My inspirational week started when I visited Villa Kivi overlooking lovely, frozen Töölönlahti Bay. This beautiful house is known as the Writer’s House and ever since it was built in 1890, it has been associated with literature. Famous Finnish writers and linguists lived and visited there until it fell into disrepair and the city of Helsinki bought the building and gave it to the Kivi-house Foundation in 1985.
Villa Kivi was renovated by the Kivi-house Foundation, which was founded to improve the working conditions of writers and to facilitate contact with their readers. The house has 14 workrooms for writers, a library, a festival hall and Lukukeskus, the Finnish Reading Centre, a bi-lingual centre for the promotion of reading on a national level. This being Finland, there is also a sauna for ten people!
I was lucky enough to meet with the Executive Director of Lukukeskus, Anu Laitila, who gave me an overview of how the Reading Centre supports author visits into schools and publishes book review magazines for children, young people and adults. I was very impressed with the support the Finnish government gives to writers, not least the stunning Villa Kivi. Anu was also very helpful in helping me set up an upcoming visit to a Finnish school.
When I was leaving the villa, I couldn’t resist snapping of photo of a slightly melancholy Moomintroll, from Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. The Moomins and their author are national treasure in Finland!
The next day I was pleased to meet Literature Officer Päivi Haanpää, who has been a pivotal part of setting up the programme that brought me to Helsinki, and well-known author Eppu Noutio for tea at the famous Kappeli cafe. We talked about everything from Scotland to social networking and once again, I was delighted with their warm welcome and special gifts of books and music.
On the same day I was excited to visit the Finnish Children’s Bookshop, which is only a few months old. Owner Matias Saarni is an energetic and dedicated advocate of children’s books and art, as evidenced by his sensitively designed shop. He has collaborated with Kuvittajat, the Association of Finnish Illustrators, to present exhibitions by contemporary artists in one part of the shop.
I was heartened that Matias’ business is growing and thriving as customers discover his shop. I was also interested to see that there were hardly any titles in paperback. Finns seem to prefer their children’s books sturdy, even though it means the prices of books are high. It’s not unusual to see a picture book for 19 Euros.
One of my favourite aspects of the shop was this bridge to the reading area in the window. Yours truly will be in that reading area doing a Special Event on Monday, so stay tuned to find out what it was!