Mike in Finland

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Midas Touch and Snow in Tallinn

I was very pleased that my copies of Midas Touch arrived just before Christmas. The last day of deliveries, actually. So I had them in time to give a few as Christmas presents to local friends. I´m really pleased with the quality of the production and the effect of the cover picture is great. A big thanks to both Adele Ward for her editing work and Mike Fortune-Wood for the artwork and layout. There are a couple of poems from the collection behind the link in the right-hand column of this blog.

Further details and orders from the publisher´s website:

We spent a lovely weekend in Tallinn last week where there was some serious snow:

Getting about in the old town was a slippery business. They can´t use machines to clear the snow on many of the streets because they´re so narrow and cobbled stoned. It looked lovely though. Great atmosphere.

And of course, I visited my favourite ceramic workshop and bought a new piece. This is by Urmas Puhkan:

Urmas explained that he made this piece early last summer, just at the end of the academic year when he was whacked after a very busy term of teaching and grading students´ work. When it was finally all finished he said that he felt exhausted and his feelings came out in the statue that he was making at that time, this one. Lovely, isn´t it?

The workshop and gallery of Asuurkeraamika is in a new location in a tower that is part of the medieval town wall round the old town. It´s a perfect location. The address, Kooli str 7, is the street behind the tower but there´s no door from the street; the entrance is from the park on the outside of the city wall. Their website has a map and pictures of several of their pieces.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Good News

Midas Touch has arrived from the printer. I´ve heard that some readers in the UK have already received their copies. Deliveries of orders outside Britain may take a little longer because of the Christmas rush and the bad weather. My copies are currently somewhere between North Wales and Finland.

For readers of this blog who are based in Britain, I will be reading poems from Midas Touch in Camden Town on Friday 7 January together with Ann Alexander, who will be reading from her new collection, Too Close, which is also published by Ward Wood Publishing.

The event is in aid of Cold Weather Shelters and the entrance fee (£5 / £4) supports that work. The address is: Trinity United Reform Church Hall, 1 Buck Street, Camden. It´s very close to Camden Town underground station and the doors open at 18.30.

I´m looking forward to meeting all those who are able to get there.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

More on Sofi Oksanen´s `Purge´

I´ve just found some very interesting comments about Sofi Oksanen´s novel, Purge, on a blog on The Economist´s website. The blog refers to criticism that Oksanen´s novel misrepresents the realities of life in Estonia during the Soviet era, which I can believe is true, though my experience is very limited (I do have some). The counter argument is that the novel does not aim to be a fully inclusive representation of life in Estonia during the Soviet period, which I can also agree with. Perhaps the issue, then, is to decide whether the events portrayed might possibly have happened in the place and at the time the novel situates them. It´s an interesting debate and this blog presents the two sides very clearly:

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Midas Touch slight delay

I´ve just heard from the publisher, Ward Wood Publishing, that my new poetry collection, Midas Touch, has been slightly delayed coming from the printer. It´s expected to be delivered next week. Okay, just keep holding your breath everyone.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

London Sights Part 3

The most famous art galleries in London must be The National Gallery and The Tate Modern, but one of my favourite galleries in any city, and one that I always visit when I´m in London, is The Wallace Collection. It´s located in Hertford House, Manchester Square, not far from Baker Street. It certainly is not an unknown destination for art lovers, but I suspect that it may well be unfamiliar to foreign and infrequent visitors to London and it´s well worth a visit.

The collection is housed in what used to be the family home of the Hertford family. The collection was formed over several generations of that family and on the death of the last owner´s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1890, the house and entire collection was bequeathed to the nation. The terms of the bequest state that the collection must remain entire. That means that nothing can be added or removed. Everything you see is as it was when Lady Wallace died.

It is an astonishing collection. The whole building - and it´s not small! - is filled with art objects. It´s difficult to believe that anyone actually had room to live there. The collection comprises not only paintings, but also sculpture, furniture, clocks, porcelain, armour and weapons. Everyone has their own preferences and favourites, of course. Mine include the wonderful 18th century French paintings, especially by Boucher and Fragonard, the Sevres porcelain (I just love those colours) , the highly ornate 18th century furniture, the many romantic, Arcadian scenes and the portraits by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Lawrence, including the wonderful, Margaret, Countess of Blessington. One of the most famous paintings in the collection is The Laughing Cavalier.

