Anna-Leena Harkonen



Vesa Linna


On the Joy of Writing

Anna-Leena Harkonen has discussed the joy and anxiety of writing in several of her works. As a writer, she describes herself as traditional: her books are realistic and plot-driven.

“My books have sometimes been criticized for being easy to read and humorous, as if these were undesirable qualities,” Harkonen says.

Dark, sarcastic humor, often under the surface, is characteristic of her writing. However, discouraged by the criticism, she decided to try a different approach.

“I tried to write without humor, but it didn’t work: the prose was pretentiously artistic nonsense. With age, I have given myself permission to write however and about whatever I want.”

Some say that being an author is just a profession among many others, but I disagree. It is an exceptional profession, the most fascinating and challenging one. It is also tedious, office work at its worst, as scintillating as slow folk dances.

FOR MANY YEARS Harkonen would travel abroad when her newest book came out. She felt so anxious and apprehensive about the reviews that she experienced physical symptoms. Poorly written and malicious reviews were particularly hurtful.

“The distance made me feel better, but I no longer feel compelled to leave. If I decide to travel abroad after finishing a book, it is to take a break, which is difficult at home,” Harkonen explains. 

Along with feedback from colleagues, spontaneous comments from readers are what she appreciates the most: when a stranger approaches her on the street and shares their thoughts.

Creativity, of course, does not come for free. You have to endure hellish loneliness—nothing or no one helps. Sometimes a miracle happens: for a fleeting moment, you feel connected to someone.

HARKONEN REDISCOVERED the joy of writing by addressing her anxiety through her characters. She grows attached to her characters and becomes protective of them.

“I remember being very upset when someone called the main character of one of my books narrow-minded and mean when they were, in fact, depressed,” she says.

However, she has not revisited any characters in subsequent books, nor has she revisited any specific topics. But relationships are a recurring theme in her books: between children and parents, siblings, friends, or lovers. The people are important.

WHEN THE JOY OF WRITING was lost, starting a new project felt difficult or even impossible.

Now, says Harkonen, “I no longer fear the journey. It feels wonderful to create a new story and see where it takes me.”

Nothing in this world is as rewarding and fulfilling as creating a sentence where the words and punctuation seem to be in their perfect places.

Anna-Leena Harkonen was interviewed by Marja Aaltio

The quotes are from Faint Lines

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