Saturday, September 19, 2015

9mm interview: Kati Hiekkapelto

Stepping off the train in Stirling last September, I found myself walking in step with a white-blonde Finnish woman who'd managed to retain her impish grin despite the long journey. Chatting, we realised we were both heading to the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival that weekend. That was how I met Kati Hiekkapelto.

One of the coolest things about attending writers festivals is that I'm continually exposed to new-to-me crime writers of the highest quality. At the time I met her, Hiekkapelto was newly published in English, with her debut THE HUMMINGBIRD garnering great reviews then later being shortlisted for the Petrona Award.

Kati has since gone on to win the Finnish crime writing award for her second novel, which is now also available in English translation, THE DEFENCELESS (Orenda Books, 2015). If you're one for writerly stereotypes, then prepare to have them shattered - along with being a heck of a storyteller, Kati Hiekkapelto is also a punk singer and artist, dressing up in wedding garb to deliver performance art. She has been a special education teacher for immigrants (she explores the complexities of immigration in her novels), speaks Hungarian, has lived in Serbia, and and now resides on an old farm on a Finnish island with her family in Finland. When she's not bringing the house down singing Chicago show tunes with 'the Slice Girls' at Bloody Scotland, that is.

But for now, I'm very pleased to welcome the wonderful Kati Hiekkapelto to Crime Watch, where she becomes the latest mystery and thriller author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Miss Marple. You cannot underestimate the power and intelligence of older women.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
My mother read loads of books to me when I was a child. I was literally raised by books. First book I read and loved may have been Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking). I loved her independent and exciting life with a horse and a monkey. I often dreamt that I was Pippi and I could fly.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I´ve started about five novels before The Hummingbird (not crime). I’ve written short stories, my dissertation, academic articles about teaching immigrant children, punk lyrics, and poems. I´m working on a play, too.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Read, run, wander in the forests, swim in the sea, pick berries and mushrooms, hunt, sing in my punk band, and do my performance shit in my wedding dress (actually, my alter ego ‘Ginger Cunt’ does that). I have a little garden and a greenhouse where I grow vegetables and herbs. I enjoy cooking Italian food (and I am really good at that), filling and emptying my wine cellar, and skiing.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I don´t live in a town but in a small village on an island and we have no tourist brochures so you can do what ever you like. If you enjoy the silence of nature, this is a good place to be. In summertime we have a really cool rock and literature festival called Bättre Folk and a contemporary theatre festival where leading Finnish theatre groups bring their plays. It is very avant-garde and very informal. We have many kinds of cultural events of our own on the island. This is very lively small community with many artists from different fields living here.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Buster Keaton

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Both The Hummingbird and The Defenceless are my favourites because I haven´t yet written any others, and I don´t want to make either of my books feel bad.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I was writing The Hummingbird I didn´t even dare to dream about being published. I only wanted to prove to myself that I could write a whole novel from beginning to end. I didn´t tell anyone except my family and couple of our closest friends that I was writing it. There are so many people who talk about how they want to write – or say they are writing a book. I didn’t want to talk about it, I wanted to do it. When my publisher contacted me, I was stunned – I couldn’t believe it was true. I was flying high above the clouds, laughing, crying, screaming. Seeing The Hummingbird in a bookshop for the first time was thrilling, too, but I had had an early copy, so I already knew how it looked, smelled and felt in my hands.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival 
I read my punk lyrics at the Frankfurt Book Fair in public sauna in front of 50 naked men and women. I wore only a towel and a studded belt around my waist. And I had a beard.

Thank you Kati. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch


This post forms part of a blog tour to celebrate the UK publication of THE DEFENCELESS, Kati Hiekkapelto's second crime novel, which won the Best Finnish Crime Novel Award against some very strong competition. 

You can click on the image to the right to see which other crime fiction blogs will be featuring interviews with Kati and reviews of THE DEFENCELESS during 11-24 September. 

You can read more about Kati's sophomore book at her UK publisher's website here.


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