Monday 28 February 2011


Q: When did you start creating stories?

A: I was making them up in my head before I could read or write. I started to keep a diary on my 7th birthday, and now I’m up to my 76th volume. My journal entries included story sketches sometimes. My first book was published when I was 12, the second when I was 17, and now I’ve been a professional writer since 1993. I would create stories even if nobody published them, because they’re both therapy and entertainment for me.

Q: How much is true and how much is fiction in your books?

A: The only things that are usually real are the places, the milieu. I like to use places I know, places I can go and watch, listen and even smell the character of the place. But the places aren’t only places; they all have a larger meaning. The place provides the atmosphere.

The characters and events are made up. I very seldom use things that have happened in the real life, and if I do, I mask them so nobody can recognize them. Sometimes reality has imitated my books, and that’s a bit creepy.

Q: Where do your characters’ names come from? Do you put a lot of thought into them?

A: A character can’t come alive without a proper name! I really do put a lot of thought into them. I read the name day lists on my calendar, I browse phone books, I visit old graveyards. Stuff like that. Names can be symbolic and reveal a lot about the people who choose them.

Many of the foreign characters’ names come from the figure skating world. It’s an inside joke.

Q: Mario Kallio is the protagonist in 11 of your books. Why did you create her?

A: She’s been living in my mind for nearly 20 years now. I had read every Finnish crime novel written by a woman before 1991 and was struck by the lack of professional female detectives in them. I wanted to write about a policewoman, because unlike other female characters who might solve a crime, she would have the power to question suspects and arrest people, but there would also be the tension of having to work within the law. She is not an alter ego, and she has no equivalent in real life: she’s a purely imaginary character. Despite that, many people think of her as a friend, and real policewomen have told me they see themselves in Maria.

I wanted to turn a new page on Finnish crime fiction by creating the first professional female protagonist, and it’s work out marvelously. I’m proud she has so many female colleagues in Finnish crime literature now.

Q: On the other hand, Hilja Ilveskero, the heroine in your new trilogy, is a bodyguard. How does she differ from Maria?

A: In most ways! She’s politically incorrect and gets herself into tight spots just because she likes danger. She’s isn’t shy or easily intimidated. A lot of the time she’s just driven by instinct, like her favorite animal, the lynx. She has a tragic past—her father killed her mother when she was four—and she’s still trying to come to grips with that.

Q: You write a lot about different political and social themes. Why is that?

A: I’ve always been intensely interested in politics, both global and local, with how political decisions affect everyday life. I don’t have any special message for my readers; I would rather make them think for themselves and pose questions than provide pat answers. My readers aren’t stupid. If there is one message, it’s that everyone is equal even though we’re all different. I also try to show that violence is never a good solution.

Q: What does language mean to you?

A: A lot, naturally. It‘s my tool, a way to express my feelings, to explore world. I get really frustrated with sloppy writing, and unfortunately you see that a lot in crime fiction. The best crime writers are as skilled with language as they are with plot development.

I try to create a special rhythm in my language, to make every sentence have an inner rhythm, like music. Finnish is a very rich language; we have lots of synonyms, and sometimes I even create new words myself, which can drive my translators crazy.

Q: You’ve also written other things besides crime novels. What and why?

A: Some stories fit the crime novel form, and some don’t. The storyline determines the way I tell it. I’ve written three non-crime novels, lots of short stories with and without murders, a couple of scripts for comic books, a stage play, some song lyrics and all sorts of essays. One thing I’m really proud of is the book I co-authored with the editor-in-chief of Taitoluistelu, Finland’s figure skating magazine. It’s a nonfiction book about figure skating and was chosen as the best sports book of 2010 in Finland.

I really want to keep learning as a writer, so maybe I’ll write a biography someday, and I would love to try to do an opera libretto.

Q: Do you read a lot, or are you afraid of other writers influencing your work?

A: I’m a total book junkie! There’s no way I could live without books. I read all different kinds of books, including children’s books, all sorts of nonfiction, academic research and even cookbooks. I feel that for a prose writer, it’s very important to read poetry. It’s like yoga for your language.

I’m not afraid of my colleagues influencing me; I think I have my own voice that nothing is going to take away. There’s no way I could name one favorite author, or even ten, but there are books that have a special place in my library and in my heart.

Q: Writing is a difficult and insecure profession. What do you do to relax? What are your main interests and passions?

A: Because writing is mostly sitting behind a desk, I try to move a lot when I’m not working: jogging, cross-country skiing, Nordic walking, yoga, sailing. I like to be outdoors. My passions are figure skating, which I follow closely and write articles about, Finnish ramopunk music – punk rock inspired by the Ramones - and cats. Currently we have two, but whenever I meet a cat, I greet it as an old friend.

nigel's note - I love the idea of Finnish Ramopunk. Can you recommend any bands for me?

1 comment:

  1. Leena- that was very interesting. I particularly liked the insight you had on the importance of character's names. Best of luck!