One of the first things people ask me is, “So you’re Finnish, but you write in English, why?”
I wish I had an answer to this question. Some people, like my tutor at the MA course in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, answered his own query, “Of course the English speaking market is so much larger.”
I truly hadn’t thought about this.
Choosing my writing language happened almost by accident. When I first moved to the UK, after marrying my Englishman, I began writing a diary, something I’d been doing on and off since I was a child growing up in Tampere, central Finland. But writing about my new life as a Naval wife in Portsmouth, in the South of England, just didn’t seem right in Finnish, so I turned my notebook around and began putting down my thoughts in English at the other end of the book.
Slowly, the Finnish side of the diary withered to nothing, and when the two languages met somewhere three quarters down the notebook, I began the next diary with just one language and never looked back.
I guess the reason I find writing in English easier, is because I was quite young when I first left Finland and moved to Sweden. At the age of eleven, I soon became fluent in Swedish, so much so, that after moving back to Finland, I never had to take another lesson in the language and still got top marks in my Baccalaureate. (I always felt this was a bit of a cheat, but hey, no-one else at my school in Helsinki did).
A writer friend once told me that perhaps writing in another language gave me a distance from my work. This lady works for Peirene Press, a small printing house specialising in translated short fiction, so I guess she knows a little about the subject.
Of course writing in a language that is not your mother tongue is challenging. I’d studied English since the age of seven. Still, there are many times when I have to consult my initial editor (The Englishman) on the correct preposition (this is the biggest challenge to anyone with Finnish as their mother tongue since we have none). The sentence structure can sometimes be a bit off, and occasionally I have to spend more time looking for the correct word.
Talk to any writer and they all swear by good editing. For an author writing in a second or third language, employing a good editor and a good proof reader is absolutely vital.
But writing in a foreign language can also give you a unique voice. Many people have told me that all of my novels have a specific feel to them. Because they are all set in Finland, I believe it’s important that the style of the writing matches the setting. Many of my greatest fans have told me that the reason they love my books is because the stories take them to a different place. You have no idea how happy it makes me hearing those words.
Have you ever written in a foreign language? Has it benefited your writing in any way? If so, how?
Helena Halme is Development Director of Finn-Guild. She blogs at Helena’s London Life and is the author of three novels, The Englishman, Coffee and Vodka, and The Red King of Helsinki.
Helena’s first novel, a love story between a handsome naval officer and a young Finnish student set at the height of the Cold War in Helsinki is now only $0.99 in Kindle format. Available at this price for a limited time only at: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
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