For all those interested in crime stories or for future writers among you, a few questions to the Finnish bestselling author Leena Lehtolainen. Leena Lehtolainen was born in Kuopio on March 11, 1964. She went to school in Outokumpu, read the 5th and 6th grade the same year and graduated from school 1982, then studied literature and theatre sciences in Helsinki University; she is now licentiate of philosophy. Her best known books are the series around police commissioner Maria Kallio.
When did you start writing? I got my first diary when I turned seven, and since then I have been writing. But I created stories in my head even earlier.
Did your parents or someone else encourage you? My parents taught Finnish at upper grade and high school, so there were lots of books at my home, but they have led me to write very independently
Where do you get your inspiration from? Are the books based on some real events? There is often a question or a theme which inspires me, but sometimes I can´t even name where the first idea comes from. None of my books are based on real events, only some small details.
Do you have sometimes writer’s block and what are you doing against it? There are better and worse days. I have learned that if writing goes badly, it is better to stop, go out, do some housework etc. Then the ideas come back when you are not actively thinking about writing.
Do you always have fun while writing? I have, most of the time, but of course, when I write about horrible things, it can also be very hard. I have to find the evil inside me and then write about it.
How long does it normally take you to write a book? The journey from the first ideas to the printed book lasts normally three to four years. I plan a lot beforehand, get to know my characters, visit the milieus, talk to different experts. The writing process itself is about a year.
Where do you like to write? Why? At home, behind my desk, when I am alone. There it is easiest to concentrate. But I can also write in trains, busses, hotel rooms, airport lobbies – if necessary.
When do you like to write? Why? I have so far had very bourgeois timetable, because of my children´s schedule, so I have mostly written daytime. I think I am most effective between 3 and 7 PM.
Do you write with or without a plot? I do have a plot, a kind of synopsis, but of course I don´t know everything that will happen during the book, because it would be very dull to write without any surprises.
Do you first create the characters or the plot? They come together. At first, there is a theme or a question I want to inspect. I often think what kind of characters the book will need and create them according to that. I love finding the right names for the persons!
Do you write about subjects you like to write or does it sometimes depend on the market? I only write about the subjects that interest me. I simply can’t do otherwise.
When will your next book come out and what will it be about? I am writing the twelfth novel about Maria Kallio, but it is still work in progress, not even half way ready. If everything goes ok, it should come out next autumn.
Which of the books you wrote you like most? I really can’t say. All are important in their own way.
Do you always like the books you wrote or not? I always like something about them, but I have not written a perfect book yet… If I would feel like that, I should stop writing.
How well do you know your own characters and how do you like them? I know them quite well, I know more about them that I tell in the books. I like to write about people, who are not easily likeable, they are often more interesting than the nice people.
What are the downsides of being an author? No one else can do your job for you! If you are sick and can’t write, you can´t get a replacement for you. And it is in a way a very insecure job, you never know if you are going to finish the next book and how it will be received.
When ”Maria Kallio” got filmed, did you have a say in the writing of the screen script? I met the producers, the script writer and later the directors and actors. My attitude to all the dramatizations is that if I can help the team, I will be glad to do so, but they are professionals in their jobs, not me.
How much free time do you have and what do you like to do? I can have lots of free time, because I can basically decide how I use my time! Because my work consists of sitting behind the computer, I like to move, do things like jogging, Nordic walking, mushroom picking, cross-country skiing and sailing. I read a lot, travel abroad, go to the theatre and to different kinds of concerts. I also sing myself.
How would you describe yourself? I am a person who likes to be alone, which is good for a writer. I have a very passionate attitude towards my work and also many things like music, figure skating, nature and especially cats. We have two of them, Tauno and Miutsi.
Are there any similarities between you and the characters in your books? I have divided myself between so many of my characters that it is not easy to say this clearly. There is a part of me in Maria Kallio, in Hilja Ilveskero, in many characters of the non-crime novels and short stories… And of course, all the murderers come from the black depths of my own soul.
Who is your favorite author and why? It is totally impossible to name only one, or ten… The authors I read often over again are for example Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, Hella Wuolijoki and Henry Parland. I think the main reason is the interesting characters.
Can you give us some tips on how to become a writer? You have to write! It is like sport: even if you have talent, you need to practice it. Try many styles and forms to find your own voice. I also recommend reading a lot. Reading is educational. Be open and curious, and trust to your own talent!
Valerie Berger, 12EKlNon SolumSyksy 20123.12.2012