Anna-Leena Harkonen


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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 >>

Let’s do lunch!

Anna-Leena Harkonen discussed Let’s Do Lunch, her latest collection of columns, at the Turku Book Fair at the beginning of October 2021. Some of the columns will also be published in English in the Journal section of this website. The book addresses the full gamut of modern everyday phenomena, from meaningless communication to being technologically challenged in an increasingly digital world. 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 >>

On the joy of writing

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

Meet the author: Q & A

What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Do you have a specific routine that you follow? “It takes me two or three years to write a novel. 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.” Continue >>

Honest to the extreme

Anna-Leena Harkonen is not afraid of tackling difficult topics. In her novels, she draws on the highs and lows of her own life. The events may be fictional, but the emotions are always true. “Perhaps I’m driven by a need to be honest to the extreme, to voice the thoughts and feelings you are not supposed to talk about, even though everyone has experienced them,” Anna-Leena says. 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 >>

Too restless to be an author

Anna-Leena Harkonen loves her ordinary, routine days. She works at home until the early afternoon, but then she needs to get away: to a nearby café or to a superstore in her friend’s car. She brings along printouts so she can edit her work in progress while waiting for a tram, for example. When writing, Anna-Leena bribes and rewards herself like a dog: 30 more minutes, and I can have a piece of chocolate. 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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