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Maria Turtschaninoff on Finnish Weird and the Legacy of the Moomintrolls

Posted on 5th April 2017 by Martha Greengrass & Maria Turtschaninoff
As a Finnish fantasy author, Maria Turtschaninoff has found an enviable freedom to create her own distinctive and unique voice. As Nanondel, the second novel in her highly praised Red Abbey Chronicles series, is released, she discusses the culture of Finnish Weird, the creative legacy of Tove Jansson and how being small can set you free.

I debuted ten years ago this year, and have since then published six fantasy novels for young readers. My publishers have never once asked me “Why do you write fantasy?” (a question journalists never seem to get past). This is despite the fact that my debut was several years before the peak of the fantasy wave hit the shores of literature land. I have colleagues in other countries who have to have that discussion with their publishers for every book.

I think the reason for the freedom I have experienced is twofold. One is the fact that I am Finnish, but belong to a Swedish-speaking minority that comprises about 6% of the population. This means that the market for my books is very small (Sweden is historically speaking not very interested in literature in Swedish from Finland). When you write for a small language minority, marketability becomes fairly unimportant. I have always had complete artistic freedom, something I truly value and appreciate.

The other reason is the predecessor we have to look up to in Swedish-speaking Finland: Tove Jansson, who wrote about and illustrated stories about the Moomintrolls starting in the 1940’s. The novels and comics inhabit a quirky, genre-wise very difficult to define universe. We who write speculative fiction in Finland live, not in Jansson’s shadow, but in the rich soil her ground-breaking work gave rise to. Back when she first released the Moomintrolls on the world, fantasy as a literary genre was barely named and no-one attempted very much to genre-pinpoint her work. And I think as a result we who write fantasy today don't have to work so hard at defending our choice of genre.

This is my experience as a writer in a minority language. In Finnish, the scene is larger and quite different, even though Tove Jansson has had a great impact there, too. Today a lot is happening in YA fantasy in Finland, from Emmi Itäranta who writes her novels parallel in English and Finnish (and who has had great success with Memory of Water and City of Woven Streets), to the first Finnish steampunk-novel (The Beggar Princess, the first novel in the Gigi & Henry-trilogy) for young readers by Magdalena Hai.

Finnish Weird is a new and very useful concept to unify all the disparate writers in Finland who explore worlds and concepts beyond the immediately real. For those interested in learning more I recommend the free online publication Finnish Weird that showcases short stories in English by Finnish writers – or, as the publication states: 'The community of weird writers in Finland is thriving, and producing memorable stories that blur and bend genre boundaries with their unbridled flight of imagination.'

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