In conversation with... Kaisa Saarinen

Hi Kaisa! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the upcoming publication of Weather Underwater! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you very much! I would describe the book as a failed love story told as an eco-gothic thriller. It’s about two women with very different backgrounds - Lily and Mia - who develop an intensely codependent bond as teenagers in a care home, drift apart, and meet years later after evacuating from their flooded hometown to London, this time on the opposing sides of a political divide. The setting is a near-future UK where things more or less stay the same before gradually deteriorating. I started writing the book in the autumn of 2020, and it was really an exercise in conveying a particular sense of despair and dread I was feeling at the time. It’s quite a grim book - a desolate shoreline read rather than a sexy beach read - approaching climate change and our political situation as a kind of an ongoing apocalypse. With that being said, the story does have undertones of hope against futility too.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: The plot, and particularly the final third of the book, developed through multiple very different iterations. When I initially started writing, I knew the setup but not how it would end, and it took quite a lot of attempts - at least three or four - to conclude the story in a way that felt right. I still think there are multiple possible ways it could have ended, and in my mind they are all kind of layered over each other. Writing to me is always an open-ended process, and I like experimenting as much as I can, but of course at some point you have to just commit to a story.

Was Weather Underwater your working title? Either way, how did you choose it?

A: I chose it very early on in the writing process. The title has multiple concurrent meanings, which I always enjoy. It conveys that nothing much is changing, which is a major theme of the novel; it brings forth images of water and flooding; and it is a (maybe slightly too on-the-nose) reference to the US leftist group Weather Underground, which was active in the 60s-70s. In the world of the novel, ‘Weather Underwater’ is described as a transnational organisation with a lengthy history, presumably itself inspired by Weather Underground (but this is not specified, as I wanted to maintain some distinction between the worlds).

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Lily and Mia?

A: Two Anyas - Taylor-Joy as Lily, Chalotra as Mia.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: There is a particularly violent scene that marks a turning point for Lily’s character, and it was challenging to write (and edit) both because of how horrible the event itself is and because its emotional weight in the narrative was difficult to configure in a way that didn’t feel overly manipulative or callous. I didn’t want to focus too much on Lily’s feelings because I didn’t want to command the reader’s sympathies, but I also couldn’t write her as a complete psychopath because that would have rendered her character flat and uninteresting. In general, a particular challenge with this book was writing a main character who does a lot of plainly indefensible things without completely alienating the reader. I don’t know if I succeeded in that, but it was an interesting exercise.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: All the alternative endings! There are many pretty wild plot twists that were cut out or modified to make the story cohere better. My favourite deleted scene involves Lily begging Mia to keep hitting her in the face with a gun - it’s ugly and horribly romantic. For better or worse, there is nothing quite like that in the final version. Earlier drafts also included more vignettes focusing on characters other than Lily and Mia, but most of them were cut out to make the story more clearly focused.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I’ve recently started working on another novel manuscript that is quite different in its subject matter if not style. It is about a difficult sister relationship, the (false) dichotomy between city and countryside, and the absurdity of work. It’s also about the incomprehensibility of childhood after its passing; it is sort of a trauma narrative, but instead of a sharp focus on the events themselves there is a black hole in the middle of the story, radiating gaps and silences (which of course is how trauma often operates). Because I found writing Weather Underwater emotionally draining, this time I want to focus on only the aftermath of violence (including healing) instead of violence itself. I’m still working with dark themes, but operating in their penumbra instead of confronting them head-on, at least for now. I have also finished another poetry collection titled ‘Blood Cells in the Milk of Kindness’ and I’m currently looking for a publisher for it.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Yesterday I finished reading two books: So Distant From My Life by Monique Ilboudo and Girls Against God by Jenny Hval. Currently I’m reading Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor and The Memory Police by Youko Ogawa, or at least those are the books I’m making the most progress with. I have a habit of switching between many different books and starting way more volumes than I finish. I was once called promiscuous for sharing my bed with seven books. But I don’t really see it as a problem - even if you don’t read a book cover to cover, it’s still interesting and inspiring to get immersed in different writing styles.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I’m a very sociable person and I crave constant stimulation, so most of the time I find social media pretty fun. I’ve also found that Twitter and Instagram are extremely helpful for identifying opportunities and connecting with other writers. Of course I recognise the common downsides too - it can be difficult and stressful to determine how much of your ‘real’ life you feel comfortable sharing, and sometimes the distraction becomes overwhelming. I try to set some time aside every day (at least an hour or so) where I keep notifications off and just focus on writing until I’ve met my word target for the day.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: I very much feel like an aspiring writer still, so I’m not sure if I’m in the position to give advice! But I think the most important thing is simply making writing a regular practice, and trying to enjoy the process. Allow yourself to get lost in the words and see what happens. Share writing with your friends as much as you can, because it can be a lonely devotion. Read a wide variety of writers & genres, and don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from unexpected places.

Thank you for your time!


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