The author Annastiina Storm answers HLA’s questions.
Your second novel Mirror, Mirror is a delightful mix of deconstruction of complicated mother-daughter relationships, absurd, magic realism, humor and deep self-reflection. Could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of such concept: combining very serious and complex life questions with a fairytale setting?
It’s not uncommon to me to first start playing around with some technical assignment or something that I find amusing, and later, almost accidentally get sucked into deeper waters.
In this case, the premise was recycling. I wanted to write a novel based on an already existing story. A fairytale was perfect for this, due to them having the inherent potential and need to be rewritten and preserved. I started playing around with the seven dwarves only to realise the text was full of themes that had been bothering me for years. Some were still touchy subjects for me, including the fear of losing something you hold dear. Difficult subjects, humour and play don’t rule each other out. At its core, the fairytale emphasises how fantastical and story-like real life is.
Similarly, your praised debut novel We Are Filled with Light deals with very multilayered relationships within a family, complex and contradictory feelings that one can sometimes feel toward their closest ones, feelings that often remain mute. Where lies your inspiration to dig deep in difficult family lives? And do you think that it is generally possible to write about family relations without reflecting – at least on some level – on your own personal experiences? In other words, is it possible at all to write about family without being… auto-biographical?
Referencing the previous answer, the starting point for my debut novel wasn’t to dwell on difficult relationships, but to experiment with various short forms of literature. I didn’t necessarily choose the subject, but rather just started writing and let it flow. I made a choice not to censor anything and just wrote everything that came to mind.
Naturally, our minds produce material that’s meaningful to us, things that have left a mark. I feel that in writing, it’s not so important if I’ve personally experienced all the things my characters have, but rather, if I can relate to what they’re feeling. Relating on an emotional level helps us understand how the body reacts to things and how the mind explains them, and what kind of allegories one can use to describe their experiences. It makes writing easier and in a way, more honest. Even though my text has this more personal aspect, it’s not auto-fictional.
In Mirror, Mirror, one of the main protagonists also deals, among other personal problems, with writer’s block. Why was it important to you to include this perspective in a fiction novel?
The said character came into the story at a point where I realised the book needed a frame story and a narrator that connects everything together. The most natural way to do this was to write the character quite close to myself. With the writer’s block I wanted to emphasise the personal challenges of the narrator. In the book, she lives a period of life where she has to rethink her own identity and the relationship with her loved ones, and she goes through all kinds of crises during that process.
If you had to describe in one sentence – what is your book about from your own point of view?
For me the book is about how our own identities and the lives we lead are just collections of stories, how fact and fiction, inextricably intertwined, make up our experience of the world around us.
What are your plans for the near future? What can the readers expect?
I’m working on two novels, one for children and the other for adults. It seems like children will get theirs first.
Finally, a version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, used by the legendary French journalist Bernard Pivot at the end of every broadcast of his literary television talk show Apostrophes.
What is your favorite word?
Suippokuono (“a pointy snout”). That word has the same comical and endearing aspects as its referent.
What is your least favorite word?
Emätin (“vagina”). What a hideous word for such a wonderful thing. I’d rather use the loanword ”vagina”. ”Emätin” sounds so awful that I find it impossible to use in Scrabble, even in a case it would score great points.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Playfulness, freedom from result-orientedness and the idea that everything is possible.
What turns you off?
All kinds of fears. Like the fear that the readers don’t find my books, or that I’m running out of ideas, or that I don’t know how to finish my book, or that my publisher won’t find my script worth publishing… I have noticed that one of the most important tools for me as a writer is the ability to deal with my fears, let them come and go, and then concentrate on the task at hand.
What is your favourite curse word?
I’m an enthusiastic swearer. At the moment, my favourite curse word is perse (“ass”).
What sound or noise do you love?
I’m not a religious person, but there is something graceful in the sound of church bells. A hearty laughter is also great to listen.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The siren like, nerve-wrecking whining sound of little children, who want something they can’t get. I don’t understand how it’s possible that evolution has let that sound live on from one generation to another. I like children but I hate that sound.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to be a biologist. It would be very exciting and interesting to research the principles of life and nature.
What profession would you not like to do?
I would hate to sell something unnecessary and try to make people think they need it. I have done that too. It didn’t make me feel just useless, but also harmful.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Welcome! Leave your ego in the cloakroom, please.”