Anna-Leena Harkonen



Worked up about work

I’m engaged in what is known as a passion profession—even two of them. When I was a little girl, my dream was to become an author and an actress. I have since discovered that life doesn’t always flow like a dream.
In writing, I have more freedom to express myself—I only need to consider the publisher’s opinion. Nevertheless, freedom is not the right word to describe the profession of a writer. Continue >>

Silence of the snow

I was once invited to speak at a conference about creativity. I decided to be honest, which turned out to be counter to the spirit of the event. I said that I didn’t subscribe to the trendy notion of all work being creative if you have the right attitude. Raking leaves in the backyard is not creative. You can think creatively while raking, but the raking in itself is not creative. My speech met with a chilly reception. Continue >>

Sleep gets in your eyes

I love sleeping. Sometimes I sleep for twelve hours at night and take a nap in the afternoon. Someone could say I’m escaping reality. That’s possible. I can think of many good reasons to escape reality. Some people think that sleeping too much is wasting your valuable time.
I dare to disagree: in my opinion, it’s quality time. Researchers claim that people in the creative field need more sleep than others. Continue >>

Behind the smiley face

The risk of misunderstanding runs high in texting. A message intended as neutral information can often seem blunt. And you should add a smiley face after each humorous message. You can never know the limits of someone else’s sense of humor. I think we all have sent texts to the wrong person. One time my friend and I had discussed at length a necklace that I couldn’t find anywhere. Continue >>

Bouts of nostalgia

When my son was a teenager, we watched Grease together. I had last seen the movie decades earlier, when it first came to theaters. Back then, I was deeply impressed. My friends and I even started a girls’ club called the Pink Ladies. Grease revisited was a disappointment. Time had done its work: my middle-aged self found the acting too loud and restless and the music not so good. Continue >>

Best friends forever

Carol Shields describes friendship between two women in The Republic of Love as follows: “Among their ancient rituals is the exchange of elaborate compliments.” This is exactly what female friends do. It’s just as important to receive compliments from a female friend as it is from a man. A female friend’s main duty is to keep your self-esteem high. Sometimes this means telling a little lie. “Gained weight? You?” Continue >>

Revenge of the aunts

Some say fear is the root of all evil, and I agree. Fear often makes us do things that have harmful consequences—and stops us from doing things that would lead to something good. I often have an ominous feeling: something bad will happen. However, sentiments and premonitions reveal nothing about the future. They reveal only that we’re afraid. This is why we should not always trust our instincts. Continue >>

I heard a rumor

If you get caught talking about someone behind their back, there are two things you can say: “Listen, I wouldn’t say anything behind your back that I couldn’t say to your face” and “I have enough problems of my own. I don’t have the time or interest to talk about yours.” These are lies, of course. Everyone has time for a little gossip, no matter how much they have on their plate. Continue >>

Words of vengeance

There are a few people whose demise I’m going to celebrate with a glass of sparkling wine—they are not worthy of champagne. Unfortunately, they will be blissfully unaware of my little moment of celebration.

I usually seek my revenge when the enemy is still alive. The problem is, I don’t have the courage for anything spectacular. I have to resort to little ways that are very likely to go unnoticed. Continue >>

Little House revisited

Little House on the Prairie was one of my favorite shows as a child, the television equivalent of a power ballad.
I was delighted to discover that reruns were going be broadcast. I made sure I had the time and space to watch. The disappointment! I have aged, and so has the show. What a celebration of conventionality, a triumph of black-and-white thinking. Hurtful conventional attitudes are still surprisingly common.
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If I hear a good story, I gradually begin to believe that it happened to me. I have also stolen memories from my sisters and adopted memories that are not true. Events that someone invented. Events that I invented.

Margaret Atwood said that being too close to the truth is destructive, and authors must not be destructive. Sometimes I write a scene for a novel, and later the exact same thing happens to me. Continue >>

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. However, with one exception, I have never based a character on anyone I know. Continue >>

Nice to see you?

I ran into an old friend while on a work project. “So nice to see you!” she said. “We should have coffee or something when the weather gets a little better.” Delighted, I suggested that we invite a third friend to join us. I’m a solution-focused person, so I began to make arrangements. I marked the event in my calendar, and when there was a sense of spring in the air, I sent both friends a message suggesting a date. Continue >>

A nose for beauty

One day it appeared at the side of my nose: a little red line. I thought it was a pimple, but my beautician told me it was an enlarged vein. I was immediately overcome with anxiety. I knew that enlarged facial veins are common among people who indulge in drinking. Would everyone think that I drink too much? No. It was an ordinary phenomenon related to aging. I had always thought that aging was about attitude. Continue >>

Christmas galore

It all began at a Christmas market and still continues: my obsessive collecting of Christmas decorations.

I bought snowflake-shaped Christmas lights and put them on top of the bookcase. I placed angel-themed pralines and green gumdrops in a star-patterned porcelain bowl. I also wrapped silver tinsel around the head of an antique doll. Then basic, unapologetic kitsch started to call my name. Continue >>


Unexpectedly, when my debut novel was published at age eighteen, I became a public figure in my home country of Finland. In such a small country, this meant that soon almost everybody knew my face. For a couple of months, celebrity is wonderful and exciting. Then it becomes more and more chaotic. There is no natural way of dealing with celebrity, because celebrity is unnatural. Continue >>

Who’s the queen?