This brief list only scratches the surface. There´s an awful lot more to see. But in addition to the works of art, the house is worth visiting in itself. It´s such a wonderful setting for an art collection. The house is built round a central courtyard which is used as a lunch and snack restaurant. It´s a great place to stop for a coffee, a glass of wine, or a full meal. The courtyard has a glass roof, so rain is not a problem.

The Wallace Collection is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.almost every day of the year and entry is free. The website has further details:

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Midas Touch cover

This is the cover of my poetry collection, Midas Touch, which is due out from Ward Wood Publishing at the end of November. Mike Fortune-Wood has done a great job with it and I´m really pleased with the effect. The view of mountains relates very well to the content of the poem, Crossing The Alps, and there are other poems in the collection where mountains and other landscapes appear. The cover image also suggests a mirror hanging on the wall, as if the mountain scene is actually a reflection and I especially like that effect because mirrors, along with windows and glass in various contexts, are recurring images in the collection.

There´s further information about the book at the publisher´s website:


Saturday, 23 October 2010

A Poem From Midas Touch

I´ve been looking at cover images for my poetry collection, Midas Touch, which is due to be published by Ward Wood Publishing at the end of November. Mike Fortune-Wood has picked out a number of possible images and we´ve been discussing which is the best. I think we´re almost there now and I´m looking forward to seeing how the book´s actually going to look. As soon as Mike has it ready, I´ll post it on my blog. In the meantime, here´s another poem from the collection.

Crossing The Alps

Two hours out of the village

I´d climbed the mountain´s shaded side

two months deeper into winter.

Coarse grass was brown, ground water

had flowed over the path

and frozen. I stopped.

The smooth sheet sloped down,

curled round the overhang, drips

falling onto rocks in the gully.

I put one foot on the ice,

shifted my weight, hesitated,

then moved my other foot forward.

Five steps carried me over, my pulse racing.

I stood on the brink, dislodging pebbles

and knew I had no way back.

As I climbed higher, peaks

reared up behind the black

ridgeback. Cresting it,

I toppled into the new view. Bank

behind bank of ice anchored on stone

all the way to Italy.

The village I´d left,

tethered to the foothills

by a winding cord of tarmac.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A Clash of Innocents

Sue Guiney´s new novel, A Clash Of Innocents, has just been published by Ward Wood Publishing. My copy arrived today and I´m very keen to get started on reading it. I had some questions which I put to Sue about the writing of the book, its genesis and her working method. Many thanks to Sue for sharing her thoughts and ideas on those issues with us today.

Sue´s book is available from Ward Wood Publishing´s website at:


Or from The Book Depository at:


Or from Amazon at:


Mike H A Clash of Innocents is set in Cambodia. Firstly, how did you decide on that location? Do you have any particular connection with Cambodia?

Sue G To be honest, I never really decided on Cambodia. Cambodia decided on me. I went there with my husband and younger son back in 2006 on a service trip where we worked for various charities and really criss-crossed the entire country. At the time, I was still very involved with writing my first novel, Tangled Roots. But Cambodia took hold of me, and when I started thinking about what to write next, I realized I needed to write about it.

Mike H Have you used any of your own experiences from travelling in Cambodia in the novel?

Sue G Yes, I cannot tell a lie J My experience of driving for 8 hours along the dirt road that connects Phnom Penh with the south, trying to take part in a children’s Khmer dance class, the rituals associated with New Year, all became scenes in the novel. The characters and plot are completely made up, but they do reside in a world that I actually, though briefly, experienced.

Mike H The plot concerns a woman who runs a children´s home. How did you get the idea for the story? Was there any particular event or experience that planted the seed of the plot in your mind?

Sue G For a week during our trip we volunteered in a children’s home. It was heartbreaking and fun and completely eye-opening. But the whole time I was working with those kids I kept wondering what they all thought of us Westerners coming into their home, trying to get close and be a part of their lives, and then disappearing forever. I began to wonder if our presence was doing more harm than good, and from that conflict grew the idea for the novel.

Mike H When did you first begin to plan the story and how long did it take from the first idea to completion?

