Mariia Kukkakorpi: "I Believe a Good Writer Can Write Anything"

Mariia Kukkakorpi is a 27-year-old writer based in Helsinki. In 2015, she self-published her first book, Henkäyksiä, which won the first prize in Päätalo Institute’s competition for self-published books. We sat down with her to chat about her inspirations and writing process.

When did your passion for writing start? When or how did you know that was what you wanted to do?

It’s difficult to say because I started writing at an early age and I have written short stories and poetry as long as I can remember. However, I’ve been writing seriously for over 10 years now. Right now, my goal is just to write, not be an author. Economically it is quite bleak at the moment: a Finnish writer makes about 2000€ per year off royalties. I want to get published but, at the same time, I’m really content with how things are at the moment, because I can do whatever I want and there is always an option for self-publishing.

What is your preferred genre?

I don’t really stick to one particular genre: I write drama, drama-comedy, thrillers...  I also don’t focus on just one particular type of format: I write both fiction (novels, short stories and every now and then poetry) and screenplays. I believe a good writer can write anything and doesn’t only write about him/herself: it is a skillful profession. Writers may observe others and borrow from real life, and there may be recognizable characteristics in my writing, but it is not autobiographical.

Tell me a bit about your writing process. How do you go about researching a new book?

Usually, I research by reading books relating to the subject, both fictional and non-fiction. I also try to go to the location in person or, if it’s impossible, I use Google Maps and try to find lots of photos. But I prefer to go in person and experience it with all my senses, paying attention to particular details, like smells or noises. For my first book I spent a week in Paris, and also visited Albania.

What is the craziest thing that has happened to you while “on location”, researching for a book?

I went to Albania because I was on a backpacking trip through Italy, and it is really easy to get to from there. But I happened to miss my ferry back to Italy, and there was no public transport whatsoever in Albania! I luckily ended up getting on the next ferry back, so there was a happy ending, but it was kind of spooky at the time.

What is something you’re proud of in your career as a creative writer?

Actually, I am proud of the fact that I have continued to write to this day, as it’s quite a competitive business. Many people quit when they face the reality that it’s difficult to make a living out of it or even get published.

Is there anything you’d change with the knowledge you have gained over the last 10+ years? Any advice, perhaps, for other writers?

I sent my first script to the publishers too early—I was too impatient when I was young! I think it’s much better to learn to wait and improve the text.

How do you manage to find time to write alongside your studies?

It is certainly difficult when studying or working full time. Usually, I write shorter segments or scenes during the academic year, and then focus on bigger aspects during the holidays. I also use this time to brainstorm, for instance when writing a new book.

You have lived abroad in the past. Has that inspired you, or influenced your writing?

I actually moved abroad because of the rather negative atmosphere in Finland regarding creative writing; it was discouraging. Even in my writer’s group there was a sort of “what’s the point” attitude towards starting to write a new book. I first had a student exchange experience in Oxford, which was very inspiring, especially as writers like J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis have lived there before. The atmosphere was different, too, it was much more supportive. I just wanted to go somewhere and write, kind of isolate myself. However, when editing my last book, I did notice my Finnish had gotten weaker!

How do you feel when revisiting your older writing?

My first thought is usually something along the lines of “why did I do that?”. However, my second thought is that I have made a lot of progress, which is eventually a good thing! The fact that we feel this way definitely indicates progress, and you’re always bound to be rather critical with your own writing.

Self-criticism is definitely common. Do you think writer’s block is a thing?

It is! I think it comes about when people try to write “efficiently”, as if they were working a 9-5 job. I guess this approach could work for about two weeks, but you can’t force creativity, because forcing drains it away—and this is what results in writer’s block, in my opinion.

What about reader’s block?

Maybe; after all, book sales are steadily declining. They are competing in a varied and saturated market, and there’s so much entertainment available nowadays—people read less.

What would you say to the readers who are interested in creative writing—or even the younger you?

Dream, live and have faith in the future! The future can take care of itself so you may as well try to accomplish your dreams.