I haven’t quite caught up with the fact that I am now in Finland.
I learned just over two weeks ago that I had been selected for a Helsinki International Arts Programme residency and it felt slightly unreal. The Scottish Book Trust, who are administering the two new residencies for Scotland-based children’s writers, pulled out all the stops and rapidly got everything set up for my arrival. I packed my gear and said goodbye to the daffodils, knowing I was unlikely to see any in Helsinki yet.
Just before dusk last night, I flew in over tall birch forests and snow fields. There was something mysterious about the landscape. It definitely seemed like a place where trolls might roam. I made my way to the city centre, with its wide avenues and majestic buildings, and waited for the ferry to my temporary island home, Suomenlinna. The small boat ploughed through ice sheets in the harbour as the darkness set in. I tried to put all thoughts of the Titanic aside…
Helsinki is gradually coming out of winter and the ice is changing every day, I was told. Earlier this week there was none in the harbour but it returned in time for my arrival. I feel lucky to be able to watch spring tiptoe in here.
One of my friendly hostesses greeted me at the Suomenlinna dock and we crunched over icy paths, under old arches and past huge rough-hewn walls, sometimes encountering the fragrance of wood smoke when we turned a corner.
I was shown to my toasty-warm quarters in a two-hundred year old brick building with huge wooden doors. This is the place where I’ll be working on my next book and keeping a log of all my discoveries in Finland. I’ll be learning about the local literature scene from writers and publishers, visiting bookshops and museums and getting immersed in Finnish culture. And what about the language, you might ask? I’ll try to learn as much as I can while I’m here. I’ve got a few phrases down already, and though everyone I have met so far has spoken good English, I think it’s not only polite but also important to “taste” the host language wherever I go. And the number one word is, of course, kiitos – thank you!