‘If you want to tell the truth, you must start writing fiction’

‘If you want to tell the truth, you must start writing fiction’

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 27 January, 2018
Minna Lindgren. Photo: Stefan Bremer
Finnish author and journalist Minna Lindgren speaks to Bhumika Popli about the tradition of crime writing in northern Europe, her own trilogy of crime novels, and her first ever India visit.

Your first two books, part of the trilogy called The Lavender Ladies Detective Agency, were quite successful commercially. Tell us about your next novel in this series, which is entitled The End of Sunset Grove.

A. In the final book, The End of Sunset Grove the old ladies move back to the Sunset Grove which has been fully renovated as a state-funded pilot project of monitorised senior care. This means there are no human beings working anymore, just different kinds of technology. Some volunteers come and go; they represent an extreme religious group which mainly aims at getting funds and testaments from the old people. Naturally, this is too much for the ladies who solve the problem of over technologised modern society in their own way.

Q. Could you talk to us about the key factors you had in mind, in terms of plot and characterisation, before you began writing this trilogy?

A. My focus was in the characters (lively, humorous, curious, active and happy old people), and on the severe problems we have in Finland (and many other countries) when people tend to live longer than before. A terrible story told in a hilarious way.

My aim is to be both entertaining and severe. The plot is actually not my main focus. I concentrate on the characters, situations and dialogue. If the characters are good, you can tell anything with them, as the reader wants to spend time with them. When writing about 94-year-old people, I wanted them to be real oldies, not just funny ladies. A person is always the same person, whether 32, 55, 74 or 93 years old.

When looking at modern Finnish society with the eye of someone almost 100 years old, everything looks rather silly—you get perspective. They are people who never used a computer or a mobile in a country where you cannot pay a bill without the Internet. There has been a lot of discussion about old people in Finland after my books. I think that is excellent—that is one function of literature, in fact. But political discussions tend to be only talk about money. I do not believe the solution for better senior years is money. No. We have to change our attitudes, and that does not cost anything. This is something literature can do.

My point is also to remind the readers that being old can be a lot of fun. Too many people are afraid of becoming old.

Q. Could you lead us through your writing process? Do you begin with a specific ending in your mind, or do you let the story take its natural course?

A. I guess I have a plot ready when I start, also the protagonists. But what happens on the way from point A to B is always full of surprises to me.

Q. Tell us something about the tradition of crime writing in Finland.

A. The tradition is quite similar to the more internationally famous Nordic Noir, which means mainly Swedish and Norwegian writers and Danish TV drama. The crime is actually not the focus; more important is the critical view of society.

Q. Why do you think crime writing has flourished so in northern Europe, a paradox when you come to think that it is also one of the most crime-free regions in the world?

A. I can give you two reasons. 1) The constant social criticism. We are never satisfied with the system, which means we can make it even better. This is the reason for Nordic welfare, I believe. 2) The weather. It is always terrible. That is a good dramatic background for black crime stories!

Q. Do you derive your material from the real world? Or is it all a figment of your imagination?

A. Oh, yes. I am a journalist, as quite many authors are. So I wrote a lot of articles about healthcare and old people before I decided to write fiction. As you know: if you want to tell the truth, you must
write fiction.

Q. You have been writing a lot on classical music. Could you recall, what led to this interest?

A. It comes from my childhood, and my family, where everybody played something and went to concerts and operas. I played the violin and wanted to become a journalist, so the combination of writing and talking about music was natural.

Q. British-born Finnish director Neil Hardwick is currently working on a film adaptation of your trilogy. It is popularly known that film adaptations don’t really do justice to the literary work they draw on. Does that worry you?

A. Actually, it is not Hardwick who is making the movie. But anyway, there will be a movie. And next summer, a theatre play. They are always interpretations of the original stories. If the author gives permission to new versions, she has to accept it. I can still decide who does the version. So I think it is only interesting to see my story in a new light.

Q. Is this your first time in India? Are you looking forward to engaging with Indian literature in any way? And would you be specifically looking at the crime genre in India or are you open to experiencing other forms of Indian literature as well?

A. Yes, this is my very first day in India! I have read Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth, for sure, maybe some others, too. I am very much looking forward to attending the [Jaipur Literature] festival programme in order to get to know more Indian writers.

Q. Have you faced certain moments of self-doubt in your writing career? If yes, how do you conquer that feeling?

A. Oh, that is a constant problem, if you let it become active. Usually this happens to me in the final round, when I have to check everything in the copy text. At that time I am totally fed up with my text—and this is where I am with my next novel at the moment. The only thing that helps is routine. Again, you have to focus on the minor details in the final round, and of course with a good editor. Fortunately, mine is wonderful, always enthusiastically excited.

Q. Have you ever faced writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?

A. No, I have never had a writer’s block. Writing has always been extremely easy to me. I write quickly and I enjoy writing enormously. I really don’t understand why someone is a writer if writing is difficult for him. Of course, being a journalist makes you rational with your own text. A journalist must write every day, and I believe that could be the best way out of a block if it happens—just writing. You must have a good routine; that’s when writing becomes part of your everyday life, and easy.

Q. What is your writing routine like?

A. My routine when writing a book: when I know my subject, the characters and roughly the plot, I start from the beginning and write one chapter per day starting at 10 a.m., when my daughters and husband have left the house and I have finished my holy moment with morning coffee and the newspaper. The next day I correct and rewrite the previous chapter and write the next one. So simple! Rarely more than 4-5 hours writing per day.

Q. What according to you makes a story worth reading?

A. Difficult question! To me, as a reader, it is the style (how it is written); the characters (not too simple and always sympathetic even if “bad”— that is extremely interesting); and the subject, which can be a good plot, an interesting problem or just no plot but an intensive suspense. There are thousands of ways to write a story which the reader would not want to stop reading!

Nowadays, people are interested in novels coming from foreign cultures, about something they are not familiar with. I think it is an excellent way of getting to know the world—Indian people reading books from Finland and me reading Indian books.

I want my books to be entertaining but with a very severe message. After the reader has laughed, he or she should become serious and start thinking about the questions I am writing about—how we treat old people, why we become the more selfish the wealthier we are, are we blind with technology, and what will our own future as an old person look like.

 

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