Why Finland is a Fictional Wonderland

I’m delighted to welcome Joel Willans to the blog today – he’s a long time friend of the blog and a writer I’ve admired for a while now. His collection, ‘Spellbound-Stories-of-womens-magic-over-men1Spellbound: Stories of Women’s Magic Over Men‘ is out now and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. And its cover’s pretty bloody wonderful, don’t you think?

So, here’s Joel talking about living in Finland and how it’s affected his writing. I’ve also got two copies to give away – simply pop a comment below and I’ll draw the names in a week’s time. Over to Joel…

Northern Exposure: Why Finland is a fiction wonderland

Ask most people outside of Scandinavia what they know about Finland and you’ll get one answer. It’s damn cold. It might not be much, but at least it’s true. There aren’t many places on earth where your eyelashes freeze together and your beard turns into crunchy icicle moss after just five mercury-bashing minutes outside.

Still, despite this chill factor, it’s the place I’ve called home for the last eight or so years, and it’s the place that’s helped me to write my first short story collection, Spellbound: Stories of women’s magic over men. I’m not saying every budding novelist or short story writer should jet over to the Land of a Thousand Lakes (187 thousand to be exact) but it worked for me. Here’s why.


The winter

You think winters are long where you are? Try living on the top of the world, where the Winter's Teethearth spins at a tilt. The darkness just goes on and on and on. In Helsinki, during the Winter Solstice, the sun rises around 9.30 and calls it a day by about 3pm. For the vast majority of professions this sucks. Going to work in the dark, then getting home in the dark makes you feel like one of the undead.

For writers, however, it’s fantastic. No distractions, no desire to leave the cosy confines of your writing den, no mates tempting you with the offer of lunchtime beers. Rather than wince at the glare from your computer screen, you bask in its rich, chemically induced light and semblance of warmth, and thank it for giving you an excuse to stay indoors.


The way of life 


In many ways the Finns are a magical people, and it’s easy to see why they were the inspiration for Tolkien’s elves (my wife even has the pointed ears). For a start, it’s only in the last one hundred and fifty years or so they’ve properly moved out of the forest, and they still seem totally at home chillin’ in the wilderness. This independence has produced the characteristic they’re most proud. Called Sisu, it loosely translates as strength of will or acting rationally in the face of adversity. It’s a bit like having a stiff upper lip in minus twenty-five. Imagine waking up to find your car buried in snow, every single day, and digging it out without so much as a “bloody hell”.

While admirable, it’s not the Finns’ sisu that has most benefited me as a writer, except perhaps in the early days when my stories were still read despite being breathtakingly bad. It’s their incredible honesty. When you read a story to a Finn and they think it’s rubbish, they tell you. It’s impossible for them to do otherwise. It’s probably this characteristic that makes Finland consistently top Transparency International’s list of the least corrupt countries and Finns such fantastic critics.


The wilderness

I’m Suffolk born and bred. For anyone who’s been to East Anglia it’s easy to see why wildernesswe’re known as tractor boys and carrot crunchers. I’m happy to admit I’ve driven a farm vehicle and eaten root vegetables, quite possibly at the same time. If you read Spellbound, you’ll see my countryside upbringing runs as clearly through its pages as newly ploughed furrow. Turns out, though, I’m not so rustic as I thought.

In Suffolk there are one hundred and ninety two people living in every square kilometer. In Finland there are sixteen. While Suffolk is like a beautiful well-kept garden, Finland, the least densely populated country in the EU, is bear-might-eat-you wilderness. What this means for writers is that you don’t have to go to a craggy fisherman’s cottage in Cornwall or a converted windmill in Cork for some solitude. You just go for a walk.

The women

To write a short story collection about women’s magic over men, you need to like women, and I’m one of their biggest fans. Putting aside the obvious animal instincts, Womenwhich leave us men so easily enchanted, I really enjoy women’s ways of thinking. In fact, I’m strongly of the opinion the world would be far less screwed up if women were at the helm. Most of the female characters in Spellbound epitomise this philosophy. Simply put, they don’t take any shit.

Many of these female characters are Finnish, and it’s no coincidence they fit so comfortably into these roles. Finland was the second country in the world to give women the vote. It was the first country in the world to simultaneously have a female president and prime minister. And it was the first place I ever saw a women kill a fish with her bare hands. Finnish women are beautifully hardcore and one in particular has been the best critic, muse, editor and fish slaughterer any man could ask for.