Sue G When I finished writing my first novel, Tangled Roots, I knew I had to start working on something else right away otherwise I’d drive myself crazy worrying about the whole publishing ordeal. There were 2 ideas that popped into my head, but I soon realized that I had actually been pushing the Cambodian concept to the back of my brain already for months. So, actually, A Clash of Innocents had been gestating even before Tangled Roots was finished. From then on it took a bit over two years which, for me, was incredibly speedy. Tangled Roots took me 9 years to write! But that’s another story…

Mike H What is your working method? I mean, do you have a regular, set time for writing or do you write when the inspiration takes you?

Sue G I believe in inspiration, but I don’t believe inspiration has much to do with getting the job done. And I do approach my writing as a job. I go to my little office upstairs in my house every weekday morning, and I sit there for three hours. I say 3 hours not because I decided that, but because it seems to work for me that way – 3 hours and I’m done for the day. Then the afternoon is for meetings (I also am Artistic Director of a theatre charity called CurvingRoad), family matters, real life. Then the next day I pick up where I left off, trying not to get too bogged down in editing what I had done before – but that’s hard for me. I’m a terrible tinkerer. I can’t leave anything I write alone.

Mike H How do you plan the writing of a novel? Do you map out the whole plot and plan chapters before you start on the first draft?

Sue G That’s what I did this time and it really worked for me. Before I started to write, I had an outline of the structure, what was going to be in each chapter, back stories of each character. I tend to be an a-type compulsive, highly organized sort of person, and I find working this way very helpful. The important thing for me, though, is to remain flexible. I may know where I’m going with each chapter, but I usually don’t know how I’m going to get there. And that keeps the mental editor at bay and allows me to enter that other-worldly writer’s place – I bet you know what I mean. I also think it allows me to finish things in 2 years rather than 9!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

London Sights Part 2

In this post I´m going to introduce two places, Camden Lock Market and Little Venice. The two locations are about 3 kilometres apart and are joined by the Regent Canal. On a warm and sunny day it is very pleasant to walk from one location to the other.

The closest underground to Camden Lock Market is Camden Town. From there it is a short walk (500 m.) up Camden High Street to the first part of the market area. There are several separate sections to the entire market area, which is pretty large and includes many clothing and food stalls. It´s nice to just wander round and see what takes your eye. It´s large enough to get confused about where you are and how you got there, but you can´t get really lost. You´re never that far from where you started, so it´s easy to find your way out!

Close to the entrance to the market from Camden High Street, there is a bridge over the Regent Canal. Steps lead down to the canal side where there is a tow path. This is where the horses that pulled the barges used to walk in the days before engines. There is also a lock (no surprise, right), which is where the name comes from. A lock, for non-English-speaking readers, is where the water level in a canal changes. Kanavansulku in Finnish. This is where you can start to walk the 3 kilometres to Little Venice. Not far from Camden Lock, maybe 500 m. there is a large old wooden boat moored beside the canal which has been converted into a Chinese restaurant. We didn´t eat there, but it looked like an interesting place for a meal.

The canal itself is not the most beautiful stretch of water. I suppose canals never are. But it passes through some pleasant areas. It skirts the edge of Regents Park at one point and you can see the bird house of London Zoo. There are also some lovely houses on the opposite bank that would surely cost a fortune. A different style of life is lived by the people who have house boats along the canal. You pass a few small communities on the walk from Camden to Little Venice. The boat houses are converted old barges and many of the owners have decorated them and made them homely in various ways. Some even have little gardens beside the tow path.

As you get closer to Little Venice you come to an area called Maida Vale. It´s a quite up-market part of London. There are some very nice buildings. Flats would surely be very expensive round there. There are also good pubs in the side streets. Close to Little Venice there is a bridge over the canal at the point where Edgware Road and Maida Vale (which is also the name of a street) meet. Right on the bridge there is a small Italian restaurant called Cafe Laville. At the back of the restaurant there is a large window that is directly above the canal and looks down towards Little Venice. It´s a very nice spot to stop for some lunch if you´re peckish, or just to have a drink. As I remember the meals were not very expensive. We stopped there last summer and had a glass of wine beside the window. Here´s a picture of the view:

Little Venice itself is the point where two canals, the Regent Canal and the Grand Union Canal, meet. There is a wider expanse of water there. There is also a small community of house barges and some boat cafes, which also have tables and chairs beside the water in good weather. The atmosphere is really pleasant.

