Anna-Leena Harkonen



Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva


Questions & Answers

How has social media impacted your daily life and career?

Social media has affected my life and career very little, if at all. I’m not on Facebook, and to protect myself, I never read online discussions about me. My privacy mainly suffers from giving interviews, which is necessary for promoting books but emotionally very taxing for me.

How has living in the public eye since you were a teenager impacted your life?

At first, celebrity was fascinating and interesting. After all, becoming famous through my work had been one of my goals. However, celebrity soon became a source of anxiety.

Finland is a small country, and being famous means that almost everyone knows who you are. People stared at me in public, and someone always wanted to talk to me, which was awkward and uncomfortable. On the other hand, it was wonderful to receive positive feedback spontaneously from people.

Throughout Faint Lines, you note the power of sharing your story with someone. How did sharing the intimate details of your mental health and fertility journey impact you? Was the writing process therapeutic for you?

Writing about sensitive and intimate topics was very therapeutic. I needed to write. The feedback was mainly positive, and many people could relate to the events. Readers were often greatly relieved to learn that they were not the only ones who had experienced depression and other negative emotions after childbirth.

But there were also those who thought I was a bad mother and generally a lazy person because I had “let myself sink into depression.” That was very hurtful.

Your hospital experience was nothing short of horrific. What changes would you like to see made to the healthcare system to ensure that women are treated with compassion, patience, and dignity?

Women who feel they are not ready to go back home should not be sent home from the hospital. There should also be an opportunity to talk to a therapist after a traumatic childbirth experience.

You received support from your family, friends, and therapists during your postpartum struggles. How can your readers best help their loved ones if they are struggling during or after their pregnancy? Similarly, how can your readers best support their loved ones who are struggling with infertility?

I believe the most important aspect is not to blame the woman for her feelings. Instead, people should listen without passing judgment.

Having the courage to put distressing thoughts into words can prevent accidents from happening—harming your own child, in the worst case. Professional help should be sought if the situation seems extreme.

What authors and books have been your inspiration, and what have you been reading recently?

Margaret Atwood is one of my absolute favorites. She is incredibly and enviably good! The Catcher in the Rye had a great impact on the style and humor of my first novel.

The last book I read was Natural Causes by the Norwegian author Nina Lykke, which I believe has not been translated into English yet.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Do you have a specific routine that you follow? How long does a book typically take you to write?

I write at home in the morning. In the afternoon, I go to a café with printouts to make edits and corrections. I don’t usually work in the evening, expect in the final stages of writing a novel, when I’m intensely involved in the book and the process is flowing effortlessly.

It takes me two or three years to write a novel.

What writing project was the most challenging for you and why?

My most challenging writing project was a novel called Midsummer Guest. It was extremely difficult for me to get the story running and take it anywhere, and there was no joy in the writing. My editor suggested that I throw the manuscript away, but I insisted on finishing the book, no matter what.

What advice would you give to new and struggling writers? What has been the best piece of advice that you have received?

My advice is to stop trying too hard. Vacations, free weekends, and occasional days off from writing are important. The book will continue to evolve in your mind, even during rest. The most important advice is to not lose the joy of writing. 

This is the best advice I have received: if you have achieved what you were aiming for, other people’s opinions do not matter.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your writing career?

When my debut novel came from the printer, and I was able to hold it in my hands.

Anna-Leena Harkonen was interviewed by Katie Brownfiel

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