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SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: Heidi Marjamäki


1. We got serious chills reading your story, The Beckoning. Did you set out to write a creepy story?


Definitely! I love creepy stories. Also, for some reason, whatever I write just tends to veer towards creepiness so I don’t know how much of a choice I have in it—and what that says about me as a person…


2. Beyond a sense of dread, what were you trying to inspire in readers, and what one message do you hope they take from your story?


I would be happy if readers were surprised by the story and perhaps even moved by it in some way. As to a message beyond that, I’m happy to report I have none. I love to read because it entertains me and I want to write to entertain others. If readers take away something else from my stories that’s great but I don’t set out with a specific message in mind.


3. Did you learn anything surprising researching or writing The Beckoning?


The Beckoning was actually inspired by a real trip my (now) husband and I took back in 2018. We travelled to Boston and then shuttled around New England by train over two very packed weeks. Halfway through our trip we ended up in Cranston, a little seaside suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, where we stayed in a cosy/creepy surf cabin by the river. We were knackered from all the travelling but forced ourselves to go explore. It was October, a bit chilly, and coming up to Halloween so there was sort of a general spooky atmosphere with all the houses decked out with skeletons and pumpkins and whatnot. We found a little stretch of forest that felt really isolated (actually, we were joking that we were about to get jumped by Blair Witch because the place had just that kind of vibe!) and wandered around it until it got dark.


Later, I was going through some photos from the trip and had the thought: ‘how creepy would it be if now there was someone in the photo who wasn’t there that day.’ That was the germ of the story. Then I started writing and it sort of gathered momentum as I went along—no doubt influenced by New England’s eerie history and tradition for creepy tales.

4. What do you find hardest about writing?


The hardest thing by far is getting started. I enjoy everything else! It’s just that first moment when you know you need to get going and that it’s probably going to be hard and whatever you end up producing won’t be exactly what you had in mind and will forever be just a pale imitation of the far superior thing that originally existed in your head. But if I get over that hurdle it’s all good from there.


5. Do you have a writing routine?

Definitely; I’m a very routine-driven person and I have quite a systematic approach to my writing. This past year, I’ve been in the extremely lucky position to have been able to take some time out from my career in product management in tech to just focus on writing (thank you, aforementioned husband!). That’s meant I’ve been able to treat writing more like a job than a hobby. It also meant I needed some kind of structure for myself; otherwise I’d end up reading on the sofa in my pyjamas all day or burning the candle at both ends writing all day and night.


I discovered the pomodoro technique which I used to great success when working on the first draft of my novel last summer: I’d put 25 minutes on a timer and sit down in front of my computer. I didn’t have to write, but I wasn’t allowed to do anything else. So in the end I’d start writing, even when I didn’t particularly ‘feel like it.’ In a day, I’d commit to six 25 minute sessions, balancing those with writing courses, podcasts, research and reading. (I actually tried doing more than six sessions, but I noticed that the quality of my output started to dip considerably with subsequent sessions).


I’d easily get 3,000-4,000 words a day done this way. I think it works because 25 minutes feels like an achievable amount of time I can sit and focus on writing. And when you’ve done one session it’s like, oh that wasn’t too bad, I can do another one. But if I tried to gear up to write 3,000 words I’d be paralysed by the magnitude of the task ahead of me. So using time-based, as opposed to word quota-based goals has been super useful for me.


To some, this might sound rather non-artistic or non-creative but this method has made me so much more productive and really helped me appreciate that creative work isn’t about being struck by inspiration and scribbling down a line or two in a frenzy of creation (or whatever); it’s actually just repetitively doing the basic stuff—sitting in a chair, focusing on what happens next in your story, getting the words down.


6. What are some common traps for aspiring writers?


The worst one by far is waiting to ‘feel inspired’ or ‘ready’ to write. This was me for many years! I used to write all the time when I was growing up but I was writing in Finnish and my first attempts at writing in English after I started studying at Aberdeen University were appalling. So I just stopped and kept thinking that one day I’ll be good enough to start writing again. Eventually I came to realise that I need to start practising writing in English, otherwise I’ll never be ‘good enough.’ The first stories I wrote in English will never see the light of day but they were necessary steps I needed to take so that I could improve my craft.


