Tag Archives: Maria Turtschaninoff

Feminist Fantasy

By the end of her event on feminist fantasy with Deirdre Sullivan, whose most recent book is Perfectly Preventable Deaths – or PPD for short – we ‘all’ wanted to marry Maria Turtschaninoff’s husband. Apparently she felt ‘Mr T’ needed to be in one of her books, and he’s the really rather lovely man in Maresi, Red Mantle.

Maria Turtschaninoff

And while I’m wishing, I’ll have Deirdre’s dress (and the right shape to wear it).

Deirdre Sullivan

This event, chaired by Philippa Cochrane, introduced two authors who believe in women in fantasy, and for them to be powerful and successful without resorting to swords and magic. It’s the kind of thing we need more of.

I was cheered by Maria’s answer to the question whether they ever feel they are not good enough. Maria apologised and said she didn’t understand the question, as would be the way for someone who not only writes about feminists, but who lives like one. She has always wanted to be an author, but realised at an early age that it was best to keep this secret. Her cover was ballerina or deep sea diver.

Deirdre didn’t know one could aspire to become an author. To her it was like wishing to be a unicorn, or an orange, or a mermaid. She now loves writing, being able to build something that is her own. And if she doesn’t quite hear everything her husband says to her when she builds her worlds, that doesn’t matter.

Maria Turtschaninoff and Deirdre Sullivan

Both authors have recently written dramas for the theatre. Maria said that her play for the theatre in Vaasa was her first, and last. It sounded as if Deirdre’s experience was similar, and she would not write a play again, or at least for a very long time.

It was clear that the audience was very keen to hear what these two had to say, and they wanted to read their books. And after the loss of the signing table in the bookshop had been resolved, a good time was had by all. Especially Maria’s Polish fan who had come all the way here, and who’s responsible for people in Poland reading Maria’s books. It’s the kind of thing that warms the heart.

As Deirdre said, we must respect people’s voices, give them space, and we have to remember we are all human beings.

Maria Turtschaninoff and Deirdre Sullivan

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Maresi, Red Mantle

With Maresi, Red Mantle we are back with Maresi from the Red Abbey. Maria Turtschaninoff’s final book in the trilogy is based on the letters Maresi writes to her friends and to the older, supportive, women she left behind on Menos when she started the long journey home to Rovas.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi, Red Mantle

This story about her new life back in the old place is, if possible, even more feminist than the first two books. It also has more men in it, which sort of hits you after a while, because you have got used to the – almost – women-only groups in Maresi and in Naondel. Even knowing what the first books are like, I still found myself feeling surprised at the sheer strength of a woman’s power.

That is an empowering feeling for any reader. So are the wise thoughts that Maresi shares with us, whether they are her thoughts, or those of her mother or her sister, or simply observations on life. They are so true, and yet, we often miss such obvious ideas, because we are so busy with life, maybe making mistakes, or assuming too much, based on what is traditional.

I kept wanting to cheer her on, to tell Maresi that she could do it. But it’s never easy to return to a place where you once belonged. You’re home, and you’re not. How do you know where you really belong? And does it matter, when it’s what other people think of you that determines how your life goes?

Maresi’s job is to start a school. That may seem an obvious task, but it’s hard, when people can’t see what good it would do to read. And then we are shown how life can go wrong, just because you didn’t know what was written on a piece of paper. It’s more than a matter of life and death.

And the pleasure you get from reading, or being able to write letters to someone. It’s as if all of life is in this book. Read it. You will feel better for it.

Maresi, Red Mantle tells girls that they matter. That they can, and should, do things. It tells boys that girls can, and that the boys will be better for it. It’s very beautiful.

(Translation by AA Prime)

What women do

Two things cheered me up this week, and kept me going.

