Other Voices, Other Genres: Heikki Hietala

Continuing on with my drive to introduce you to new voices writing in genres other than erotic fiction, it’s my pleasure to introduce Heikki Hietala, a Finnish writer of literary and historical fiction.

When did you start writing?

I’ve always liked writing, but it was in April 1996 that I got the urge to write something bigger than a school essay. At the time I did not know what it would turn out to be, but I started a project (didn’t call it a book until years later) and worked on it intermittently for years. It took me ten years of research and writing in spare moments, but the project finally became a historical fiction novel called “Tulagi Hotel”. It was published in 2010 and reissued in 2011. My short story production began in 2008, out of the blue again, and I have since that finished about 40 stories and published a collection, “Filtered Light and Other Stories”, in 2012.

What does writing do for you?

It helps me unwind, and as I am one of the old skool storytellers, it lets me tell stories that form in my head without asking (sometimes without my consent even). Mostly my topics pop up in the back of the neck just before I go to bed, and then I can work on them in the morning traffic and other times when I have a few moments. It has brought me into contact with dozens of interesting people around the globe, such as yourself, and I’ve made many friends through writing.

Who do you write for? Who is your model reader?

I write for someone like myself. I like my books well researched, well written, and with a captivating storyline. While I am not saying I manage to do that myself, I’ll say that Nevil Shute, Ernest Hemingway, and Arthur C. Clarke have influenced me very much, as has Robert Harris. His books, “Fatherland” and “Enigma” in the forefront, are to me the epitome of research, plot, and pace.

If you had to point to five books that changed you significantly, what are they and how have they changed you?

The first is “Sinuhe the Egyptian” by a Finnish author, Mika Waltari. He wrote a parable of World War II in 1945, setting it in ancient Egypt, and managed to produce a book of great stature and acute observations on the futility of aspiring to power. Then there’s Stanislaw Lem’s immortal book of cyber fairytales, “The Cyberiad”. From him I have learned that you can write a story of any idea, no matter how silly, as long as you work on the craft and hone it to perfection. Martin Middlebrook’s nonfiction books on the air war of WWII set a standard of research for me that I will forever try to meet. My short story work is influenced by Roald Dahl (“Over to You”) and Robert Heinlein, whose “October Country” remains one of my favorite books that I read again and again.

Who is your favorite fictional character and why?

That would have to be Trurl in “The Cyberiad”. He, and his colleague Klapaucius, are inventors who travel the Universe and invent whatever is needed. Usually they get hired by kings and princes who want to enhance their own stature. Trurl is the more positive of the two, and he always tries to help whoever asks for his assistance, whereas Klapaucius is a cynical person. Still, together they create a magical world with such wonder that the reader is left breathless many times. Few fictional characters are this strong.

Are you more a plot driven or character driven writer?

That depends fully on the work at hand. I have some short stories where the plot runs the show, but in my novel, everything hinges on the personal growth and development of the main character, Jack McGuire. I seldom can tell beforehand which way it will go, by the way. I have to start the story, and then I can see after the first few paragraphs, what will happen this time. I love the way some authors can invent plots that keep you on the edge of your seat, and then again, how authors like John Updike can have such utterly believable characters as those in the Rabbit books. It remains to be seen how people see my work, but I hope they see I aimed at some sort of balance between the two, most of the time.

What is your latest work? Where did the seed of the idea for the book come from?

My latest work is a 18 story collection of short fiction, “Filtered Light and Other Stories”. It has nine speculative fiction stories, and the remaining eight are memoir-based, flash fiction (below 500 words), humor, and real life. I’ve always liked speculative fiction, not of the type where the ghost appears ex machine and vampires meet zombies, but rather more delicate stories. The need to write speculatively arose from my first short story, “The Summerhouse”, where the ghost of a dead man comes to visit his beloved summer cottage one last time. Again, this is not one that aims to scare, but rather to raise thoughts on what really happens at the moment of passing beyond time and space. This is a recurring theme with me.

Do you have some plans for the next one?

I am working on two books. One is based on the idea of a 3D model of a hospital that becomes haunted (I am not sure if that is a Young Adult book or a mainstream horror book), and the other is a more introspective book, based on my experiences when I was coming home from my book launch in Londion, 2010, and had to take the train to Finland instead of flying because of the Icelandic ash cloud. Both progress slowly, as I still have some 20 short stories in the works, and I hope to get another volume of my short stuff out in maybe a year. I am also a very sporadic writer, much due to my work as a University lecturer. There simply is not time to keep a steady output. Luckily my publisher, Diane Nelson of PfoxChase, is very understanding.

Heikki’s blog is here. His novel, Tulagi Hotel is available here. You can follow him on twitter

  7 comments for “Other Voices, Other Genres: Heikki Hietala

  1. July 11, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Many thanks for having me here, RG!

  2. mikey2ct
    July 11, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    RG, your guest’s interview brought back a milestone in my life. I saw The Egyptian in the movies and then read the book, borrowed from my public library. It spurred my interest in archaeology and cuneiform. I even bought my own copy of The Book Of The Dead and I currently subscribe to Biblical Archaeology Review, Archaeology,and Smithsonian.

    Thank you,


    • July 13, 2012 at 12:50 am

      Glad to hear you’ve read Waltari, Michael. He has other books translated into ENglish, such as The Etruscan. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mika_Waltari and have a peek into his other books.

      • mikey2ct
        July 13, 2012 at 6:52 am

        I’m aware of wiki entry, Heikki. I started an email to you yesterday that I haven’t finished yet.

  3. July 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    There you go. I learnt a few things I didn’t know about my Finnish friend. Thanks for interviewing him.

    • July 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      It was my pleasure. He did all the work. But I learnt a few new things about him too!

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