Belated Finland bloggage

in February I was fortunate enough to visit Finland. Keenly aware of how cold it was likely to be, my husband and I stuffed our suitcases with thermal underwear, woolly socks and ski trousers so thick they took up half the case and headed for Lapland.

Officially, we were staying in Rovaniemi, although we were actually about forty minutes’ drive from the town itself – a slightly terrifying drive the first time around, on pitch-black roads thick with snow. And we’d been warned about wandering reindeer. None of these things make for a relaxing drive when you’re used to the relative tameness of London roads.

It was worth it, though:

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Our cabin seemed in the middle of nowhere – a tiny little holiday site located on the edge of a frozen lake and surrounded by what felt like acres of wilderness. Towns are sparse out there, and tend towards ‘small cluster of houses’ rather than what a Londoner might recognise as a town. But truthfully, the isolation was perfect. Of a nighttime, with snow falling and the occasional glow of car headlights from the other side of the lake, you’d hear absolutely nothing. I’ve never experience silence like it. The sense that the world had stopped, and you were the only living thing in it.

During the day, everything was idyllic – the kind of blue skies you only get when compared to the pure white of the snow beneath; bright sunshine, or thick cloud shedding flurries of snow. Cold, but not as cold as I’d expected – despite regularly hitting -15c I found the comparatively dry, windless cold much easier to bear than the wet, windy chill back home.

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The days were short – the sun began to set at around 3.30pm. Evening set in quickly. We weren’t fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights (although one night, at around 1am, we stood outside our cabin in the silent dark and watched a strange yellowish light form on the horizon – a bright, still glow.) We did, however, see a multitude of stars, more than I’d ever seen before, and it was worth it to stand out in the cold staring up into the black sky. I felt at once very small and somehow completely at peace with that.

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One night, all the power went out in our cabin. The owners had gone home, and as far as we knew we were alone – surrounded by trees, a frozen lake to the front of us, and completely alone in a small, darkened cabin. In the dark you become hyperaware. Small sounds are heightened. My husband went outside with a torch to check the power lines. I watched the beam dance in the dark and wondered what else might be out there. Nobody would know until morning, and morning was a long way off. The power came back on thirty minutes later, and I’ve never been so grateful for electricity.

On the fourth day, something spectacular happened:

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As the sun was setting, a mist began to rise up off the frozen lake, creeping in to shore. It reminded me of a scene in my favourite book, ‘Moominland Midwinter’ by Tove Jansson (appropriately Finnish!) in which the Lady of the Cold rides in across the ice on her snow-horse.

We spent the last three days in Helsinki, much further south and much closer to the model of civilisation us weedy city-dwellers are used to. Helsinki is a fantastic city – compact and cosmopolitan, with a brilliantly efficient transport system and food to die for. Refreshing sea air and beautiful architecture. It was a departure from the icy splendour of Rovaniemi and around, but worth the detour, especially as we were staying with friends.

 

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Still. There’s something to be said for getting away from the entire world, if only for a short while.

The Grey Men

The new edition of Black Static is out now, and I’m in it! Hooray! I’m in excellent company as well – Cate Gardner, S.P Miskowski and Stephen Hargadon, to name but a few:

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And check out the artwork for my story, masterfully done by Ben Baldwin:

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Needless to say, I’m pretty damn thrilled about the whole thing!

what I read in February

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The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

A total change from what I usually tend to read, this is the story of a couple living in Tokyo and their encounter with a wilful little cat named Chibi. Chibi seems to belong to the people next door, but as cats do, ‘adopts’ the narrator and his wife as her second family. There’s little in the way of plot in The Guest Cat but it really doesn’t matter; this isn’t a beginning-middle-end kind of story but a beautifully recounted slice of a life, a quiet retrospective of a moment in time that meant a lot. Wonderfully described, from the vividly-painted Tokyo surroundings to Chibi herself, a small cat packed with personality, I read the whole thing in one sitting – and from a cat-lover’s point of view, it’s always a little gratifying to see someone so completely won over by the unbending nature of these animals.

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Black Static #44

Some slightly longer pieces of fiction on offer this month, with my highlight being Priya Sharma’s The Absent Shade – a dark, bleak and beautifully written tale of betrayal and slow-burning revenge, of the confused love between a boy and his nanny in the midst of a family crumbling to pieces, and of the pettiness of jealousy. As always, Sharma’s prose is sharp and precise; not a word is wasted. And despite everything, I felt a very real sense of sorrow at the (perhaps deserved) fate of Thomas.

Also in this issue – ‘Going Back To The World’ by Simon Avery, a well-written, slightly surreal tale focusing, in part, on the unlikely partnership struck up between a woman and her ex-husband’s mistress in the wake of said ex-husband’s somewhat mysterious death. That Avery skirts around the usual monster-story tropes is to his credit, and makes for a much more interesting tale. Jackson Kuhl’s ‘The Fishers of Men’ is a solid story with an interesting concept which, for me, ended a little bit too abruptly. Catherine Tobler’s ‘Sweet Water’ is a short but effective piece of fiction, completely conscious of its own inspiration and laced with a dark humour which works brilliantly. And Tyler Keevil’s ‘Samhain’, while perhaps a little too conventional for my personal taste, is nonetheless a good story – and the encounter with the three strange boys was effectively chilling in its ambiguity. Definite shades of Stephen King here.

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Die Laughing by Luke Walker

Horrible cover aside (I’m a coulrophobe) Die Laughing is a thematically mixed bag of horror stories. From the brilliantly improbable (“The Unmarked Grave”, in which a mystical doorway leading to Jack the Ripper-era London provides a bizarre backdrop to an effectively emotional story) to the short sharp shock (“Neighbours”, an uncomfortably plausible take on noise pollution, nuisance neighbours and a man on the edge.) Other strong offerings include “Upload”, in which a woman finds herself being filmed by an obsessed man – her anger and shame and powerlessness are powerfully described, and her stalker’s passive pity-me shtick is horribly recognisable. “The Approaching Darkness” deals with the arrival of a stranger in pre-Thatcher England, who appears one night in a quiet pub and claims to know the future. The story evokes the paranoia of a country on the brink of change, and the desperate lengths we will go to in order to save the ones we love. And “They Always Get Inside In The Films” is an emotive, claustrophobic take on the well-worn zombie apocalypse genre. As is often the case with short story collections, not everything is to my taste – “Static” is a tad abstract for me – but with such a wide range of subject matter and takes on the genre, I’d wager there’s enough in here to keep most horror fans happy.