Stories from the dark side
Posted by Greta van der Rol
Do you remember when you were a kid and your older brother told you ghost stories in the dark? I do. My brother did it to frighten me and it often worked. My guest today is my good friend Heikki Hietala. Heikki and I met online about 5 years ago now and though he lives in Finland and I live in Australia, we’ve met in real life twice – once in London and again in Helsinki.
Heikki writes award-winning short stories, many of which have an element of the supernatural, and he agreed to answer some questions about his just-published collection, “Filtered Light and Other Stories.”
You’ve written one novel and a heap of short stories. Which do you prefer to write?
The short stories are a bit of a puzzler for me. When I had finished writing Tulagi, I found I had a need to write shorties though I had expected to start working on my second novel. But in the span of six months I wrote 16 stories. I was not at all sure of their quality, but working with author friends and especially Dan Holloway of Year Zero Writers convinced me I was on to something.
In ‘Filtered Light and Other Stories’ the tales you tell have a hint of the supernatural. Is that a favourite for you?
It is indeed. I have never been of the opinion that there is nothing outside what we can see and touch. The volume of supernatural encounters, even with people I know can be trusted, is simply too big to be ignored. While I am not a big fan of exploiting the ideas (as was done in quite a few
movies) I like to include a small element of it in my work. In Tulagi Hotel, for example, the main character is able to see in a photograph an omen of people who will soon die, and this feature is based on a story of a reliable person. In short stories, supernatural elements can be given a little more exposure; some of the stories are pure ghost stories in the classic vein.
The story ‘Filtered Light’ is not only eerie it is very moving. Where did you get the idea ?
It is a conglomerate of personal experience and the ideology of ‘otherness’. There’s a fantastic (but sadly untranslated) Finnish poet, Uuno Kailas, who felt himself an outsider all his life. The fate of Lieutenant Steele derives from Kailas’ poetry. The gang is what I remember from my boyhood years, and the supernatural element is a dream I myself had as a youngster. No one died in my childhood, mind you, but we all have these emotions of ‘did I do enough’ that are the result of action and inaction in demanding situations.
You won a prize for ‘Lord Stanton’s horse’. How did you feel about that?
I was very proud of that. It’s a flash fiction piece, 467 words only, and in that short space, I managed to set up the situation, spin a believable plot, bring it to a rewarding finale, and write dialogue the competition judge deemed excellent. The story’s idea came from a documentary where volunteers dig up the remains of WW1 casualties in Belgium, and of one man, all that remained were a piece of bone and a shoulder unit title.
Which is your favourite story in the collection, and why?
I like the story “The Ephemeral Man”. My favorite author of all times is Omar Khayyam, the 12th century scientist and mystic, and I’ve brought his thinking into both Tulagi Hotel and this new collection of short stories. This I do because no one sums up the human condition better than Khayyam – we are indeed ephemeral, and we will not solve the riddle of life for good, hence we should make the most of what is here and now and try to enjoy life as it unfolds. In the short story I wanted to bring out the pure essence of Khayyam’s thinking, and it may have worked, judging from the comments it has received.
Which was the most difficult to write, and why?
That would have to be The Dispatchers. That is again a supernatural story, about spirit entities who bring dying people across the threshold of death. I set that in a bombing run of the RAF over Germany, and I wanted it to sound technically convincing and spiritually challenging. As this was my second short story ever, I was still trying to figure out how to construct short stories, and I had to go through many revisions. Hopefully the version that now stands in this book is a good one. I translated it for publication in the Finnish speculative fiction magazine “The Cosmos Pen”, and it was issued in January this year.
Would I be right in saying quite a few of your stories are set in WW2?
You would indeed. There’s the novel, set in post-WW2 Solomon Islands and the war in flashbacks, and in the short stories there are two published and at least two in the development stage.
Why is that?
It is because that war was bigger than we will ever see again (I hope) and it was technical, but it was not fought by remote control. For example, aircraft carrier pilots had to perform miraculous feats of navigation, if they wanted to be able to find their ship after a four hour flight. It’s also a well-known era and it is easy to use events in it to date a story. I do not like date-stamping (I do it in The Dispatchers) but I rather want to bring the time of the story up in a side clause or a casual remark that will tell the reader when this story happens.
Thanks for chatting with me Heikki. All the best with the new collection – it deserves to do well.
Heikki Hietala learned to read at four but is still trying to learn to write. His World War 2 era debut novel, “Tulagi Hotel”, was first published by Diiarts (England) in 2010, and is now reissued by the Pennsylvania-based Pfoxmoor Publishing. Even if he is a native Finn, he writes in English. He holds an MA from the University of Jyväskylä where his major subject was English Philology.
Hietala has written some forty short stories, most of them falling into the speculative fiction genre, but also real life and humor stories have appeared to the surprise of many. His flash piece “Lord Stanton’s Horse” won the Flash500 competition in September 2010, and “The Campsite vol. 1” was highly commended in the Global Short Stories competition in March 2011.
In addition to his short story collection “Filtered Light and Other Stories” (PfoxChase Publishing, Feb 2012) Hietala’s work has appeared in five short story anthologies so far, and shown on websites such as Emprise Review and Escape Into Life. Two of his stories were included in the anthology “Words to Music”, for which forty authors were sent a random song to use as inspiration. His flash fiction has appeared in the Rammenas collection”In These Hands”.
He is a member of Year Zero Writers and is active in the Book Shed writers’ conclave. Hietala is able to quote Monty Python interminably.
You can contact Heikki at