I think this applies to anyone: if you want to write, just start writing. There’s no exam to pass or permission from anybody you need. You can just get going. In some ways that’s incredibly reassuring: it’s entirely up to you whether you start or not.


7. Tade Thompson recently kicked off a fiery debate around the old adage of show, don’t tell in creative writing. Where do you stand on this?


I think ‘show, don’t tell’ is excellent advice for writers starting out. But of course, the more you write and the more you read you’ll also develop an understanding of when a bit of telling is better than getting bogged down with lots of evocative or sensory description. And there’s also style and voice that you need to consider; sometimes, perhaps the narrative voice demands a bit more telling.


In the end, I think Tade Thompson said the adage would serve better if it was formulated as ‘sometimes show, sometimes tell’, but I can’t help but feel it stops being useful advice at that point. So, as with anything, I don’t think there are any absolute guidelines we can follow in order to write ‘correctly’ (shudder) but focusing on honing a skill at showing is a great place to start developing the craft of writing.


8. If you could tell our readers one thing, what would it be?


I’d love to recommend a couple of podcasts that have been nonstop in my ears this past year and that, I think, are particularly good for writers.


First, Talking Scared is a must-listen to anyone even remotely interested in horror or dark fiction. I absolutely love this podcast: the conversations are detailed and erudite, and rooted in an insightful analysis of the text by host Neil McRobert. (My TBR pile still hasn’t recovered from when I discovered this podcast).


The other one is The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. It’s hosted by an author and two literary agents and in addition to craft-focused author interviews, it’s also got a segment where the agents critique query letters. Writers, listen to this podcast before starting to pitch your work!


Speaking of literary agents, I will shortly begin querying, so if you are an agent or know of any who might be interested in working with me send them my way ;)


9. Do you think there will always be a place for short stories?


Absolutely. For me, both as a writer and as a reader, short stories scratch a different itch than full-length novels. As a writer, I enjoy getting to be hyper-focused on one character or situation and getting to explore that through events that might not be able to carry a full novel. There’s room for experimentation and perhaps for less complete resolutions and endings as well.


As a reader, short stories tend to surprise me more than novels, which I like, and they’re a great way to discover new authors. I love Ellen Datlow’s various horror anthologies: I always find a couple of new authors to follow through them.

10. What is your favourite short story and why?


This past year I discovered Mariana Enriquez’s work. She’s an Argentinian writer with two short story collections translated into English: Dangers of Smoking in Bed and Things We Lost in the Fire. Both are excellent and include many stories that have stuck with me long since reading, but the one that really took up space in my head is called The Neighbor’s Courtyard from Things We Lost in the Fire. It’s an incredibly unnerving story about a woman who moves into a new house and thinks she sees a child chained up in the neighbour’s yard. And then we find out more about the woman and why she might think that. I won’t say more so I won’t spoil it but it’s a very, very creepy story.


I also want to mention Shirley Jackson; she’s written some amazing short stories and novels, of course, but the one that I really love is called The Daemon Lover. I first read it years ago and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s one of those insidious stories where you feel like a magic trick is unfolding right in front of your eyes but when you go back and try to unpick it you can’t even see the seams. It’s masterful.


11. You’re currently working on a novel, how is that going and are there any sneak peaks you can share with us?


It’s going well. I finished draft one at the end of the summer, took a few weeks off and then kicked off working on draft two. I’ve done a big developmental edit and I’m currently finalising a few new scenes. I’m planning to start querying next spring.


It’s a contemporary gothic horror novel with a pinch of crime, like Sarah Gailey’s Just Like Home, with the wry tone of Rachel Harrison’s The Return. It's my take on a haunted house story and has all the things I love to read about: a plucky journalist intent on the truth, a past crime, a family with secrets, and of course ghosts!


The book started out as a thought experiment: what’s the absolute worst thing in the world I can think of? Writing this book is my attempt at answering that question.


12. What’s the easiest way for our readers to keep up to date with your writing?


I have a website at www.heidiwritesthings.com that I WILL get better at updating, so keep an eye on any news there!



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