An Interview with Kati Hiekkapelto

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The Petrona nominated Finnish writer talks about crime fiction and being the lead singer of a punk rock band.

One of Scandinavian crime fiction’s rising stars, Kati Hiekkapelto’s debut novel, The Hummingbird, was issued last year. Critically acclaimed, it was nominated for the Petrona Award. A sequel, The Defenceless, will be published in September by Orenda Books.

A modern-day Renaissance woman, Kati juggles several careers. In addition to being one of Finland’s most successful novelists, she is a special-needs teacher, performance artist, and lead singer in a feminist punk band.

We caught up with Kati at CrimeFest and talked about her writing, the road to publication, and Nordic crime fiction’s ability to highlight cracks in Scandinavian society.

“When I got the idea to write a crime novel I didn’t realize it was such a good genre for talking about social issues,” Kati exclaimed. “I just wanted to write the story. Story is the most important thing.”

“This genre is perfect to deal with social issues. One Finnish author, not a crime writer, has said that crime fiction is the first literary genre that uncovers the festering boils of society.”

Kati’s first novel The Hummingbird is a flinty police procedural featuring an immigrant detective investigating a serial killer who is murdering joggers. The sleuth is also keeping a close eye on a young Kurdish girl because of fears that the child is being forced into an arranged marriage,

“There’s so much under the surface,” she explained. The reality we live in is so different you couldn’t imagine what is happening there to the migrants. It’s happening there in the same country. Somebody has to talk about it.”

Living on the island Hailuoto Kati makes a daily commute by boat to the mainland for work. One evening inspiration struck and it set her on a route that would lead to the publication of her first book.

“I was sitting in my car on a ferry going from work to my home island,” Kati explained. “I was in the middle of the sea, sitting and there and boom thought I wanted to write a crime novel. Next was the idea, I wanted the character to be an immigrant woman. This is how it began.”

“When I actually started to write I took a year off work which was quite a huge decision. Not a disaster but it was almost a disaster because my income was zero. When I wrote The Hummingbird it was to show myself I can finish a crime novel. I wanted to write a book that I would like to read.”

“We don’t have agents in Finland. We submit directly to publishers. I sent it to two publishing houses. A publisher called me after two weeks and said we are really interested can you come to Helsinki and meet. After that it was easy, very surprisingly easy. What happened after that was amazing.”

“The first foreign publisher who bought it was Icelandic but then the Icelandic publisher went bankrupt. The second one was German. They bought three books. Other publishers got interested because they thought why are they buying three books from this nobody? After that came Dutch, Hungarian, Italian, and Danish. It’s important to us Finnish. We are a small country and have a small language, we need the translations.”

Kati is also the singer and co-writer in an all female punk band.

“I was a punk from childhood. I had aunts and uncles that were punks so somehow I got influenced by then. The band started three years ago. I was already a writer. We are not interested in the music business. It’s more about having fun, and having a hobby. We practice almost every week but we don’t want to do gigs all the time because we have so many other things to do. I write the lyrics. We sing about middle aged women. It’s really political, feminist.”

Kati is currently writing a third novel. It will be published in Finland next spring. Her literary début has been optioned by a film company. With a second book due to hit British shelves in the autumn this promising flag-bearer for Finnish crime fiction might be on the verge of becoming a major player in Nordic Noir literature. She is seemingly unfazed by prospect of further success.

“I’m happy if I can pay my bills and write. That’s enough for me.”

The Defenceless can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Defenceless-Anna-Fekete-Kati-Hiekkapelto/dp/1910633135/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432918204&sr=1-1&keywords=the+defenceless

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