Is the end result of all this darkness, honesty, solitude and female company any good? I hope so, but the only way I can truly tell is if you read my book and let me know. Signed, thermally wrapped, copies from the far north can be found right here.

Image credits: Gravem + Petteri Sulonen


Don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d like to win in with a chance of winning yourselves a copy.

32 Comments on “Why Finland is a Fictional Wonderland

    •  by  nikperring

      Congratulations, Liesl! Your name was the first out of the hat. I’ll send you an email to get your address so I can arrange to have a copy of Joel’s book sent to you. Nik

  1.  by  Valje

    Finns love to read about other peoples opinions of them. I am no exception 😛 All this is mostly very true and the book seems interesting. I may even have to get my hands to it.

  2.  by  Dan Powell

    Great cover and interview. The collection sounds top. My wife and I honeymooned in Finland. A week spent staying in a cabin in the woods on the edge of a lake. It was the height of summer so we missed the long nights and the snow but we loved our all too brief stay. It’s a country we’d love to revisit.

  3.  by  Jason Lee

    Wonderful insight. As an aspiring writer, I have also dreamed of moving out of the US in hopes to find a more writerly place. Finland seems a good place to consider!

    •  by  nikperring

      Congratulations, Jason! I’ve just pulled your name out of the hat. I’ll send you an email so I can get your address so I can arrange for a copy of Joel’s book to be sent to you. Enjoy the holidays!

    •  by  nikperring

      I agree, Claire! Don’t buy the book just yet though – I”ll pop your name into the hat for the draw to win a free copy!

  4.  by  CW

    The power of perspective! I’m sitting here in Oslo with my feet to the radiator and a newfound appreciation of the dark season. Thank you! 🙂

  5.  by  Doug Stillinger

    I have to say, that is one BRILLIANT book cover design. Very nicely complements the title, too. Great work, anonymous graphic designer.

    As for the article: I think a lot of what’s mentioned applies to places like Canada, northern England, etc. The artistic, musical, and comedic output of the former, especially, is impressive. And probably for similar (though less extreme) reasons.

  6.  by  Pirta Karlsson

    Thanks for a big laugh!
    Still to mention the summers when you don’t have to (or can’t) sleep at all 🙂

  7.  by  Carla Curtis

    I have not visited Finland yet, but looking at this post, I believe that Finland is one of the best places around the world to visit.

    •  by  nikperring

      Finland sounds like a perfect place to visit, Carla! Thanks for coming over here. I’ll pop your name into the hat for the draw

  8.  by  Mark E. Johnson

    I spent a year in the Canadian Rockies and became thoroughly smitten with cold, wild places. Finland just made my ‘to-visit’ list. Thanks.

  9.  by  Kimmo Huima

    Oh, how I like Joel’s sence of humor and way of looking this absurd world! We’re neighbors and I had a short chat with him this afternoon. Then I didn’t know about this collection, but I’m sure I’ll read it in near future. I’m also married and finn, who love to hear what other people think of them, so it’s practically impossible to pass Joel’s book.

  10.  by  Mikko

    Wonderful to hear that people actually like the long darkness here in Finland – I mean people who have moved in here from elsewhere and are used to there being more daylight out there. Me as a native Finn have never liked the lack of sunlight. Snow and coldness are okay, but the darkness is killing me slowly. I kinda want to move out of here, but I guess the grass isn’t greener elsewhere either, every place on the face of earth has its downsides.

    But there’s one thing I wouldn’t change about Finland, ever: the summer is just perfect. Not too hot yet still warm enough, and there’s always light around! It doesn’t bother me that the sun doesn’t really set, but maybe it’s because I’m so fed up with the lack of sun during winters. I know there are a lot of Finns that beg to differ with me, but then again I know I’m not alone with this.

    I like your analyze on how the darkness relates to us being the way we are – even though I’m not a woman myself – I hadn’t really thought of it like that, the lack of light having such an effect!

  11.  by  Sherri

    What a fascinating article. The only thing I really know about Finland is their F1/rally drivers – and their amazing supporters. It sounds like a fantastic and inspiring country and I want to go now, too.
    Oh – the book sounds great as well !

  12.  by  Johnna Crider

    I have friends from Finland, several of my favorite artists and musicians are from there and I would love to live there one day..

  13.  by  Taisto Leinonen

    Just for the record, Finland was the first country on this globe to grant full parliamentary suffrage to women in 1906. New Zealand consistently boast to be the first. in fact, they gave women access to the parliament as late as the 1920’s (Australia for aboriginals 1962).

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