Putting the finishing touches to the translated Maria Turtschaninoff interview, I was reminded again of how much Maria’s strong female characters meant to me. Because if truth be told, I am often put off – otherwise excellent – books when there are too many toxic relationships between girls. I know that often the whole point is that we read about their troubles, to discover how they overcome, or not, the trials of getting on with each other.

It is so much better if they can cooperate from the start. As Maria said, they don’t have to be best friends or like each other. Just not do bad things towards another female ‘because it’s what girls do.’

And reading Michael Grant’s Purple Hearts, taking courage from how his soldier girls have grown in their soldier’s boots, executing ‘male’ tasks as well as the men, and sometimes better, not putting up with their stupid comments and prejudice. Yes, I’m looking at you, Private ‘Sweetheart,’ but you learned your lesson, didn’t you?

So maybe Rio’s best friend Jenou enlisted in the belief that she could be an army typist somewhere safe, flirting with soldiers, while doing her bit for the war. But she did just as well – better, really – marching in the heat or in the cold, hiding in holes, cold and wet and hungry, with lice everywhere you could mention, and in some other places too.

All those trailblazing female soldiers made me cry with pride. And they too could cooperate, whether or not they liked the other soldier.

Rio Richlin

I suspect that neither Maria nor Michael could have imagined the current state of relations between the sexes when they wrote their books, even though it wasn’t all that long ago. Things have moved fast, and not in the right direction.

We need more writers like this. I mean, we need writers to write about this. I ought not to suggest that authors might not share these opinions. As for me, I’ll probably continue to shun any books with plots that seem a bit too catty, or misogynistic.

The late interview – Maria Turtschaninoff

If I employed me to work on Bookwitch, I’d have to give myself the sack for slacking and being late.

But here, at very long last, is my interview with Maria Turtschaninoff, in English. The Swedes – and the Finns – got her ages ago. Well, like two months ago. Right in time for Finland’s national day. The only thing special about today, is that it’s the day before tomorrow.

Maria Turtschaninoff

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

Aarhus 39

Sigh.

I’m absolutely green with envy.

This is the Aarhus 39 weekend (if that’s what it is when it begins on a Thursday), and I’m not there. Meg Rosoff is swanning around in the company of Eoin Colfer and Chris Riddell, two ex-children’s laureates. Two of my favourites. They, in turn, are swanning around in the company of Meg, favourite everything.

I don’t see how it can get much worse. For me, that is. They and Aarhus are probably having a great time. They are probably swanning around with Daniel Hahn, assuming he’s in a position to swan with anyone.

This Astrid Lindgren nominated whirlwind has gathered at least two more ALMA nominees – Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson – as well as most of the other 37 Aarhus 39ers. That’s them in the jolly photo below.

Aarhus 39

No doubt they are mostly swanning too.

And the lucky citizens of Aarhus will have been going round to all these book events, most of which appear to have been free.

I hope this means that it might become a habit, and that maybe next year I can swan somewhere. Unless all the laureates are worn out by then.

Arra

You were promised a book most of you can’t read, so here it is.

I have continued reading my way through Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. And while I get why her Red Abbey Chronicles were translated into English, I can’t see why her other work hasn’t been too. Consider this an invitation.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Arra

The world that you might have met in Maresi and Naondel is a world Maria uses in her other books as well, rather like our own world. This means that one book is set in one country and one period, while another can be somewhere completely different, but still in the fantasy world Maria made up, and perhaps set earlier or later than the other stories.

Arra is set furthest back in time, and feels very much like many real world settings; the poverty suffered in a far from everywhere small village, somewhere a bit like Finland. Maybe. I can’t place it in time, but they use horses and carts, and candles, and old-fashioned weapons.

The reader meets Arra when she’s born, and you soon discover that her parents really didn’t want her. But for some reason they don’t kill her. She grows up neglected and alone among her many older siblings. Arra is mute, because no one talks to her and she’s considered stupid.

Not our heroine! Arra has plenty to think about in her head, and she has many unusual talents, which unfortunately also bring her trouble. After much deprivation in her first years, Arra ends up in the capital, living with her sister and her family, where she is used as a slave and still treated as a burden and an idiot.

