Anna-Leena Harkonen


Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva


How Dare You?

After my first novel was published, my grandmother proclaimed that she could no longer go to the grocery store. My mother advised her to put a paper bag over her head.

My grandmother was shocked by the themes and language of my first book. Then there are people who insist that I have included them as characters in a book.

Of course, I use features of people I know or have met, even in passing. However, with one exception, I have never based a character on anyone I know.

My characters are combinations of people, events, and random sentences, complemented by imagination.

NEVERTHELESS, someone is always upset. In the early stages of my career, I needed to make a choice: do I want to stay friends with an aunt, or do I want to become a writer?

One of my relatives was upset because I had used a snippet of a conversation from years ago in a novel.

“I thought what we said was confidential,” she said.

Unfortunately, you cannot have confidential conversations with an author. An author is and will always be a thief—unless you expressly and emphatically tell them not to write about something.

ANOTHER RELATIVE once called me in the middle of the night, blind drunk. His monologue felt never-ending, but I didn’t know how to end the call without hurting his feelings.

I decided to focus on listening to see whether he might say something that I could use.

I picked up a pen, and interesting lines began to pour out of his mouth. Just as I had written down a few words in the corner of a magazine page, he yelled:

“And listen: you will not put a word of this in one of your books!”

Startled, I dropped the pen on the floor. 

“Of course not!” I replied. “How dare you even think something like that about me?”

Anna-Leena Harkonen

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