When I was twenty-six, I saw Madonna: Truth or Dare, and I even read the tell-all book written by her brother.

The autobiographical documentary revealed that Madonna is an uncompromising perfectionist and requires the same from her employees. The movie also conveyed her relentless temperament and toughness. Her circle of friends seemed embarrassingly ingratiating at times. Continue >>

The confines of creativity

I was once asked to speak about creativity at a seminar.
I was relatively young at the time, firm and unyielding in my beliefs, and had already been hardened and somewhat disillusioned by my profession. For me, writing—that is, creative work—meant suffering. “Not everyone is creative,” I proclaimed from the podium. “Raking leaves is not creative, no matter how creatively you try to approach it.” Continue >>

Myth meets reality

Faint Lines was the first of my books in which I wrote directly about myself. The threshold for writing was high: I wanted to write about postpartum depression honestly, but I was also aware of all the myths associated with motherhood. For example, it is taboo for a mother to admit to experiencing negative feelings, even hatred, toward her newborn. The book provoked intense debate, for and against. Continue >>

Smile at me, Tatiana!

As a little girl, I dreamed of walking into a library and seeing my name on the spine of a book on a shelf.

This dream was related to the library in particular: the local library was a second home to me. The nearest bookstore was far away, and we hardly ever went there.
I wrote my first “novels” at the age of ten. They had touchingly dramatic yet hilariously solemn names: Heart on the Sleeve and Smile at Me, Tatiana! Continue >>

Until we meet again

Life is made up of absurd situations. My friend and I were waiting in line to see the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Admission was through an automated gate, one person at a time. All of a sudden, Jesus appeared. A skinny young man with a beard, wearing a sand-colored kaftan. He jumped in line and nimbly leaped over the gate. I was dumbfounded. “Did you see that?” I asked my friend.

“Yes. He cut in line!” Continue >>

Kill your darlings

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most misunderstood pieces of advice. Many take it to mean that writers should remove the parts they love the most. The problem is that, when finalizing a manuscript, writers have already grown to love every single part the most. Manuscripts need to be edited in places, made more concise. In the process, writers lose sentences that are important to them. Continue >>

Senior discount

I was purchasing a ticket to the Archaeological Museum of Kraków. “Senior discount?” asked the man behind the ticket counter. “No!” I was wearing sunglasses and an angora beret. Perhaps I looked like a shrunken grandmother. “An archaeological museum,” I thought to myself, depressed. “This is where I belong.” Then my gloom and doom made me smile. But it’s inevitable, sooner or later: retirement. Continue >>

Our earthly belongings

We have a strange relationship with material things. Sometimes shopping brings consolation. Then again, we should not worship material things. Sometimes we should stop and appreciate what we already have. We all have items that we refuse to give away. Books are important, of course. I feel restless when someone has borrowed one of my books. It feels as though my child has not come home for the night. Continue >>

On the art of apology

When I married for the first time, I had not mastered the most important marriage skill: apologizing. Asking for forgiveness is much more difficult for young people than it is for older couples. I chose the silent treatment instead, determined not to forgive, not even if it killed me. What a wonderful foundation for a marriage. Disputes are complicated if you tend to think that you are never at fault. Continue >>

A healthy dose of solitude

I used to think there was something wrong with me. And there definitely is—but I used to think something was horribly and fundamentally wrong with me. But no: according to psychological tests, I’m a highly sensitive person. I diagnosed myself as a highly sensitive person with great delight, as my previous diagnosis for myself—that I am a nervous wreck—was much less compassionate. Continue >>

What did you just say?

 I don’t think children mean any harm with their blunt comments, but a “No offense, but . . .” from an adult usually means that you are about to hear an insult masked as concern or caring. The same applies to “Don’t take this personally, but . . .” or “I’m telling you this as a friend.” Please. If you are being insulted personally, why shouldn’t you take it personally? And this “friend” is usually anything but. Continue >>

When Aino met Jean

I recently read a biography of Aino Sibelius, the wife of composer Jean Sibelius. The book included a great deal of the correspondence between Aino and Jean. I wasn’t expecting a book of this type to make me laugh aloud—or to sometimes irritate me. The old-fashioned language in their letters is fascinating. Indulging is a euphemistic expression for getting drunk with the buddies. Indulging was inspiring for the great composer. Continue >>

Sins of my youth

A while ago, I thanked a colleague for writing one of her novels. “Oh, that sin of my youth?” she said with a laugh, sounding slightly apologetic. A sin of her youth? The book is a beautiful work of historical fiction. I wonder why authors are so merciless about their older works. Admittedly, it would be strange if we read our books in a state of self-congratulatory euphoria—but we shouldn’t be ashamed of our earlier works. Continue >>

Wherever you are

I’m obsessed with the Titanic. I have several books about the ship on my bookshelf, and I have seen all the documentaries. Of course, I have also seen the 1997 movie—only twice, though. When I visited New York a few years ago, the high point of my trip was an exhibition about the Titanic. Artifacts found around the wreck were on display, along with photographs of the passengers and stories about their lives. Continue >>

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