What inspired Coffee and Vodka, a Nordic family drama?

What inspired Coffee and Vodka, a Nordic family drama?

Coffee and Vodka is a heartfelt story of a Finnish immigrant family in 1970s Sweden. But what inspired me to write this Nordic family drama?

Before I get into what inspired me to write the book, I wanted to let you know that at the end of this post there is a code you can use to get a paperback copy of Coffee and Vodka for half price. Just scroll down to the bottom of the post to see it.

If, however, you want to find out what inspired me to write the novel, read on.

Move to Stockholm

Stockholm 1970 by Roger WStockholm in 1970. Image by Roger W

In the early 1970s, when I was eleven, my father just like the main character, Eeva's Pappa in the novel, decided to move his family to Stockholm. My father had been newly recruited as telecoms engineer for a company called LM Ericsson (you may recognise the name as a Swedish mobile phone company), and the firm wanted him to spend a year at their head office in Stockholm.

So, together with many other families from Finland, we relocated from a small town in Finland to the bright lights of Stockholm.

Finns in Sweden

Finland's post-war economic hardship encouraged migration to Sweden, with a promise of better jobs and living conditions. However, many Finns found the move difficult. There was a considerable language barrier and discrimination, with Finns cast as vodka-swilling brutes, brandishing knives, and disrupting the daily lives of the sophisticated Swedes. Naturally, these were stereotypes, the use of which fortunately today is rare. However, in the 1970s, many Finnish people living in Sweden were routinely treated as inferior. 


As a young girl, I too felt the discrimination against us Finns in Stockholm. Whether at school, travelling on the tunnelbana (underground), or in the shops, my accent would betray me and Swedish people would give me disapproving looks, or turn away if I spoke to them, or be just outright rude. I lost count of how many times I heard the derogatory term finnjävel (which translates as Finnish bastard or devil).

Family disintegration

This prejudice against Finns in Sweden had a huge mental health effect on my family. My sister and I decided to learn Swedish, and the Stockholm accent, so well that no-one would know we were from Finland. Once, we even told our mum not to speak to us on the tunnelbana else we’d be rumbled as being Finns. I’m hugely ashamed of our actions, but we were young and desperately wanted to belong.

Our mum began taking Swedish lessons, but in Sweden she found something even more inspiring. It was the 1970s and women all over the Western world were burning their bras. Feminism hadn’t quite reached the central Finnish town of Tampere, where my parents had met and married. Life in Finland in those days was more about hard work than politics. But Stockholm was another world, and my mother thrived in this new environment.

My father spoke rarely about the issues he encountered at his new office in Stockholm, or when out and about, but he began drinking heavily, isolating himself from the rest of us. With my mum spending more time out with her new feminist friends, and my sister out with her friends more than at home, I’m sure he felt he’d lost control of his life and family. His dissatisfaction grew.

As the younger sister, too young to stay out late with my friends, I was the only one at home with my dad, watching him slowly becoming someone else. He turned from the bear-hugging gentle soul I loved to a sad, lonely man with a drinking problem and a quick temper.

Coffee and Vodka

Decades later, during an MA in Creative Writing, I began penning a story based on my experiences living in Sweden as a young girl. I didn’t want to write a memoir, but I wanted to tell the story how moving to a strange country can destroy a family. I also wanted to show how differently a young girl sees the world, compared to a grown woman. And how this another perception of the past events can destroy future relationships.

Together with my (very kind and patient) tutor, I worked on Coffee and Vodka for nearly a year after I finished the course at Bath Spa University. I learned a huge amount while writing the story, but I also believe spending all that time polishing the text benefitted the finished novel.

Coffee and Vodka tells an honest story from the perspective of a young Finnish immigrant girl, subtly revealing the complex family relationships developing under the pressure of an unaccepting community in Sweden. It authentically captures Eeva and her family's journey as they face a challenging life in a new country. 

The Blurb

Eeva doesn’t want to remember, but a return to Finland where she grew up forces her to confront her past.

‘In Stockholm, everything is bigger and better.’

When her father announces the family is to leave Finland for a new life in Sweden, 11-year-old Eeva is elated. But in Stockholm, her mother finds feminism, Eeva’s sister, Anja, pretends to be Swedish and her father struggles to adapt.

One night, Eeva’s world falls apart.

Fast forward 30 years. Now teaching Swedish to immigrants, Eeva travels back to Finland when her beloved grandmother becomes ill. On the overnight ferry, a chance meeting with her married ex-lover, Yri, prompts family secrets to unravel and buried memories to come flooding back.

It’s time for Eeva to find out what really happened all those years ago …

Coffee and Vodka has it all: family drama, mystery, romance, and sisterly love.


Coffee and Vodka is a rich story that stays with us….with moments of brilliance. – Dr Mimi Thebo, Bath Spa University

I loved reading this. After picking it up it was hard to put it down; I even missed my stop on the bus to carry on reading. – Goodreads reader

The descriptions of the difficulties of childhood, sisterhood, relationships, and parenthood transcend national borders. – Pauline Masurel, editor & writer

Coffee and Vodka opens our eyes to facets of a Scandinavian culture that most of us would lump together into one. I loved the way the narrative wove together the viewpoint of Eeva the child and her shock at arriving in a new country, with Eeva the sophisticated adult, returning for the first time to the country of her birth, and finding it both familiar and irretrievably strange. – Catriona Troth, Triskele Books.

Half-price Offer

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out what inspired me to write Coffee and Vodka.

You can now find this rich family drama at half price on Helena Halme Books when you buy any other paperback novel in the store. This includes all the books in The Nordic Heart and Love on the Island series, as well as my latest novel, To Melt A Frozen Heart and the Cold War spy novel, The Red King of Helsinki.

This offer is for fiction paperback books only.

Use code CV50OFF at checkout.

Happy reading and shopping!

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