10 Questions: Helena Halme
- What is your favourite Finnish food?
This is such a difficult question because I love all Finnish food and miss it in London! But I think I must go with rye bread. You cannot get anything like Reissumies in the UK.
- What is the best time of day to write, and where?
I can write almost anywhere, but I do particularly love to write on a train or a plane. Being in transit seems to fire my imagination. On a daily basis, however, I write best in the morning in my small home office in London. If I can sit down at 6 am and write for three to four hours, I’m a happy bunny.
- Your eighth novel, The Island Affair, has just been published. The story is the first in a new series of novels set in Åland. What does Finland mean to you and your writing?
All my books are set in Finland and the UK and deal with displacement and living in another country, and that’s where I draw most of my inspiration from. I love to take my readers on a trip around Finland and have featured Tampere, Helsinki and even Lapland in my books.
- What is your favourite word in Finnish?
Another difficult question! I adore many Finnish words because so many are onomatopoeic. But I guess (today) my favourite word is hiljaisuus. It means silence.
- You offer mentorship to your fellow writers. What is the best way to overcome writer’s block?
A writer’s block is often a question of confidence, which shows itself in a lack of inspiration. The best way to overcome this is to do research into the subject matter of the book (if you have one!). If you can leave your writing room and go to a library or a museum, so much the better.
Another way to overcome the dreaded block is to remind yourself that the first draft is just that: a draft. Nobody is going to see those first words you’ve written, so let it rip and don’t worry about the critical inner voice telling you everything on that screen (or paper) is rubbish. It’s impossible to edit an empty page. Often, it’s good to set yourself a time, from as little as five minutes, and just write what comes to your head. Slowly, a story will emerge.
- What inspires you?
I get inspiration from my personal experiences or stories in the news and in magazines. As I mentioned before, my native Finland inspires me, and in general travel is hugely important to me. I work from home, so anything that takes me out of that office gets my creative juices flowing. At the moment, I’m in Arizona and find myself plotting a story set in the incredible landscape around me.
- Where is the best place to visit in Finland during the summer?
You should definitely go to Finland in the summer and explore the archipelago. The islands surrounding Helsinki are beautiful and can be reached via small ferries. There’s also the Åland Islands, which lie between Finland and Sweden (it’s where my latest book is set). You can take one of the large ships to Mariehamn, but you can also travel by car from Turku. This journey takes a few days, but you will see all the smaller islands along the way and can stay in tiny hotels which are all run by locals and very, very quirky.
- The digital age means that more writers can find an audience than perhaps ever before. Is this a good thing?
More books encourage reading, which is an excellent development in my view. Digital books are also good for the environment. It’s a sad fact that almost half of all printed books end up in a landfill. With print-on-demand, that figure is diminishing, but printing on paper still takes trees away from forests. As a Finn, I have a very special relationship with trees. I know that paper manufacturing is now highly sustainable in most countries, but I’d still rather no trees were felled unless necessary to maintain a healthy forest.
That being said, I adore printed books. There’s the smell, the feel of them, the convenience of being able to take a book into the bath or to the beach without worrying about the water or getting sand inside your e-reader. As a compromise, about 20 per cent of the books I read are paperbacks and the rest I buy to read on my Kindle.
- Your novels combine elements of Nordic Noir and romance. What is it about Nordic Noir that appeals to so many people around the world these days?
I’ve heard people say that there’s something about bright red blood on white, virgin snow, but I think the popularity of Nordic Noir goes deeper than that. The reputation of the Nordic countries is of a well-adjusted and affluent society, so it’s intriguing to find that there are people who commit murder and do other nasty deeds there too.
There’s also a certain pared-down, direct style in the storytelling, which appeals to many readers and viewers in a world with a diminishing attention span.
- If you could only take one thing with you to live on a deserted island, what would it be?
You guessed it: I’d take a book. It’d have to be a really thick novel, or collection of works, if that’s allowed. I really cannot imagine life without reading, and I guess I could – if in a tight spot – use the pages to light a fire. That would have to be a real emergency, though!
The Island Affair is available to buy online and in bookshops.