Friday, 15 May 2009

I'm writing again, in the sauna.

Some of you may have noticed that I've been rather busy on the blogging front recently. As well as writing here I've also commented on other people's blogs. I love receiving comments so I try to return the compliment as often as possible. And there are so many interesting blogs out there - list of the ones I love most are below.

All this online activity does not increase the word count on my current manuscript, The Lost Daughter. Apart from my last short-lived crisis of confidence, the other reason I've found it hard to return to the story of my Russian heroine, Alyona, and her friend from Finland, Hanna, is that I hadn't quite worked out the plot in my head yet.

Yesterday afternoon I decided I should take a look at the four chapters I'd written so far. It'd been more than two months since I'd done this. Fearfully I started reading. What if I hated the story? What if the writing made me want to start afresh? I read slowly and carefully through the 50 or so pages. It was OK, in fact I quite liked it, no I loved it! I made a few edits, sorted out the time-line (that was one thing I had decided upon) and put the pages down. Surely now I could finish charting the plot?

I looked at the many notes I made at the University library in Helsinki, and the box of cuttings and print-outs I'd gathered together. But my mind was blank. My problem was the motives. What compelled all these people to act in a way I'd decided they would? I wanted the action to happen in the UK initially, then move to Helsinki. And I wanted one death at least, and I wanted it to be summer. My previous manuscript is set in Helsinki during a seriously cold week. There are only so many ways you can describe snow and ice and I had used them all. This time I wanted bright sunshine and blueberries. I wanted to describe how the pine forest smells after a summer rainfall.

My thoughts were interrupted by a partner arriving home after two days away. 'Sauna tonight?' It wasn't a question as much as an announcement.

Sauna is an essential part of being a Finn. In the olden days everything important happened in a sauna: births, deaths and love. I had my first sauna at the age of three days. Apparently I giggled as the heat hit my skin and then never looked back. So when I was deciding whether or not to marry a foreigner I tested him on a sauna first. Luckily (or not) for him, he loved the experience. Still does, so much so that he had one built here in the UK.

Last night, as the intense heat of the löyly (hot steam) hit my skin my thoughts turned to Alyona and her friend. I thought about Alyona's desire to see her estranged father. How Hanna, who lost her father at an early age, had a compulsion to be liked, to do the right thing. How these two characters naturally complemented each other and became firm friends. Suddenly I realised I had a plot - at least the major outlines of one. Enough to start properly writing.

Oh, and the foreigner helped a bit with a plot too. So much so that I told him he could have half of any money I made out of this manuscript. Not sure he's counting on it.


Anonymous said...

Not advisable to take the laptop in the sauna even if you are Finnish. Didn't President Kekkonen take the Russian diplomats into the sauna to do business?

Helena Halme said...

In Finland both business and politics is still conducted in the sauna. No-one can hide anything there. Most of Finnish Embassies abroad have a sauna installed as well, mainly to torture the foreigners. Why do you think Nokia has done so well?