Kati Hiekkapelto: ‘I have visited so many cultures, minds and emotions through reading’
‘I don’t particularly like doing background research. I would love just to imagine everything. However, since I write about police work, I have to get the facts straight’
Kati Hiekkapelto: When I wrote my books I had a short message in my phone that popped up every time I turned it on. It read: ‘You can do it!’ Now I can proudly think: Yes, I did!
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
Papillon. I was about 12 when I read it. A good story about inhuman prison conditions and escaping inmates – it made a deep impression on me.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved poems by Kirsi Kunnas and stories by Elina Karjalainen. All of Astrid Lindgren’s book were favourites, too.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
There are far too many to name just a few… I always feel bad – a little like a traitor – if I have to choose just a few. At a push, I’d say Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Nadeem Aslam’s Wasted Vigil and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, and many, many Finnish books.
What is your favourite quotation?
I don’t really quote – mainly because I can never remember any of the good ones. The same with jokes!
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Pippi Longstocking. As a child, I would dream that I was Pippi – and that I could fly.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
Flann O’Brien perhaps.
Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
I always read print. I like the touch of the book, the smell of the paper, the sound when turning pages.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
Neko by Rosa Liksom and Klaus Haapaniemi. It is an amazingly, beautifully illustrated tale about Japanese samurai culture, justice, freedom and love.
Where and how do you write?
I write in my house, which is a typical old Finnish farmhouse, built in 1844. I usually start in the morning and work for about four hours. After that I check my emails and do other things, like background research. Sometimes I go away for a week, to my aunt’s cottage in Lapland or somewhere, to be able to write and immerse myself in my book in peace – day and night.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
A Clockwork Orange.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
I don’t particularly like doing background research. I would love just to imagine everything. However, since I write about police work, I have to get the facts straight. I’ve read the laws concerning police and I’ve met and interviewed many police officers. I have my contacts in Finnish police force and if and when I need to know something, I can get a pretty instant answer. At the moment I’m waiting for permission to visit a prison in Subotica, Serbia. I need to get inside for my next novel. I’m going to travel to Serbia this year to write and research.
What book influenced you the most?
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
James Joyce’s Ulysses. It would be a great gift! But maybe A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man would be cooler for that age.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. An absolutely stunning piece of art!
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Believe in yourself and your work even it is hard sometimes (or almost all the time). Show your writing to someone, but don’t be dragged down by critcism. Always have a piece of paper and a pen with you, especially beside your bed. Be honest with yourself and true to your values. Don’t give up. Read, read and read.
What weight do you give reviews?
They are important, of course, but I try to be relaxed about them. I have a simple attitude: I’m happy about the good ones and ignore the shitty ones. After all, you can’t please everyone – ever.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
I don’t think about it much, but I really hope it is not going the way music business did.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
Tweeting. I just don’t get it but I’m working on it!
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
I have visited so many universes, countries, cities, cultures, homes, bodies, minds and emotions through reading that it is impossible to mention anything particular. I have learned life. I have experienced almost everything, even things that are beyond our reality, by simply lying in bed with a book. Isn’t that amazing!
What has being a writer taught you?
Patience, perseverance, tolerance of uncertainty. A combination of diligence and laziness is crucial. I have learned the importance of stretching my back and moving my ass every half an hour when writing.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Charles Bukowski, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Georges Sand and Rumi. Ha ha! That would be a cool party!
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
Probably something from a book like Jokes for Schoolchildren. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any of them (see above).
What is your favourite word?
Hangya. It is an ant in Hungarian. I like how it feels to pronounce it; it is soft and warm.
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
Something about Jesus’s girlfriend?
What sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?
I’m proud of every punk song I’ve written. And even though I’m not satisfied with every sentence in my two books, I’m really proud of them both. When I wrote them I had a short message in my phone that popped up every time I turned it on. It read: ‘You can do it!’ Now I can proudly think: Yes, I did!
What is the most moving book or passage you have read?
Poets by Edith Södergran, who was a Swedish-speaking Finnish poet who wrote in the early 1900s. I read a lot of poems and I find many of them more touching and moving than prose.
If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?
I have read my children so many books it’s a miracle I still have a voice. I particularly enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, although it took quite a long time to read it aloud. The Harry Potters and all my own childhood favourites, including Pippi Longstocking, were fun to read.
Kati Hiekkapelto is a bestselling, award-winning Finnish author, punk singer, performance artist and, formerly, special-needs teacher. She lives on an old farm on the island of Hailuoto in northern Finland (which has been in her family for hundreds of years) with her children and sizable menagerie. Here she is currently setting up an asylum for artists in danger, and houses asylum seekers. Hiekkapelto has taught immigrants and lived in the Hungarian region of Serbia, which inspired her to write her highly-regarded debut crime novel, The Hummingbird. Its sequel, The Defenceless, won Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year in 2014, and was published by Orenda Books earlier this month. Both books are translated by David Hackston