It´s also possible to take a trip on the canal in one of the barges that takes visitors between Camden and Little Venice, if you don´t want to walk. Or of course, you could walk one way and take the boat the other instead of using the underground. The closest underground station to Little Venice is Warwick Avenue.

There are pictures of the places I´ve described at these websites:

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Some Literary News

Here´s some news about a new independent publisher that´s just started operations in the U.K. The company´s name is Ward Wood Publishing and it´s been founded by Adele Ward and Mike Fortune-Wood, who was formerly a part of Cinnamon Press. Ward Wood Publishing will be releasing three books during this autumn, with further publications planned for next year. Their first book will be out at the end of this month; A Clash of Innocents by Sue Guiney. The novel is set in Cambodia and tells the story of an American woman who runs a home for orphaned children. One day a young woman arrives at the orphanage and stays there. From then on, the plot thickens. I´m really looking forward to getting a copy and reading it. And also, I shall be interviewing Sue as soon as the book is released and asking her about the story, setting and experiences described in her novel. I´m going to post the transcript of the interview here on my blog. Read it early in October.

In the meantime, here´s a link to Ward Wood Publishing´s home page. You can find more information about A Clash of Innocents there and also details of the other forthcoming publications, of which my poetry collection, Midas Touch is one:

And here´s a link to Sue´s blog, where there is more information about her writing and the new novel:

Sunday, 5 September 2010

London Sights Part 1

From time to time I´m going to post short reviews of interesting places and sights in London. My plan is to select places that may not be so well known to overseas visitors to London. I know that there are quite a few Finns who read this blog and maybe there are readers from other countries, too, so hopefully there will be useful information for these readers if they are planning a trip to London. I won´t post anything about the famous sights like Buckingham Palace and the British Museum because everyone is well aware of these places. Instead I´ll seek out locations that may not be familiar to people who don´t know London so well.

Here´s the first place, the John Soanes museum. It´s one of my favourite places to visit in London. John Soanes was an architect, born in 1753, and this museum is actually the house which he lived in. He totally redesigned the interior and filled it with collections of art works, archeological collections and many other objects. The museum is interesting for the collections it contains and also for the way the house has been designed to fit so much into a relatively small place. A good example is his `art gallery´, a small room about 4m. x 4m. Each wall, covered with paintings, is actually a wooden panel, hinged at one side, which can be unhooked, swung through 90 degrees and hooked to the adjacent wall, thereby presenting what had previously been its reverse side which is also covered with paintings. In this way he obtained double the amount of wall space. You aren´t allowed to swing the wall panels round yourself, but if you ask the attendant he or she will demonstrate the system for you.

Sir John Soane was an interesting person himself. He was the son of a bricklayer, so he wasn´t from a wealthy family. He eventually became professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and designed the Bank of England building.

The museum is located at 13, Lincoln´s Inn Fields and it is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. and entrance is free. The nearest underground station is Holborn. The museum has a website at
where you can find a map and other information.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

More news about Purge

I´ve just found a report with news that Sofi Oksanen´s novel, Purge, has been awarded the `Novel of the Year´ by the largest bookstore chain in France. Apparently, this is the first time that the award has gone to a novel that was not originally published in French. The French translation of Purge was released in August. The report, which has a few more details, can be found on the International web edition of Helsingin Sanomat at this address:

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Just back from London

We´re just back from a short trip to London where, amongst other things, I did a little research in some of the major bookstores. Did they have Sofi Oksanen´s Purge in stock? I´m happy to report that several copies were available on the shelves of Blackwell´s and Foyles main stores. Foyles shop on the South Bank did not have the book, though. Also, a smaller bookstore in Marylebone High Street had the book in stock, but I don´t remember the name of the shop. The few smaller stores I checked did not have it. So, on this admittedly very limited evidence, I suppose the situation is neither especially bad, nor good. The guy I spoke to in the Marylebone shop recognised the book I was referring to when I asked about it and he said that they had sold some copies, but that the book hadn´t received particularly high-profile publicity, as it has in Finland and Estonia.

We also continued our study of London restaurants. This is an on-going project with us; so on-going, in fact, that I fully expect it will never end. Hooray. Here are some of our findings, all restaurants where we ate very good meals and the price represented good value for money, in our opinion:

Fishworks in Marylebone High Street
The Four Seasons in Gerrard Street (Chinese, as the location suggests)
Thai Garden in Museum Street

Monday, 14 June 2010

Famous Finnish novelists....

