Amy Kuivalainen–East of the Sun

amyThis week we are exploring Scandinavia with a delightful new author. Amy Kuivalainen is a Finnish Australian writer with an obsessive interest in the fairy tales and mythology of the Nordic countries and Russia, as well as magical wardrobes, doors, auroras and burial mounds that might offer her a way into another realm. Until her inevitable escape from reality she writes about fairytales, monsters, magic and mythology because that’s the next best thing. For those curious her last name is pronounced Quiver-lie-nin. Her novel “Cry of the Firebird” is available on Amazon, or as a free PDF on her website. You can also find her on on Facebook, Twitter or Good Reads.

So, Finnish-Australian. A quick Google search shows that those two countries are 13,397 km apart. (8,342.5 miles.) That’s 1/3rd of the circumference of the Earth! What are some similarities and differences between those two cultures, and how have they affected you as a writer?

Finnish Australian does make an interesting mix growing up that’s for sure! They are similar in a few ways but the main one would be a certain cultural tough stubbornness. Australian’s call it Hard Yakka and the Finns call it Sisu. In most cases both cultures are very hospitable. They both love a cuppa and like to feed people.

As a writer you need a hard work ethic and the ability to keep going through failure so in that way both cultures are good to be influenced by. In other ways I’ve always been really drawn to Finnish culture and mythology more so than the Australian. It’s a very young country in many ways until you start digging into the Aboriginal mythologies. I connect more with the Finnish myth because that’s in my blood although many of the Aboriginal myths are fascinating. My mother’s side is Irish and so I have always loved the Celtic myths as well. My next series will draw on those!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00050]This week we’re talking about Scandinavian culture and literature. What are some popular misconceptions about the region that people have? Any particular Viking memes you’d like to kill?

I found the biggest misconception is that Finns aren’t friendly! Finns are some of the most polite, hospitably people on the planet. I thought it might have just been the Finns living in Australia but when I went back to Finland I was surprised about how lovely everyone was. I traveled through Norway and down through Finland and every where I went people wanted to say hello. The Viking memes are pretty spot on; the north breeds the strong type that love a good drink. And never, ever mess with a Viking woman!

Tell us about the Firebird. Wikipedia classifies it as a component of Slavic folklore, and it’s certainly one of the few well-known aspects of Russian folklore, thanks to Ivan Stravinsky’s ballet. How did you first encounter the Firebird, and what inspired you to write your novel about it?

I first encountered the firebird when I was reading Sarah Zettel’s Isavalta Trilogy that draws a lot from the Russian fairytales. Of course after reading that series I got really into Russian mythology and all the amazing characters, gods and heroes. The most interesting thing I discovered in my research is that nearly every country in the world has a firebird story of some stamp. The Finns call him Koto Lintu, the Greeks call it a phoenix, Hindu’s call it garuda and gandaberunda, the Persian’s Simorgh, Georgian’s paskunji, the Arabian’s Anka, and from that, the Turkish Zümrüdü Anka, the Tibetan Me byi karmo, the Chinese fenghuang and zhu que, and the Japanese hō-ō. There was so much I could draw from for a while there I was really over whelmed.

I knew I wanted to write a firebird story but I didn’t actually have the plot fall into my head until 2008 when I was on a plane and reading Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors. In it is a story called Chivalry about an old woman that is given various objects in exchange for the Holy Grail. One of the items is a phoenix egg. My first thought was ‘I wonder what would happen if it hatched?’ and then I had my premise for Cry of the Firebird.

ashesWhat other Slavic or Scandinavian elements have you incorporated into your writing? Do you have a favorite fairy or folktale?

The Firebird Fairytales has multiple references to Scandinavian, Slavic and Finnish folklore. My protagonist Anya uses words to harness her magic like the magician heroes in the Kalevala. I tried to keep similar poetic rhythms in the spells as she casts them that are found in the traditional spells as well. She uses her knowledge of the old tales to get herself and others out of problems all the time. In all three of the books I’ve tried to keep a strong variety of myths, for example the Álfr are originally from the Norse world Álfheim, Baba Yaga is Russian and in the final book I have Louhi and Kullervo turn up from the Kalevala to name a few.

I have a tie of favourites! While writing this series I became quite obsessed with the doomed magician Kullervo who is basically shown cruelty his entire life and becomes this unstoppable power that no one can kill. He ends up asking his magical sword to take his blood and commits suicide. It’s a very powerful and complex story. My other all time favorite would be any version of Beauty and the Beast. Out of all the princess type stories she’s my ultimate hero because she is the one that saves the prince and not the other way around.

Can you comment on the similarities and differences between Russian culture and folklore, and that in Finland and other Scandinavian regions?

One of the really fascinating things I discovered during my research is that all the countries have very distinct story styles with a strong sense of identity. Considering they are all countries that share borders its amazing that there aren’t more similarities! There are similar archetypes across the stories for example The Wise Old Magician archetype can be found in Odin, Väinämöinen and Koschei or The Wicked Witch archetype in Baba Yaga, Louhi and Gryla.

Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day, and the mastermind behind Vaguely Circular. She blogs about science and things that are peripherally related to science. You can read all her posts here.


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