We talked with Elina Ahlback, founder and CEO of the Finland-based Elina Ahlback Literary Agency, to discuss her country's recent run as Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the lure of "Finnish Weird," and the current "Scandi-trend" in international publishing.
Finland was Guest of Honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair. What was that like?
The excitement in Frankfurt was truly amazing. As the first and leading Finnish literary agency, we felt honored by all the attention bestowed upon our authors as a result of Finland’s status. Many foreign publishers congratulated us--to me this was a sign that our work for the past five years, selling rights to Finnish literature all over the world, has been fruitful and groundbreaking. World-class literature comes from Finland!
What are your hopes for the future of Finnish publishing and what challenges does the market need to overcome?
It is important for us to realize that Finland has outstanding authors--fresh voices with world-class stories flavored by witty humor. The Finnish publishing scene is not as strictly hierarchical and regulated as, say, the American one, so wildly creative voices have a chance to shine. A Scandi-trend was started by Stieg Larsson, and has continued with Karl Over Knausgaard. Now we Finns have a chance to lead the next wave of Scandinavian literature. The world seems to be hungry for international, distinctive voices from this part of the world. We have a genre called “Finnish weird;" it’s sharp, combining elements of fantasy and realism, and is wildly imaginative. Johanna Sinisalo [who writes Finnish science fiction and fantasy novels] is the trailblazer of this genre.
Salla Simukka's YA series, the Snow White Trilogy, is a project you represent. It has now sold in 47 territories. Why do you think it has struck such a chord with international publishers?
I believe that we started a new trend in YA publishing with Salla Simukka. The Snow White Trilogy was among the very first modern and realistic young adult thrillers with a relatable “young Lisbeth Salander” as the main protagonist, a 17-year old Finnish girl called Lumikki (“Snow White” in Finnish). In addition, combining fairy tale with Nordic crime is a unique combination–everybody can relate to the concepts of Snow White and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. ... And, quite simply, Simukka is a highly skilled, award-winning writer and storyteller, with adult and YA appeal. In France, for example, As Red as Blood [book one in the Snow White Trilogy] will be published simultaneously for the adult audience by Livre de Poche, and for the YA audience by Hachette.
Tell us about a new author that you're particularly excited to introduce to international readers.
I am so very excited about Minna Lindgren and her Twilight Grove Trilogy, “a Nordic take on Miss Marple set in a retirement home “, which fits into the wave of “golden oldie fiction” started by The 100-Year-Old-Man… and The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules. Minna Lindgren has an utterly inimitable, socially conscious, sensitive and hilarious voice that is firmly rooted in Helsinki. Her stories look at the modern world through a 90-year-old’s eyes. I am thrilled to announce that we have just sold World English rights to the Twilight Grove Trilogy to Pan Macmillan UK, and they will publish the first book in June 2016 as “Death in Sunset Grove.”