Now, this will sound very fairy tale, but Arra meets and falls in love with the country’s prince Surando. He also experiences difficulties in his life, and more so when he is forced to go out to war, and when things get really bad, Arra goes to search for him, to rescue him.

I know, that too sounds quite unbelievable, but it’s not.

This is a beautiful and stirring tale, with much cruelty, but also beauty and love. I wish you could all read it!

The ones not yet chosen

Is it silly to review a book you, my readers, can’t read? I’ve got so caught up with Maria Turtschaninoff that I’m not only working my way through her books, but I want to tell everyone else about them too.

Maria Turtschaninoff, De ännu inte valda

So to begin with, I’m simply glad I’ve managed to source her un-translated books, especially after my rant a couple of weeks ago. Of six novels, two have been translated into English. The other four don’t even make it into Swedish bookshops, despite being written in Swedish, because Maria is from Finland.

De ännu inte valda (The ones not yet chosen) is her first published book. It’s fairly short, and aimed at younger readers than Maresi or Naondel. While fantasy, it is half set in the real world, and half in some other place. We meet step-siblings Martin and Emmi, who really don’t get on. Each of them would prefer to be left alone; he with his mum and she with her dad.

But now the parents are going off, leaving the two with Emmi’s aunt. And as so often happens under these circumstances, a fairytale muse pops through the window one evening and the two children accidentally-on-purpose leave with her, and discover a whole new world.

It’s a story world, where the muses are charged with catching every inspirational thought authors have, and help them fill their stories with the right characters. It’s an important task, as it wouldn’t do to put the wrong characters into a story.

No sooner have Emmi and Martin arrived, than it becomes clear this world is under threat, and they realise that they are the only ones who can fix it. But they are still fighting each other, so first have to learn to cooperate, and that both of them can be right. And wrong.

This is a lovely story and it’s such an obvious plot in a way, that I’m surprised I’ve not encountered it before. It makes sense, because how can you leave characterisation to a mere writer? You want a specialist.

And needless to say, this is also a plot that urgently requires a translator.

True Survival

Bosco Theatre

As I approached the Bosco Theatre to do a bit of a recce 25 minutes before the event with Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff, I was surprised but pleased to find a queue of fans already waiting. I suspect it’s the fantasy effect, which seems to have really keen fans. Girl fans, mostly. And I have no idea who they came to see, Alwyn or Maria. I understand that Alwyn is quite big. But then, I believe Maria is big too.

Chaired by Daniel Hahn, these three knew what they were doing, having already got together for an event in Hay. Alwyn wore the wrong – but lovely – shoes, and walked down those stairs carefully, so as not to get stuck in the gaps. Maria wore a Moomin dress, i.e. made of a fabric that might have looked like white spots, but those spots were Moomins. (Philip Pullman would kill for a dress like that!)

To the accompanyment of screeching seagulls outside, Daniel introduced the ladies as exciting new voices in YA fantasy. He started by asking them how they came to write, and Alwyn said she falls asleep by making up stories in bed (me too, which is why I fall asleep), and she really can’t undertand how people who don’t write manage to sleep. From there she moved on to Harry Potter fan fiction.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

Maria admitted to being far too old to have done any Harry Potter-ing, but in kindergarten she would be allowed to stay up when the other children had a nap, and she would write stories. So while Alwyn sent herself to sleep, Maria stayed awake. She liked Moomin, so wrote Moomin-style stories. She knew she could write, but didn’t have ideas of her own. She wants writing to be easy; a bed of roses.

Alwyn wanted to write about girl heroines, but discovered that it was considered wrong to have girls do what male characters have long been doing. ‘Dragons were realistic, girls were not.’ Girls were not strong enough. She wanted sharpshooters, in order to avoid the requirement for strength, and it became a sort of Western crossed with a Thousand and One Nights.

