Monday, 27 August 2018

Writing news

Things have been very quiet here for quite some time now. The reason is simple: my debut novel, co-authored with my husband, just came out! This historical adventure is set in the Thirty Years' War and called "Kuninkaan rakuunat - Upseerin miekka" ("King's Dragoons - Officer's Sword"). It was published by Otava.

Lately, we have been busy with writing, editing, research and other such things, and even decided to establish a new author page for these new writing endeavours. Only a Finnish version is available at the moment, but there are plenty of pictures and even a few videos in the new blog. I won't be updating this blog very frequently from now on, but you're very welcome to follow the new site!

In other news, one of my short stories, titled "Daughters of the Frost World" was published by Fantastic Books Publishing in their latest anthology, "The Dummies' Guide To Serial Killing: And Other Fantastic Female Fables". Paperback and ebook versions are both available.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Spooky reads for Halloween

In a previous post, I mentioned that as the nights grow darker, so does my taste in books. On those dark and stormy nights, I have a yarning to read something a bit gothic or books such as “Wuthering Heights” or “Jane Eyre”. Anything featuring wind-whipped moors or a dark, mysterious mansion seems suddenly tempting. Do autumn and the approaching Halloween affect your reading preferences? Do you have a favourite horror (or any other dark) novel or perhaps a favourite author whose work would be perfect for this time of year? In the spirit of Halloween, here's a little look of some of my favourite spooky, dark and mysterious reads.

I have never been a big fan of horror, although I did experience a brief eerie period in my teens when I read all the spooky books I could locate in the library of a small village. My favourite was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – and while it might not appear so very frightening to a modern reader, it is, after all, a classic and holds a special place in the dark corner of my heart.

Another classic that I’m fascinated by is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, which, with its witches and obscure prophesies, bloody murder and mist-shrouded castles seems like a perfect Halloween treat. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!

In this context, I must mention Robert R. McCammon and his excellent werewolf books, “The Wolf’s Hour” and “The Hunter from the Woods” (a collection of short stories/novellas rather than a novel) which may not be strictly horror, but work with historical fiction and lycanthrope lore to weave together stories that are a fascinating combination of adventure, action and even a bit of romance. They are gory and bloody but also rather dark and thoughtful. I’ve previously reviewed “The Wolf’s Hour”.

Another favourite of mine are the novels by Phil Rickman, whose work falls somewhere between mystery, horror and crime; in many of them, contemporary mysteries intertwine with mystical, mythological and historical elements. The writing creates an atmosphere that is hauntingly beautiful – and a bit creepy. His John Dee series is not contemporary but historical fiction steeped in mystery (my review of "The Bones of Avalon" here.)

A childhood favourite of mine, simply perfect for this time of year, is a series by an Estonian author Aino Pervik (illustrations by E. Walter). These books feature a witch, Emmeline, who lives alone on a rocky island, makes potions and gathers herbs, until she meets a sea captain called Trummi. I fear that even back when my parents read me these stories, I felt a certain affinity with the hermit witch... look, she even lives in a tree!

Last but not least – I used to love “The Witch’s Handbook” by Malcolm Bird when I was a child. Now this has become one of my daughter’s favourites, and our yearly tradition is to read it around Halloween. This is the book my daughter prefers over playing and other activities! Packed with hilarious illustrations and clever advice, this book is a must-have for anyone inspiring to become a witch.

This year, I’m also reading “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to my daughter – and it happens to be quite appropriate (just look at the cover)!

As horror isn’t generally my preferred genre, I’ve written few horror stories. There are, however, a couple that come close. Almost exactly a year ago now, the weird tale “Entombed” I wrote with my DH appeared in the “666” horror anthology (also recommended Halloween reading material) - and quite recently, our werewolf novella, “Musta Susi” (“Black Wolf”), was published in the Finnish science fiction and fantasy magazine Portti. Since it sort of fits the theme of this post, here's the title page of our story. The illustrations are by Kari T. Leppänen, and I have to say I love them; they capture the mood of the story - and look at the detail on that ship!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Autumn Equinox

Happy Autumn Equinox! As the nights grow darker, so does my taste in books, apparently... (The Finnish novel is titled "Raven Women", the other one promises to be "sexy, spooky, stylish" - we'll see.)

Autumn Equinox happens to be the birthday of one my literary crushes favourite characters, Valerius from Manda Scott's Boudica series. This day always reminds me of that character. Today, I think I'll even bake a cake to celebrate. 😉 Something with apples...

This song, "The Old Ways", by Loreena McKennitt fits my Autumn Equinox mood perfectly.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Stockholm and Uppsala – in the footsteps of Vikings

This summer, we visited Sweden – Stockholm and Uppsala, to be more precise. I have already blogged about the 17th century part of our trip, and here’s a little look at the Viking and Iron Age side.

First up was the Historical Museum. I’d wanted to visit the place for years now, having heard that they have an impressive Viking Age collection. And indeed it was that, a very large exhibition with many fascinating items - a must-see for Viking fans.

