Today I’m delighted to welcome author Helena Halme to the blog.
Helena is a Finnish-born author of six novels. Her latest title, The Good Officer, is the 4th book in The Englishman series of contemporary Nordic romances.
Helena grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to the UK via Stockholm and Helsinki.
She is the winner of the John Nurmi prize for best thesis on British politics, and a former BBC journalist. Helena has also worked as a magazine editor and a bookseller and as head of Finn-Guild, the Finnish/British cultural association in London.
Helena currently works as a Writing and Marketing Mentor, is Fellow of CreateThinkDo and Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors.
Helena loves Nordic Noir and sings along to ABBA songs when no-one is around.
Please start by telling us about your bestselling series, The Englishman. How would you describe your fiction?
I write contemporary fiction set in Finland and Britain.
The Englishman came about when I began posting my life story on my blog, titled ‘How I Came to Be in England‘.
The readers of my blog wanted to know why I’d moved from my native Finland in the early 1980s and settled in Britain. I decided to write a few posts on how I met and fell head over heels in love with a naval officer at the British Embassy cocktail party in Helsinki.
The year was 1980 and it was the very first Royal Navy visit to Helsinki after WW2. Finland, although neutral, was friendly with the Soviet Union and known for being the spy capital of the North during the Cold War.
The Englishman was warned about Soviet ‘honey traps’ before the trip, and I was engaged to be married to a very conservative Finnish man. When the Englishman left, I broke up with my fiancé and began a long-distance relationship with the ‘foreigner’ as my dad called my new love.
The ‘How I Came to be in England’ blog posts became very popular with such bloggers as Sasha Wilkins (aka London Liberty Girl) and Helen Brocklebank (Harper’s Bazaar/Town and Country), who encouraged me to develop the story into a novel.
Two years after the blog posts went live, I published The Englishman, and two years later I published the sequel The Navy Wife. The third novel in the series, The Good Officer came out in November last year, and a prequel novella, The Finnish Girl, earlier in the year.
The Red King of Helsinki is a Cold War spy thriller. How did you go about researching this novel?
Growing up in Finland, I was acutely aware of the conflict between Russia and the West. I also love William Boyd’s spy novels, and for a long time, I’d had this idea of a young woman somehow unwittingly getting involved in a spy ring.
On one of my many visits to Helsinki I spent a few days at the University Library reading old newspapers from the late 1970’s. I came across a story about a gymnastics competition between a Finnish and a Russian school. I’d also been a little obsessed with a true story of a 17-year-old who committed suicide by jumping out of her 5th floor window and decided to combine these two stories.
In the finished book, the girl doesn’t die, and the story of the competition is the main focus – together with the spying of course! I had to learn a lot about gymnastics, and spent many weeks reading up on the different moves and the terms you use for the sport.
You have an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. How helpful was this to you in your creative career and would you recommend a Creative Writing MA to other people?
The MA was pivotal in my career as a writer. I’m not sure I could have written as many books as I have, had it not been for the course. I learned a lot about writing, about how the industry works and made a lot of friends!
But mainly it allowed me to consider writing as a career. At the time I was working as a Finance Director and feeling utterly bored with accountancy, so to be able to spend a year doing something creative was wonderful.
I would definitely recommend an MA to anyone who wants to take their writing seriously.
I’m fascinated by the fact that you are Finnish, but you write your books in English. Do you work entirely in English or do you think and plan in Finnish and then write in English? What language do you dream in? Have your linguistic skills influenced your writing in any way?
That is a very interesting question, Margarita! In theory English is my third language, but I moved to Britain some 34 years ago, and began learning English at the age of seven, so I would say that English is now my strongest language.
I don’t often think (or dream) in Finnish anymore, and definitely do not plan my books in anything but English. Sometimes, when I’ve spent some time with my family or Finnish friends, I find myself thinking in my mother tongue, but it is quite rare now.
I worked for a few years with a Finnish/British cultural association in London, and during that time I relearned Finnish, which was wonderful. But even during those years, I continued to write in English – the result was The Navy Wife.
I do, however, think that my multicultural background informs my writing; I hope at least that my Finnish characters come across as different from the English ones. I also find it quite easy to write fiction from the point of view of other nationalities, and enjoy describing life in Finland (& Sweden), and hope that comes across as authentic.
Which other writers have most influenced you?
What a difficult question: there are so many! I already mentioned William Boyd – I love all of his books and his ability to get under the skin of his characters. He also writes quite beautifully.
I’ve admired Doris Lessing ever since I came across The Golden Notebook at the British Institute in Helsinki. Her feminist views were such a breath of fresh air to me at the time and her pared down style of writing also really spoke to me. I also enjoy reading Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moyes and the Finnish author, Sofi Oksanen.
What is your experience of being an indie author and do you have any good tips for aspiring indie authors?
I spoke about this at a recent Q&A session at a book reading in London. I think my top tip for being an indie author is to first of all remember that the author part of the job is the most important one. You need to produce well written and edited books.
Secondly it is vital that you remember that as an indie author you are also a publisher, and develop a business attitude to your writing, distribution and marketing.
Thirdly, have patience! No business, small or large was built overnight; it takes time to write good books and find the readers and fans for your work.
I see you offer a Mentoring Service on your website. Please tell us about the services you offer.
I help authors on how to write as well as how to self-publish a title. Sometime my clients are totally new to writing, sometimes they’ve written a title but find it difficult to start a second, or a third one. Some authors I just help with the process of publishing and marketing a new book. I am also Fellow of CreateThinkDo, a one-off method consisting of two sessions, which helps creatives review their creative branding approach and set tangible goals for a marketing strategy.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing the 5th and final book in The Englishman series. It is quite hard because I have to say goodbye to the characters, and there are some dramatic scenes to write.
I am also writing a nonfiction title on ‘How to Turn Your Life into Fiction’ because this is a subject I’m often quizzed about. (The Englishman is based on my own experiences of falling in love with a British Navy officer).
I am also planning a series of murder mysteries set on an island between Finland and Sweden. They will most likely be shorter in length, around 30-40,000 words each.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What spare time? Reading and writing, of course! Joking aside, being a Finn I love skiing, and spending time outdoors in general. I’m lucky that where we live in North London we are close to some magnificent woods, so I enjoy taking my old terrier for long walks. Being in London, I also go out with friends a lot, take in art exhibitions, go to book readings, literary festivals, see latest films and theatre. Sometimes there’s almost too much to do in London!
Thanks Helena, that was great!
Win a Copy of The Englishman
Helena is running a giveaway on Goodreads until June 2nd, 2017. Click the link below for a chance to win a copy of her novel, The Englishman.
Connect with Helena on-line
You can also email Helena on firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.
Get Helena’s latest title, The Good Officer, here.
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