Anna-Leena Harkonen



Happy birthday!

My ex-husband and I were not into celebrating our birthdays. Too much hassle. We didn’t buy each other birthday presents, or Christmas gifts, for that matter.

I remember that one spring on my birthday, I was secretly waiting for a call from him. He did call, but after chatting with him for a while, I realized he had no intention of wishing me a happy birthday. I couldn’t help but address the issue. Continue >>

Battle of the beach towels

When on vacation, I like to go for a swim before breakfast and reserve a spot by leaving my towel on a sun lounger. If I miss my morning swim, I’m anxious all through breakfast: what if all the sun loungers are taken? One time on Crete, I had once again left my towel on my chosen sun lounger after my swim. When I later returned to the pool, someone had replaced my towel with their horse-patterned beach towel. Continue >>

Mending the mind

I used to watch In Treatment, a show starring Gabriel Byrne as a psychiatrist. The show was broadcast daily, and I grew fond of the sympathetic therapist.

Whenever I was feeling edgy, I imagined myself sitting on his sofa. Was this therapist able to help people? Sometimes. In couples therapy, he was careful not to take sides, but little gestures and expressions revealed what he really thought. Continue >>

All aboard and abroad

“I’d so much love to go to Thailand,” I complained to my teenage son. “I’d love to go to Sweden,” he replied.

Sweden? Is it that easy to make young people happy these days? Apparently it is. All they need is a peer to join them—and Mother, to pay for everything.

I booked a cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm for three. As our departure drew closer, I found myself counting the days. Continue >>

We’ll never have Paris

I once stole an egg from Café de Flore. In times of despair, I sometimes resort to stealing—not that often, though: perhaps once every five years. And I never steal anything that would be a real loss to someone. At the time, I was in Paris with my lover. I call him my lover because it sounds good. A secret rendezvous in Paris sounds even better. I waited a long time for him at a window table. Continue >>

The supply corps

Not many people can imagine how much work is done behind the scenes in a movie. There are a lot of people dedicated to taking care of the actors. Drivers, caterers, assistant directors, sound recordists . . . They are the supply corps. Closest to the actor is the makeup artist. They know everything: bruises, tattoos, the hottest gossip, how to make you look older. I have become friends with many makeup artists. Continue >>

Saigon revisited

I was sitting with a friend in a bar in Saigon. The glittering city below us looked gorgeous. I was fascinated by the car lights on the highway, which looked like two yellow and two red strings of pearls, side by side. “Isn’t it a wonderful coincidence that there are no yellow lights among the red lights, and vice versa?” I asked my friend. “That those strings of light are so perfectly harmonious?” Continue >>

Moments in the sun

I’m a travel addict who likes to play it safe. A few weeks ago, I returned home from Italy, the land of lovers. In terms of age, I'm old enough to be a grandmother, but in Italy I felt like a young donna. “Buongiorno, signora!” men of all ages kept shouting to me on the streets. When did I turn from a signorina into a signora? Twenty years ago? When I still was a signorina, the attention felt annoying. That was no longer the case. Continue >>

Into the unknown

When on vacation, I usually don’t bother to take part in local trips. They always start too early and end too late. However, when my son was a teenager, I decided to shape up and provide him—and perhaps also myself—with an experience: a canoe trip in Krabi, Thailand.
I pictured us paddling peacefully along a river in the jungle, admiring the scenery, occasionally engaged in profound discussion. Continue >>

A whole new world

Once I complained to a colleague that I had not been able to write for more than fifteen minutes that day . “It’s a nudge forward,” she said, comforting me. “Even if you can’t come up with more than just one sentence, it’s still something.” So I keep telling myself: “Don’t try to write the whole book. Write one page. One sentence. A word.” There is nothing romantic or glamorous about the anguish of creativity. Continue >>

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.
Continue >>


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 >>

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