Some Viking bling:

Swords, of course:

Miniature Birka:

On the courtyard of the museum building were some Viking age style tents, a small boat and activities, such as archery, for children.

The museum is a huge building that houses several collections. In addition to the Viking Age section, we took a closer look at Prehistory...

...and raced through the general Swedish history, but, somewhat to our disappointment, found nearly nothing about the 17th century. Not to worry, though – we knew where to go for that! 😊 We decided to skip other sections, since there simply was no time for everything. I do want to point out, though, that there was no entry fee to the museum – you could see all this and more entirely for free! (Although we made up for that by spending money in the museum shop and the café, but the chocolate cake was totally worth it! 😉)

We concluded the day in an appropriate note: a dinner at Viking restaurant Aifur. The food was good and the mead was tasty. The atmosphere was rather boisterous (i.e. loud; a conversation would have required us to shout), but isn’t that the Viking way? It was definitely an interesting experience!

Near our hotel in Upplands Väsby was a place called Gunnes Gård: a reproduction of a Viking settlement with houses and outbuildings constructed in Viking Age style. There were also sheep, some cattle and pigs; chicken and goats that roamed free around the area. Our daughter quickly made friends with the goats who followed her around!

We also visited Gamla Uppsala (“Old Uppsala”), an important place in Iron Age Sweden – possibly the location of the legendary temple of Uppsala and famous for the royal mounds. Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old… um, I mean, at least their burial mounds. The mounds date back to the 5th and 6th century and were once believed to be resting places of gods and later thought to be burial mounds of the legendary Ynglinga kings (and queens, quite possibly). Rich grave goods and the sheer majestic size of them indicate that they are indeed royal burial places. You could actually climb the mounds, and although my crippled old leg did not think it a good idea, it is not every day you get to ascend the graves of bygone kings, so up we went. And it was worth it! The view from the top was lovely, and one - if one is inclined to indulge in such romantic fantasies - could feel oneself surrounded by something very ancient.

Right next to the mounds is Gamla Uppsala museum with a fascinating exhibition about the history of the place and the burial mounds (the grave finds, how the barrows were constructed etc.).

Gamla Uppsala also features Odinsborg, a restaurant/café where we had some ice-cream but where you can also drink mead from a proper drinking horn.

Finally, I want to mention a small but very interesting section dedicated to the Vendel period and Viking Age in the Gustavianum building of the University of Uppsala. As far as I understand, this exhibition concentrates on objects from a nearby excavation site (more about Gustavianum in my earlier post).

 Above, beautiful pattern (textile fragment)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Stockholm and Uppsala – in the footsteps of Gustavus Adolphus

This summer, we visited Sweden – Stockholm and Uppsala, to be more precise. Since the 17th century happens to feature strongly in our current interests, there were a couple of places that we particularly wanted to see.

One that I recommend to anyone interested in history is the Royal Armoury, Livrustkammaren, the oldest museum in Sweden (established by Gustavus Adolphus himself). Their collection features dazzling suits of armour (from various centuries)...

...gorgeous weapons...

(Above, Gustavus Adolphus' rapier)

...splendid suits and gowns, literally fit for kings and queens...


 (and their servants)

 (and their horses)

...and fairy-tale carriages.

I must also note that there was no entry fee – you could see all this and much more for free!

One cannot truly claim to be a 17th century enthusiast and not see the Vasa ship – the grand ship commissioned by Gustavus Adolphus that, unfortunately, sank as soon as it launched on its first voyage in 1628. The entire ship is housed in the Vasa Museum. There it hulks, this enormous, dark thing. The smell of old wood is everywhere. Although the museum also features a large exhibition with various other, related items, I couldn’t help it: my gaze was always drawn to the ship, and even when it wasn’t, I could just feel its presence. However, the rest of the exhibition is very interesting indeed, and it took us hours to tour the whole place.
(A more detailed post has appeared in my DH's blog; to see that, go here.)


(Our hero playing... um... not quite sure what... the role of an ancient Roman hero, I suppose. 😁)

Last but not least on our list was Uppsala and the university museum Gustavianum, built in the 1620s (and named after our hero, of course, whose donation helped construct the building).

Right across the street, Uppsala Cathedral, the coronation site of Gustavus Adolphus:

Gustavianum itself was a very pleasant surprise: I expected something in much smaller scale, but the museum had a nice little section about Egypt and ancient world. Ancient Egypt being one of my interests, this was a particularly lovely surprise – and our daughter, who had always wanted to see sarcophagi, was thrilled! A mummy that was also on display both terrified and fascinated her.

There were sections about the history of the university and, of course, a whole room dedicated to the time of Gustavus Adolphus, where the main attraction was the cabinet of curiosities he received only a little before his death. The enormous cabinet has various parts, some of them detachable, and houses a great number of all sorts of strange objects.

But there was more! I especially loved the old anatomical theater dating back to the 1660s, the kind you see in movies (but more beautiful):


In addition, there was a small but interesting Vendel and Viking Age section, but I will return to that in a later post.

The museum shops were all worth a visit as well, and thanks to this trip, our book collection grew quite a bit...