Kati Hiekkapelto is a bestselling author, punk singer, performance artist and special-needs teacher from Finland. Her 2014 debut crime novel The Hummingbird was highly regarded and has since been followed by The Defenceless (Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year 2015) and most recently The Exiled. All three of her works have been shortlisted for the Petrona Award.
Ahead of Hiekkapelto’s appearance here at Southbank Centre as part of London Literature Festival, we grabbed five minutes with the Finnish author to discuss the origins of Nordic Noir, and the background of the protagonist of her works, Anna Fekete.
For most English readers interest in Nordic crime will have perhaps begun with Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and the TV series The Killing and The Tunnel. But is that where it really begins?
No! It began much earlier than those. I think the first writers to be picked up internationally were Swedish couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö whose series of crime fiction novels started in 1965. But even before them, there were many other writers who wrote crime fiction, even here in Finland.
On your native Finland, it is something of a country of contrasts; on one hand, a country with a great education system and progressive social policies, but on the other there exists a darkness, not just in the long winters, but in its literature and humour. Can you make any sense of this for us outsiders?
What is Finland? Silent, serious people, alcoholism, domestic violence, a long history under the oppression of neighbouring countries, civil war, Second World War, eating potatoes, short summers with less snow, but billions of mosquitoes. And, the long, dark winters of course!
You’re also an example of interesting contrasts – from the noisiness of punk music to the solitude of life on an island in the north of Finland writing novels, via teaching children with special needs. How does this play out in your day to day life?
There is not much sense in my life. My motto is: surrealism for everyday life.
For those who've not yet met your character Anna Fekete, can you tell us a bit about her, and about what inspired her?
I wanted my protagonist to be a female police officer in her thirties with an immigrant background. When I was thinking who and where from she could be, I realised that I should benefit my own experiences. I have lived in the Hungarian region in Serbia and I speak fluent Hungarian, therefore it was natural that Anna Fekete was born in Yugoslavia to the Hungarian minority and that she fled the wars with her family to Finland as a child.
Can we expect a new novel from you soon, and can you give us any clues as to what it's going to be about?
Yes, my next novel should come out next spring in Finland. Its name will be Embers.
And, beyond your own work, who are some of your favourite characters in detective fiction?
Miss Marple. You cannot beat the intelligence and wisdom of old women!
Kati Hiekkapelto appeared at two London Literature Festival events in October 2017 as part of World on the Brink. You can find out more on London Literature Festival via the link below.