Finnish Steampunk – Interview with Magdalena Hai

Today, I am honoured to welcome Magdalena Hai from Finland as my interview guest. As I have mentioned here, when I featured the first Finnish Steampunk Anthology, Magdalena, who contributed to the anthology, had already agreed to an interview back then. The fact it took so long was all due to delays on my side.

But now, without further ado, here is the interview:


Hello Magdalena, let’s start of with the usual details, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Finnish author of children’s tales and YA fantasy. My first book, a picture book for small children, was published in February 2012 by Karisto Publishing. My second book, the steampunk novel Kerjäläisprinsessa (The Beggar Princess) was released in August by Karisto as well. Besides books I write short stories, mainly for adults. Magdalena Hai is my pen name. I prefer to keep my everyday self separate from my literary self. Creating is easier for me that way.


Photo by Atelieri O. Haapala

Where can we find you in the depth of the ætherweb?

I have a Facebook-page, as well as a Twitter account and a Goodreads author page where I recommend books (mostly steampunk and children’s books), link author visits etc. My Facebook-page is only in Finnish, but on Twitter and Goodreads I try to use English as much as possible and when it’s relevant.

In my main website, or Kryptozoologiset tutkimukset (The Cryptozoological Investigations), I write about the adventures of my fictional self, a wacky cryptozoologist who lives with trolls. So that’s for the kiddies, and for grown-ups with a slightly odd sense of humour (such as myself).

Recently I made a home page for The Beggar Princess and the Gigi & Henry Series. I write mostly in Finnish, but here I’ve decided to include some sections in English as well. I have somehow managed to gain some English-speaking followers and fans along the way, so I thought they might be interested in seeing what it is I actually do!

Are you a full-time writer?

Very few Finnish authors have the priviledge of being full-time writers and I’m a relatively new author, so I am not one of them yet. Most of us just try to create worlds in the midst of other responsibilities in life: work, family etc. But hopefully it’ll happen one day. I’m definitely aiming for it.


Few people on my blog have heard of your work, what did you write so far, where have you contributed and is any of it available in English?

I only started writing fiction four years ago, so I really am a new writer. The Beggar Princess was my second book, the first one being a children’s picture book about goblins. I write also short stories, mainly SF/F for adult audiences. All of them are, sadly, available only in Finnish. At least for now. To tell you the truth, I’m a little shy writing fiction in English myself, getting all the nuances right etc. When it comes to writing, I am a perfectionist. So if I wanted to publish in English, I think I would prefer a professional translator to translate my novels. Of course I would be thrilled to see The Beggar Princess translated to other languages in the future. The Finns are great readers, but we are a small nation and I think any author would love to see their work reach as large an audience as possible.


Can you please give us a brief summary of your work?

The Gigi & Henry Series is situated in an alternate 19th century world. The Gulf Stream has changed its course and melted most of the Greenland ice cap, revealingthe southernmost island of the three large land areas that supposedly form the land mass of current Greenland, the so-called Green Isle. This has caused the 10th century Norse settlements of Greenland to thrive instead of withering away. Descendants of these Vikings – the Varjags, “Oathsworn” – have become the dominant power of the North Atlantic.

The Beggar Princess begins the story of two kids: Gigi, who was born a princess but whose father has lost his crown and country in an uprising years before, and Henry, an orphan boy. Old enemies of the royal family come to the Green Isle and Gigi and Henry must rise to the task of saving Gigi’s family from the usurper Andros Luopio. Along the way they encounter crazy automata, explosions and werewolves. The Beggar Princess is a fast-paced, verne-esque adventure with a steampunk twist. Some people have said it’s a humorous story, but for me there is definitely a grim undertone to it. Things are not what they seem.


What got you interested in steampunk?
A couple of years back I met this tall, mysterious woman who had dressed up in a strangely old-fashioned military outfit. She asked me if I wanted to take a ride in her airship because I looked like the sort that would enjoy it. I guess that was it. We became good friends and I became a steampunk.

I have always been interested in the 19th century though, especially the grittier side of things, the every-day life of individuals living in the Victorian times. And also the progress made in for example paleonthology and archaeology during the 19thcentury, and the whole history of science has fashinated me ever since early childhood.


