In the first of our contributor interviews, we’re delighted to be joined by author and translator Suvi Kauppila, who tells us more about her work and about what’s going on in Finnish speculative fiction.
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your writing – what first got you into speculative fiction?
It must have been Tolkien’s fault. Not very original, I know, but reading his works was like discovering a missing piece of myself. I was thirteen at the time. There was no stopping after that.
I want to create stories and worlds that will do that to people – set them free, let them think, make them see things they didn’t know they were capable of imagining. I’m an escapist at heart. I like adventures and alternative histories as well as discovering meaning and humanity in strange circumstances. Real world issues do find their way into my writing, too. Speculative fiction gives me the stage and the weapons I need to confront things I find unjust or hard to understand. Style and aesthetics also matter a great deal to me.
Do you find that your translation work affects your own writing?
Undoubtedly! I’d never have become such a perfectionist without translator training. I believe it’s done only good things to my writing. One of the most important things a translator has to ask is “how could this be misunderstood” and then try to eliminate all the possibilities. Basically, if it is possible to misinterpret something (possibly in a not-safe-for-work way) then people will. I try to keep that in mind when writing in order to avoid unfortunate innuendo.
Another thing is that when you translate other people’s texts, you really have to take the writing apart and know what they wanted to say. It’s surprising how often writers, if you ask them about a particular passage, are unable to tell you what exactly they meant. Nothing reveals the strengths and flaws of a story as well as translating. I believe this has made my own writing less vague. If I don’t know what I want to say, then who does?
Although I enjoy translating and definitely think it’s a creative process, there are always limitations you have to take into account. When I’m writing my own stories, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom because I can do anything.
Can you tell us more about this story – where the idea came from and why you wanted to portray this sisterly relationship?
I read the fairy tale Most Beloved Sister by Astrid Lindgren many times as a child. It is a story of a girl with an imaginary sister in a made-up country. In the end, she grows up and lets go of her childish imaginings. The imaginary sister dies, the beautiful country disappears – and the girl gets a puppy from her parents.
The ending always disappointed me. I remember crying when the sister died and the roses disappeared. I felt a puppy was a very poor replacement for a world of wonders! Even as an adult, I never agreed with the message of the story. Why should one let go of childish things? Why is a puppy more valuable than a child’s imagination?
I have taken the bare bones of the story and worked them into a tale I would have wanted to believe. I wanted there to be a real sister, real people with real problems – and an imaginary country that was also real in some very important sense. Most of all, I wanted it all to matter.
You translated this story into English yourself – does the process of translating your own work change your relation to the story?
I found the translation process surprisingly enjoyable. For once I knew for sure what the author intended, and that meant I could take a bit more creative freedoms than I would have done with someone else’s text. I wrote this story with the intention of translating it. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel any differently about it now.
We're excited about Worldcon in Helsinki this summer – can you tell us a bit more about the spec fic scene in Finland?
We are all very excited about Worldcon too! I think the speculative fiction scene in Finland is diverse and welcoming. Literature is still an essential part of the scene, and we have a lot of promising underground writers. In recent years, small publishers and online magazines have had a really positive effect on the short story writing front, publishing everything from steampunk to horror. If there is a bonkers idea for a short story anthology, chances are good someone will do it!
What Finnish speculative fiction writer(s) would you really like to see translated into English?
I would really love to see Siiri Enoranta translated into English. Her novel Nokkosvallankumous (“The Nettle Revolution”) left a strong impression on me. It’s a young adult novel set in a dystopian future where young revolutionaries have taken over an abandoned amusement park. At the same time, it’s a love story between two boys. She writes teenage characters extremely well. It’s not a nice book – the world is quite hellish, and she doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of human nature. In general, I think there are many Finnish authors writing great speculative YA fiction.
Another author and series I would like to recommend is Ilkka Auer and his series Lumen ja jään maa (“The Land of Ice and Snow”). It’s a four-part fantasy series about a young girl named Nonna and her polar bear Fenris. She grows up to become a powerful ice witch who can control the powers of shadows and darkness. I like the Northern mythology aspects of the series, and it’s really nice to read a traditional fantasy story which gets winter right!
And what recommendations would you give of Finnish writers already translated into English? What should we be reading?
Johanna Sinisalo is always good; she mostly writes weird fiction set in the present. Not Before Sundown (also published under the spoilerish title Troll: A Love Story) is one of my favourites. The Core of the Sun is a great dystopian story set in an alternative present where everything is state-controlled, spicy food is forbidden, and chili peppers have become a drug.
Emmi Itäranta’s novel Memory of Water is a beautifully written book set in a dystopian future (we do seem to like dystopias!) where water is scarce and tea masters hold forbidden knowledge about the location of natural springs. The main character is a young woman who is learning to become a tea master.
If you want a taste of short stories, I can recommend the Finnish Weird project; the stories are available online for free. The online magazine Usva has released several international issues as well (Usva International 2015 / older issues). There’s also a collection of short stories by Anne Leinonen called The Otherling and Other Stories. There are several releases in English planned for Worldcon, so stay on the lookout! I know Osuuskumma Publishing is releasing a short story anthology called Never Stop – Finnish Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, edited by Emmi Itäranta.
When it comes to magazines publishing short stories, at least Kosmoskynä (Cosmos Pen, the magazine of the Finnish Science Fiction Writers' Association) and Spin (the magazine of the Turku Science Fiction Society) are releasing special English issues for Worldcon. I’m a bit biased since I’m associated with both: my steampunk story “Thief of Hearts” is coming out in Cosmos Pen, and I’m a part of the translation team for Spin.
Thank you for your sharing your thoughts, Suvi!
(And Samovar and Strange Horizons will be at Worldcon in Helsinki this August, so we’re looking forward to continuing the conversation there!)