With Maresi, I didn’t start using the ‘f-word’ until the novel won the prestigious Finlandia Junior-award. I knew how a label like that sticks, and I’m not interested in labels. I am not very interested in messages either. To quote one of my greatest literary heroes, Ursula K LeGuin: "I don’t speak message, I speak story." But it was a great victory the day Maresi won: a story about girls and women was awarded the prize, in a world where such books are not considered readable by boys. Girls, of course, are expected to and have always read books with male protagonists.
The reason I chose to call Maresi a "feministic book about girls, for girls" in my acceptance speech is simple: because it’s still an issue. As long as books about women who are active and complex are almost automatically regarded as feminist, then we need feminist literature. Because books about (predominately white) boys and men are still the norm. And everything that deviates from the norm needs a special label. My books are, for instance, sorted under the label "strong girls" in the Finnish library systems. There is no category for "strong boys".
I have been asked if The Red Abbey Chronicles is a "feminist project”. It is not. It’s a literary project. But I am a feminist, and an environmentalist, and a humanist, and all my values are reflected in what I write. As women of all ages have come up to me, some with tears in their eyes, and told me how empowering they have found Maresi to be, how fantastic it is to read about a strong female community and how they have found something in the book that they haven’t seen in books before, I have come to realise that there is a big gap in our literature. There is something missing: the good story about female friendship. Of what women, together, can do. A journalist once accused me of creating an unrealistic environment, since the women have a harmonious co-existence on the island. There’s no backstabbing, can you imagine?! But I believe she is dead wrong. Women stab each other in the back when they are powerless. When the only way to climb, to gain control over your life or gain access to power you are otherwise denied, is to step on others. When everyone is equal, there is no need to do so.
Everyone in the Red Abbey isn’t nice or lovable. But they don’t need to hurt each other to get ahead. They have agency, and I think that makes all the difference.
In my upcoming book, Naondel, part two in The Red Abbey Chronicles, the cast is also almost all-female. However, these women have a very different relationship to each other, because they lack power.
But that, as they say, is another story…
Maria Turtschaninoff is the author of Maresi, the first in the Red Abbey Chronicles, translated by Annie Prime and published by Pushkin Children's Books on 14th January 2016.