Does Finland have an active Steampunk scene?
I don’t think there’s a steampunk-scene per se. Or it’s very fragmented. People love the aesthetic, the movies, the music, and I think some of the cosplayers are really into it right now, but mostly it’s still just singular groups of friends having fun. I have actually met several people that are astonished to hear that there is a literary genre called “steampunk”! So yes, it’s a new thing. But it’s a up-and-coming thing, for sure.


Are you connected with it? 

I am priviledged to have a bunch of friends who like to dress up, have Victorian tea parties and participate associated shenanigans thereof. They are my lovely posse of steampunk beauties and I adore them.

After the release of Kerjäläisprinsessa I have also had the pleasure to attend several writer gatherings and met a bunch of people that are really excited about bringing the literary steampunk to Finland. As your observant readers know, the first ever steampunk-anthology, “Steampunk! Koneita ja korsetteja” was published last year by Osuuskumma and they are already putting together the next one. Together with YA-fantasy author J. S. Meresmaa and Finlandia Junior awarded children’s author (and a steampunk enthusiast) Siri Kolu we are planning a steampunk-oriented panel to this summer’s Finncon. There has also been some talk about organizing a steampunk picnic in the style of the Chap Olympiad. So stuff is happening and I’m really happy to be a part of it.


How well-known are you in the Finnish scene?

Wow, this is a tough one. It’s hard to tell because the steampunk scene in Finland is so fragmented and all the people have different things they are psyched about. For some, steampunk is all about the games and the movies, for some it’s cosplay, or burlesque. Many people get their steampunk literature from Amazon and read it in English, so I have no idea, how well people in general know me and my work.


Kerjäläisprinsessa, The Beggar Princess, is a stand-alone novel, I presume. Do you have plans for more books in the same setting?
Although the story is built so that it could be a stand-alone novel, it’s actually the first book in a series. When I started to write The Beggar Princess, I had no clue if Karisto was going to publish the whole series, so it had to be an independent story. But it all worked out alright and now I am busy editing the second book, Kellopelikuningas (The Clockwork King) and writing the third, Susikuningatar (The Werewolf Queen). As for the setting, it is just too good to be ignored. A couple of short stories of mine, Vaskimorsian (The Brass Bride) in the Steampunk! -anthology and Albion ja lohikäärme (Albion and the Dragon, soon to be published) are both set in the Green Isle universe.


Do you have a vision of a steampunked version of Finland? (If yes, please elaborate)

Not yet. I have heard some people say that it would be implausible to write steampunk in Finnish setting, “since all we had back then was two cows and a pitchfork”, but they couldn’t be more wrong! In the 19th century Finland was part of the Tzar’s Russia and was actually known for it’s vibrant bath towns. We also had young but thriving artistic and literary circles. There were some amazing artists like Akseli Gallén-Kallela, Albert Edelfelt and Helene Scherfbeck. We had characters like Ida Aalberg, a young girl who ran away from home to join the Finnish National Theatre and became a celebrated diva and famous in the European stages as well. Tampere, a large city in the middle of Finland, known for it’s factories and the first electric light in the whole Scandinavian region, would be an ideal place for some gritty industrial steampunk story. Options are endless!


Do you write novels only for children and young readers, or do you plan to write books for adults as well?

I love writing for kids, but I actually don’t see The Beggar Princess inherently as an YA-novel. I’ve heard of 9-year-olds who have read the book and loved it. But then again, middle-aged men have come to me and asked why on earth it’s supposed to be YA, because they thought it was great! Publishers, book stores and libraries categorize books for different age groups, not the authors.

Also, the thing about Finnish publishers is this: they very seldom publish SF/F for adults. And when they do, it’s mostly Finnish Weird or Magical Realism. Science fiction and fantasy are seen fundamentally as genres for teens, even though there is a vibrant SF/F-fandom in Finland where most participants are fully grown adults, some with kids of their own. As the various subgenres of SF/F are breaking from the marginal to the foreground of Finnish literature scene, things are slowly changing, but I don’t think it would be even possible for me to write a steampunk story for grown-ups and get it published as such. Not yet. But who knows, what the future brings?


Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

The pleasure was all mine!