In the Espoo City Library, we have (for many years now) had an group of librarians who love science fiction and fantasy. We call ourselves Espoon Fantasia and we have a Facebook and Instagram accounts in addition to our blog. We are involved in acquiring new books, thus making sure we have all the top titles of the genre, taking good care of the collection and also we’ve been a part of organizing events like Escon and Finncon. This spring we started a series of author interviews in our blog to get more visibility for the new books. For Christmas we interviewed a British author Matt Haig. The Finnish translation of the interview, with extra questions to his translator Sarianna Silvonen, is in the Espoon Fantasia site. Hope you enjoy!
When is the last time you visited the library? Did you have a specific reason?
I haven’t visited a library since before Covid unfortunately. The last time I visited was my local one, in Brighton where I live. It is a lovely modern library, right in the heart of town. I was there to get some books for my daughter.
What do libraries mean to you? Do you have a memory related to a library you would like to share with us?
Libraries have always been my safe space. Libraries aren’t just about books. They are almost the only public space we have left which don’t like our wallets more than us. When I was a teenager I used to visit the local library in my hometown of Newark-on-Trent and sit there and do my homework or read Stephen King, while waiting for my working parents to come home.
How did you become an author?
Age 25 I was recovering from a nervous breakdown. I was agoraphobic for a while so couldn’t work in an office. So I began to write.
Who are your literary influences? Which authors or works do you wish to be compared?
My influences are very eclectic. From poets like Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver, to novelists like Graham Greene and Margaret Atwood and Sandra Newman and Stephen King, to philosophers – particularly the Stoics and Montaigne.
What is your typical writing day like? Has COVID-19 changed it?
No. Covid hasn’t changed it too much. I still work mainly in the morning. My brain gets foggy by the afternoon.
Which do you prefer, writing new text or editing old, and why? Have you found forgotten gems from your unpublished material, which you have started working on again, or have you used your old material in new works?
I much prefer a first draft, when everything feels fresh. Editing is a chore for me. I occasionally abandon a novel and then return to it in a different form, yes. It happened with The Midnight Library, actually.
How do you plan your stories? Do you use for example a big board on which you have characters and events outlined or a small black notebook? Do you explore different alternative timelines or is the plot set exactly from the beginning? How do you do your worldbuilding?
No. I am a terrible planner. No white boards for me. My favourite quote on writing is from Francoise Sagan and she said ‘I have to write in order to think’. That is me as well. I plan in the act of writing.
“Reasons to stay alive” and “Notes on a Nervous Planet” are about your own experiences with mental health issues. At this time and age, it is very important to have books on these topics and there must be a lot of appreciative readers. How do you feel about these books now? What would you like to tell about the process of writing them?
I am glad I wrote them. It was very therapeutic externalizing my thoughts on mental illness and modern life.
In “The Truth Pixie” you present this brilliant idea that one must speak the truth no matter what. This is very intriguing and talking about this book with children always triggers a very interesting conversation with them. Is there a story behind this book?
I just find it a funny idea. But also, it makes her an outsider. And I think that applies to a lot of things. Sometimes to be totally honest, in art or life, is to place ourselves outside things.
Both your books “The Truth Pixie“ and “A boy called Christmas“ have a connection to Finland. It is rather obvious when it comes to Christmas, after all Santa lives in Finland´s Arctic Circle and has a workshop in Rovaniemi, but how come there is a connection in The Truth Pixie? Have you visited Finland or does Finland have a special meaning to you? Why does Helsinki appear in your books? If you have not visited Finland, would you like to?
Yes. I have visited Finland. I have been to Helsinki and also Rovaniemi, which was so magical. I adore Finland and find it deeply inspiring. And wish I could be there this Christmas drinking a warm glass of glögi!
The Christmas -series currently is three books: A boy called Christmas, The girl who saved Christmas and Father Christmas and me. Are you planning more Christmas-related stories? For children’s librarians bringing up Christmas and other important seasonal events and myths to children’s books are really important. What does Christmas mean to you and why did you choose to write about it?
Yes! I have just finished writing a new one – A Mouse Called Miika. Christmas for me means escape from routine, and into a kind of eternal childhood full of warmth and imagination.
What would you like to tell us of your book “The Midnight Library” (which came out in Finland this autumn)? Can you remember how you got the idea to use library of books containing people’s lives?
It is about a library between life and death where a woman gets to try all her other lives she could have lived. It is the book I am proudest of, and I have been overwhelmed with the public response. I had the idea of the library as a portal two years ago. I woke up one morning and it seemed perfect.
What are your own holiday plans like on this weird year?
I have no holiday plans as such. But we did buy a camper van, so there will be some camping in the near future. This time last year I was in Lapland and so, hopefully, there will be another trip to Finland in the future.
What books would you recommend for our readers?
I suppose for an adult novel, The Midnight Library or The Humans. For non-fiction, Reasons to Stay Alive. Or for children, A Boy Called Christmas, which is set in Finland and is being made into a film starring Maggie Smith and Sally Hawkins and Kristen Wiig for Netflix (out next Christmas).
Is there something you would like to say to your Finnish readers?
Just that I adore your country and want to explore more of it! Plus I hope one day soon I will do a book event there.
Thank you for the interview mr. Haig and we hope you have a Merry Christmas!