Nordophile spoke with the Finnish author – Markus Ahonen about his success with Nordic noir and children’s books and found out how his passion for writing allows him to cross two of the most opposite genres, with ease.
Markus was born in 1972 in Helsinki, Finland and grew up in Martinlaakso, a suburb of Vantaa, known as the childhood residence of famous Formula One drivers Mika Häkkinen, Mika Salo and Kimi Räikkönen and heavy metal band Amorphis.
After spending a year as an exchange student in Upstate New York and studying Communications and Finnish Literature in Turku, he has worked extensively as Editor and Editor-in-chief in local newspapers, as TV Script Writer for Finnish versions of game show Weakest Link and the Finnish modified version from shows Never Mind the Buzzcocks and They Think It’s All Over as well as writing TV sketch comedy.
After moving to Ireland in 2006, Markus has worked as a flying foreign correspondent having reported to newspapers and magazines from several dozen countries around Europe and elsewhere.
His first crime novel Meduusa (Medusa) was awarded with third prize in Kouvola Crime Literature Festival 10th anniversary novel contest in 2006. The second crime-themed novel Palava sydän (Burning Heart) was published in 2008. Short story collection My Hometown Named Love was published as an e-book in English in March 2012 and in Finnish as Kotipaikkani on rakkaus in October the same year. The updated new versions of Meduusa and Palava sydän were published as e-books in Finnish in late 2012.
Markus widened his literary career by publishing a story collection for children Karkaileva bussi ja kaiken maailman ihmeelliset vempeleet (Runaway Bus and All Other Marvelous Gadgets) as an e-book and the story collection for children and adults, Haikarasaaren vauvasatama ja muita tarinoita (Heron Island Baby Harbour and other stories) both in November 2012.
In late 2012 and early 2013, Meduusa reached continuously the #1 spot in iTunes Finland e-book top100 chart.
Meduusa and Palava sydän have both reached the #1 spot in iTunes Finland Mysteries and Thrillers top10 chart often holding #1 and #2 spots at the same time together.
Meduusa was chosen to Apple iBookstore Best of 2012 catalog Top Fiction category in December 2012 and again year later into their Best of 2013 catalog. This time in the category: Most sold: Fiction. It is one of the most sold e-books ever in Apple iTunes Finland. Medusa was published in English as an e-book in August, 2013.
In March 2013, Karkaileva bussi ja kaiken maailman ihmeelliset vempeleet reached #1 in iTunes Finland Children’s literature chart.
By the end of 2013, Apple iTunes Finland selected Markus and his works into their Bestselling Authors category. The category consists of 14 authors, of whom 9 are non-Finns and 5 Finns. Authors in addition to Markus in the category are: Jo Nesbø, Reijo Mäki, Nora Roberts, Miika Nousiainen, Tess Gerritsen, Stephen King, Cassandra Clare, Liza Marklund, Donna Leon, Eve Hietamies, Patricia Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Anna-Leena Härkönen.
Jäljet (Tracks), the third novel in crime-themed Isaksson series was published as an e-book in Finnish in April 2014.
Markus has been a member of Irish Writers’ Union since 2012.
Markus, a film, book, music, exercise and general knowledge enthusiast, lives in Malahide, County Dublin, Ireland with his son.
Was it a conscious decision to become an author or have you always written, so it was a natural progression?
I liked writing already as a child and remember having a writing flow at age 7. Somewhere around age 13 or 14, I realised I was observing people, how they behave, what kind of personalities they are. Even the passers-by or people sitting in the buses. I started writing these observations as texts inside my head. So I think it was partially constructed inside of me. Also because it apparently has run in the family. My late Dad wrote, as did my Grandpa, his sister, my Greatgrandpa…
I was also probably just another shy boy, who was concentrating more in communicating through writing. One addition to that was that at the time I felt the surroundings I grew up were somewhat rough. Writing, and the silent aim in it I told no one about, were that the better I will some day get in writing, the more I will have something of my own. Something that couldn’t be taken away from me in those rough surroundings.
Still, I ended up studying other things first in college, but I soon realised I couldn’t escape what was in my heart. I switched to study communications, then continued with literature studies in university. While doing a career in journalism, I started writing book scripts. It was time. Also after seeing all kinds of people’s lives while working as a security guard during my years in uni. It all prepared me for this work.
Which authors do you think have genuinely inspired you?
The big influence for me already at very young was Finnish author Matti Yrjänä Joensuu and his writings. His Harjunpää detective series with its unique, touching language and humane way to depict life realistically were a big inspiration to me. Still are.