.....if that isn´t an oxymoron. Of course, there are plenty of Finnish novelists who are famous in Finland, but very few of them are well known outside Finland. Now, why should that be, I ask myself? This is an issue that I have wondered about before and I started thinking about it again after recently reading Sofi Oksanen´s latest novel, published in English translation as Purge earlier this year.

Firstly, there are not many translations of Finnish novelists in the major European languages. Nothing like the range of English, French and German novelists who are translated, for instance. Lack of good translations has definitely been an obstacle to the spread of Finnish literature over the last 100 years. Some major figures and classic works have not been translated into English. Juhani Aho´s masterpiece, Juha, for instance, was first published in Finnish in 1911, yet it was not until 2005 that the first English translation appeared. But more important, and perhaps also the reason for the lack of translations, is cultural attitude. Finnish culture, and consequently its literature, does not have the mass appeal of French, German or ancient Greek. It´s as if the literature of `little´ nations is not important, and that´s a shame.

So I´m afraid that when English translations appear, they may be ignored by the booksellers and by the reading public. It´s possible that these works in translation become `invisible´ in a way. So, in an attempt to offer some kind of counter-balance to that, here is a selected list of some Finnish novels available in English that I have enjoyed reading.

First, there´s Juha. The novel describes a love triangle and powerful emotions in a Finnish forest setting at the turn of the last century.

Väinö Linna´s trilogy, Under The North Star, tells the story of a village in central southern Finland from the 1880s to about 1950. As well as the relationships between the characters, there is a realistic portrayal of village life and national and political issues. Volume one includes the influence of land reform and the language issue on the daily lives of the people. The narrative of volume two is largely dominated by the civil war of 1918. It´s pretty harrowing, but wonderfully written. All three volumes give a very clear understanding of Finnish history, customs and lifestyle. Each volume stands alone as a complete novel but in my opinion it makes sense to read them in order.

Tove Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomin stories, mainly for children, but adults enjoy them, too. I´m not sure how popular or well known these books are in Britain. I know they are hugely successful in Japan and maybe some other countries. However, Jansson also wrote adult novels. One of her most popular has been translated into English, The Summer Book. It describes the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother during a summer spent at the family´s summer cottage on an island in the Gulf of Finland.

I believe that Mika Valtari enjoyed considerable popularity during the 1950s and 60s, though I think that was mainly in America. His best known novel, Sinuhe, the Egyptian has been an international best-seller. It´s a wide-ranging and monumental account of a character who lived in ancient Egypt.

Which brings us back to Sofi Oksanen. Purge is set in Soviet occupied Estonia during the 1940s and in the newly independent Estonia of the early 1990s. One of the back cover comments on my American edition compares the book with McEwan´s Atonement and a crime novel. It´s true someone dies and we learn by the end exactly what had happened earlier. That´s the only similarity to any crime novel I´ve ever read. There is no similarity to Atonement. Oksanen´s narrative style is original and exciting. She is also half Estonian, though she was born and grew up in Finland. She has had great success in Finland, winning all three of Finland´s top literary prizes. There has certainly been interest abroad, the book has been published, or is due to be published, in several languages in 28 countries. It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be to this work.

Cover of the American edition

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Ceramic artists in Tallinn

There is a group of ceramic artists in Tallinn whose work I admire very much. This piece is by Lauri Kilusk. The shape of the body below the head is contained inside the trunk of the tree. It makes me think of Ariel in The Tempest when he was imprisoned inside a pine by the witch, Sycorax.

This is another piece by Lauri Kilusk. I call it The Angel That Cannot Fly.

I call this piece The Blue Woman and it´s made by Urmas Puhkan. From the angle of her head resting on her arms she seems very sad.

There are seven artists in the group who share a workshop and gallery. I find their work always original and exciting. They have a website at :
where you can find other examples of their work and a map showing the location of their gallery.

Monday, 7 June 2010

island,nameless rock

In 2009 Cinnamon Press published my translation from Finnish into English of Martti Hynynen´s collection of poetry, island, nameless rock
Available from Cinnamon Press:

island, nameless rock by Martti Hynynen by Martti Hynynen

Bye for now