town in the 1950s in Hannu Väisänen’s first novel, Vanikan palat (‘The pieces of crispbread’, 2004; see Books from Finland 2/2004).

Little Antero, the novel’s protagonist, is an alter ego of the painter and graphic artist Hannu (born 1951). Antero has three brothers, a sister and an alcoholically inclined widower NCO father. The queue of potential stepmothers is a long and tragicomical one. The title of the novel refers to the stone-hard, thick rye crispbread produced for army consumption; the greyness of barracks life and a small town with incredibly harsh winters did not add up to a colourful life.

But Hannu became an artist to whom colour speaks. More…