Inside the crime genre, I’ve also been a big fan of Swedish writers Sjöwall-Wahlöö and their Beck series. When wanting to read a superb, smart crime novel, I go back to the fourth Beck novel, The Laughing Policeman. Another great example of inspiring structure for a crime novel is Swedish Håkan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf. Truly inspiring.
Outside the genre for other writings, authors such as Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov, Harri Sirola, Jukka Pakkanen, Leena Lander, Mark Twain and Astrid Lindgren have inspired me very much.
You have been successful in Nordic Noir to Children’s books, do you get a different satisfaction from writing each genre?
Yes, I do. I read various genres of books and the same goes with writing. If the inspiration comes, it doesn’t always circulate around crimes and murders. Though at some point one TV producer looked through my script ideas and concluded: ”scripts don’t always have to include a murder”. So some kind of an attraction to the crime genre has always been there. But I get inspired well by other forms of art like movies and music or books. When watching The Thief of Bagdad (the 1940 version), I’d love to write a great fantasy story for children. Or when I watch one of my favourite films Cinema Paradiso, I do get inspired writing a melancholic love story. Also a variety of music does bring pictures in the head, bringing it to the need to write in different genres.
Surely life in itself brings inspirational content with its reality to get the creative machine working to whatever genre it may be. I’m also a big fan of short stories myself. I’d love to write more of them. Great form of writing. Satisfaction from writing comes fast.
Can you tell us a bit about the #1 best seller – Medusa and its protagonist Markku Isaksson.
Medusa tells a story about several, hazy, staged-like murders, which are committed in a short time in Helsinki region in Finland. In their last days, victims have ended up in the middle of strange events. As if someone had wanted to rip them from their last pieces of sanity.
It goes back to Helsinki and also the surroundings I grew up in Vantaa. Somehow depicting the rough atmosphere in the past and also today’s tougher work life and pressures in the society, including violent behaviour, bullying, toughening work life, strained relations, mental illnesses… Senior Crime Constable Markku Isaksson, who has recently moved back from a small town to the rough suburb he grew up, is investigating a perfect murder game.
Isaksson is a humane thinker, who has not given up his humanity because of his rough past when young and other obstacles in his life such as being a caretaker of his dying father in his young adulthood. He tries to understand the often sad circumstances leading to crimes for some weaker, very much pressured people. At the same time he can’t stand those people, who just use others as stepping stones. Going through rough childhood in a concrete suburb has not made him numb with feelings. Just the opposite, as he has fought heavily not to become cynical or become a bully himself. Therefore he is more receptive to different feelings, such as his hunger for love, all the way that he is somehow vulnerable with it. During the Isaksson series, he eventually falls madly in love with his level-headed, humane and intelligent female colleague Nina Markkanen, his apparent female counterpart.
Because of Isaksson’s past, and quiet resilient nature, he tends to walk things over in his long walks. He often stays up overnight with his papers and board drawings. Just to see the connections in investigations connect in his mind when the sun rises in the morning.
What can readers expect from you over the next year and will Jäljet be available in English?
Among other scripts I’ve been working on for a longer while, I’m right now concentrating on finishing the next Isaksson novel. I’ve played a script lottery. After deciding upon two partially written Isaksson scripts to finish, just the other one starting flowing smoothly. So I switched to that one. Natural selection, I believe. There are some partially written and several planned ones in the series. Hoping to get the first version well finished in the coming months.
Hoping that in addition to the English e-version of Medusa, also Isaksson #2 Palava sydän (Burning Heart) and Isaksson #3 Jäljet (Tracks) and the follow-ups would some time get published in English. I get constantly queries from readers about these. But it’s not always up to me. I’m open to talks. We’ll see.
You have lived in Ireland since 2006, what do you miss most about Finland?
Family and friends and the magical summer. Luckily I get to go there once or twice a year to meet them. Usually for a bit longer time during the summer.
When the summer in Finland is good, there’s nothing like it in the world. The nature with all its scents. Lakes, sea… Finns being cheerful after unwrapping themselves after the dark and harsh winter.
The summer nights with the midnight sun. It’s magical when you get up at 3am and see the sun coming up slowly behind the horizon already. The short dark moment of the night in the south is over.
Although, I do get inspired also by the September evening autumn air. When still in Finland, that pushed the button for the creative machine. Usually with a slight tone of melancholy, when the summer is over.