Friday, August 17, 2012

The Englishman by Helena Halme

Very interesting discussions still ongoing in the comments section of my previous post, and I am going to do a post summing up what we were talking about, but in the meantime I want to introduce you to Helena Halme and her debut novel, The Englishman. I've known Helena since we both did the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in 2003, and am so thrilled to be talking about her new book here today. Isn't it a gorgeous cover?

The Englishman is subtitled "Can love go the distance" and it is quite the page-turner, I've had difficulty stopping myself from devouring it. It is the story of Kaisa, a young Finnish girl who meets and falls in love with Peter, an English naval officer. As the blurb says:
"At the age of twenty, Kaisa has her life mapped out. After university in Helsinki, she’s going to marry her well-to-do fiancé, Matti, and live happily ever after. But in October 1980, she's invited to a British Embassy cocktail party, and meets a dashing Naval officer. In the chilly Esplanade Park the Englishman and Kaisa share passionate, secret kisses and promise to meet up again. But they live thousands of miles apart – and Kaisa is engaged to be married.

At the height of the Cold War the Englishman chases Russian submarines whilst Kaisa’s stuck in a country friendly with the Soviet Union. Will their love go the distance?"
Helena, who lives in England and is married to an Englishman, has made no secret of the fact that this novel has its roots in autobiography - in fact, it started life as a series of blog posts called How I Came to Be In England. But what she has done here so well is to completely fictionalize the story and provide all the required tension that keeps you reading and reading. All the small details about Finland and Sweden give the book such colour, and I love seeing England through Kaisa's eyes!

Helena and her book seem to lend themselves well (who doesn't?) to my writing & place questionnaire, so I asked her a few questions:

Where are you?

I live in Crouch End, North London.

How long have you been there?

I was born in Finland and moved to the UK some 25 years ago. Because my husband served in the navy, we move about a lot, finally settling down to Wiltshire where we lived for 15 years in a very rural setting. Some two years ago we decided we’d had enough of country life, upped sticks and moved to the city. And haven’t looked back.

What do you write?

I write fiction, mainly novels set in Finland and Sweden, where, as a child, I lived for a short while. My stories vary from romance (The Englishman) to family sagas (Pappa’s Girl, out in September), to spy thrillers (The Red King of Helsinki out in October). I also write a blog, Helena’s London Life, about my new surroundings.

How do you think where you and where you've been affects what you write about and how you write?

The Real Englishman: Helena's husband David
My origins have everything to do with what I write. I love describing life in Finland or Sweden in my books, as I think most people want a story to take them somewhere, not just emotionally but also geographically.

My latest novel, The Englishman, is set in Finland in the 1980’s and was inspired by my own story of how I met my husband and moved to the UK. It’s my third novel, but the one which is most closely based on my own life.

But I am also hugely affected by my immediate surroundings. A few years ago, when we rented a villa in Sicily, I began a novel after watching a group of local boys dive into the sea from high rocks. Seeing them hurtle down time and time again, not looking where they were jumping, made me fear that they’d hurt themselves. I recalled how my husband had told to me many years previously about a young sailor jumping to his death on a day out by the coast of somewhere. In the story which I started (but haven’t yet finished) a boy plunges to his death from a rock. This story keeps haunting me, so I am sure one day a scene like this will turn up in one of my novels.

Thanks so much Helena, it's going to be a busy year with two more books coming out! You can buy The Englishman  as an ebook on Amazon (current price 0.77p!) or Smashwords ($0.99), find out more about the book  on Facebook and its blog and follow Helena on Twitter to keep up to date with this and her other books.  Good luck with it all, Helena, I am off to find out what happens with Kaisa and Peter....!

1 comment:

Helena Halme said...

Thank you so much for having me, and for your lovely comments on The Englishman. Hx