Maria found a Greek island where women were forbidden to land, and this inspired her to write Maresi, about an island that didn’t permit men to visit. Both authors agreed that you just have to wait for things to click, and then the writing will work.

Reading from Naondel, Orseola’s story – because it was the happiest – she said she has not tried to protect her characters from bad things. You only need to look at what’s in the news to realise how much bad stuff your readers will already be aware of.

Daniel asked about gatekeeping, quoting teachers on an awards committee, who wanted to recommend certain books to their pupils, but feeling they were not allowed to do so. It had to be the parents who permitted their children to read. Maria said that she was not aware of any banning of books in Finland, and that Naondel was part of a book parcel offered there.

Alwyn read from chapter two of her second book in the Rebel of the Sands series. When she writes she likes to do so with fast music in the background,  and she needs to write fast, using placeholders to get past obstacles, saving details for later. And that’s also when she removes unnecessary details. The most she’s ever written in one day was 8000 words. Maria sets a goal of perhaps 2000 words, because she is lazy and she needs to have something to work towards.

Asked about how to deal with writer’s block, Alwyn said she always carried a notepad, and she would listen to people on the bus, and write things down, and she’d look at people and practise writing descriptions of them. ‘Me and my art,’ she called it.

Regarding writing ‘real’ books instead of fantasy, the answer is that if you don’t like reading those ‘real’ books, then you can’t write them.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

Another question was how to explain what a fantasy world is like, if that world is the norm to those living in it. The best solution is to introduce a newcomer, like Maresi, who then describes what she learns about the island. Or you take an outsider like Gulliver and put them in ‘a situation.’

I hope Alwyn’s fans grew as interested in Maria’s books, as I did Alwyn’s. And there really is something about fantasy fans.

Day 4

The days are getting shorter. Well, I suppose it’s that time of year. And it felt like even the long trains were also shortening; unless there really were that many extra daytrippers yesterday, being a Sunday and that.

DSCN0184

I didn’t quite make it to see Jo Nadin or Tony Ross at their signings, but you can’t have everything. I was there for the event with Maria Turtschaninoff and Alwyn Hamilton, chaired by the little known Daniel Hahn. It was in the new Bosco Theatre venue, out on George Street, and this was my first time. What I will say is that Theresa Breslin was spot-on earlier in the week, when she said it was lovely, but not for wearing stiletto heels in. At the time, Keith Charters and I looked at each other, both fairly secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be.

The other thing about the venue is that the signing tent is very small. No room for Bookwitches wanting to take pictures, except for this close-up of Alwyn’s handbag contents. But I dare say it wasn’t made with me in mind.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

I joined Daniel Hahn outside instead and forced him to sign a book (one he had edited, so I wasn’t being totally unreasonable) and then he made me want to go to Denmark with him in October…

After this fantasy event I wandered back to Charlotte Square, catching William Dalrymple signing for a queue of fans, after what looked like a full Main Theatre event. I feel I know, as I stood there trying to take photographs of Chris Close’s picture display, and I tried at just the wrong moment, when the whole tent walked past, very slowly. Well, obviously it wasn’t the actual tent that moved, but the people who had been in it.

William Dalrymple

Hoped to see Ross Collins and Claire Barker after their event, but they must have been busy chatting to admirers, as they hadn’t emerged when I had to make a move.

Because, dear readers, I had an interview to conduct, and was meeting Maria Turtschaninoff in the gap between her own event and seeing Jonathan Stroud. We sat in the sunshine on the deck outside the authors’ yurt, chatting about mothers and books and how arrogant Sweden is towards the other Nordic countries. I mean, I said that. Maria is far too polite to.

And as she went off with a bagful of Lockwood books, I walked to Waverley again, prepared to fight the other festival-goers, but struck lucky by finding an unexpected train going my way a couple of minutes later, and it wasn’t even full.

Bosco Theatre