At age 42 Finnish author Mia Kankimäki gave up her job in a publishing house in Helsinki, sold her apartment, and took the plunge to become a full-time writer. And with two best-selling books now already to her credit, she has never looked back.
After working in publishing houses for about 10 years as an editor and a copywriter “I was really bored in my life and I felt that I really needed some new things to do,” Kankimäki said, ahead of her appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.
With a long-held interest in Japanese culture, she decided then to got to Japan for a year to research the life of Sei Shonagon, a Japanese noblewoman and writer who had lived a thousand years ago.
“I didn’t have a [publishing] contract and I had no idea if I could write the book. When I first left, I didn’t sell my apartment right away. I just rented it for three years or so, so I had a kind of back door. I could go back and also I could, for the first year, have gone back to my work,” she said. “But I had no idea if I could make it, if I could write the book.”
Even though she had worked in publishing for a long time, she was taken “totally by surprise” how hard it was to research and write a full-length narrative non-fiction book, particularly as she did not speak any Japanese.
“I was just overwhelmed. It was such a big job and I wasn’t used to handling this long material with a complex structure, at all. So, it was really difficult for me,” she said.
But she overcame the difficulties and three years later published Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster, a book that quickly won fans in Finland and internationally.
At that point, with the job option gone and after selling her apartment “I really didn’t know what to do next. I realised I have to find a new project to continue my life from here.”
Her new project ultimately became The Women I Think About at Night, which blends memoir, travelogue, and biography as she recounts her fantastic travels in countries like Italy, Japan and Kenya, and tells the life stories of ten remarkable women who were forgotten by history.
The book was an instant success and sold to countries all around the world, with the Chinese rights acquired by Winshare publishing.
Speaking at the time of the acquisition, Xu Wang from Winshare publishing said: ”Time transcending, this book helps us introspect in continuous journeys while revealing life as it is – it can be brave and unconstrained, which is magical and touching.”
When Kankimäki started researching the project she realised there were so many women she had never even heard of who have had remarkable lives but have been somehow forgotten by history.
“I think someone should really write an encyclopedia on that subject,” she said. “But then I wanted to choose women that meant something for me personally and women who I could connect to. So, I ended up with ten, or maybe 20 that were finally reduced to 10.”
She called these 10 women “Night Women”, hence the title of the book.
“These were actually women that I would think about at night when I lay awake. I couldn’t sleep and I lay awake and tried to figure out what to do in my life and where could I could find some inspiration,” she said. “So, these night women were the women who gave me some inspiration during those nights.”
Her writing to date has had a focus on gender equality and how the situation for women has evolved.
“The whole point in both of my books is that I want to compare my experience as a 21st century woman to those of these women who have lived long before me, maybe hundreds or thousand years ago. It has been really interesting,” she said.
She feels that there have been a lot of improvements in the realm of gender equality, but the situation varies from country to country and massive issues still exist.
“Concerning Finland, I think we have made a lot of progress, but there is still much to do and I think, especially with history, I think it is still told very much from the male perspective,” she said.
She cites the example of visiting museums in Italy and trying to find Renaissance-era paintings painted by a woman.
“it’s almost impossible. So, I think there’s a lot of work to do in that respect to bring out the important women of history.”
While Kankimäki sought inspiration from the women she researched and wrote about, she herself has becoming a figure of inspiration for many people around the world who admired how she took a bold step, followed her dreams and totally changed her own lifestyle.
“From both of my books I get a lot of feedback and messages from readers. They have felt the books have been very empowering,” she said. “Some of them have even made changes in their lives. Maybe they wanted to do something for a long time and now they really got the energy to do it. Yes, I got a lot of messages like that.”