Leena Pekkalainen is a Finnish writer and artist who studied Egyptology at Manchester University. She loves cats, horses, ancient Egypt, and above all, writing. In fact, she began to write stories as soon as she taught herself to read and write. Her books have one thing in common: ancient Egypt.
She is the author of How I Became a Mummy (AUC Press, 2016), the story about “Mr. Mummific”, a pompous mummy with an attitude, Mummies, Monsters, and the Ship of Millions, (AUC Press, 2018), the sequel, another hilarious adventure with Mr. Mummific, and Tutankhamun: In My Own Hieroglyphs (AUC Press, 2018), the famous boy-king of ancient Egypt, who chronicles, in his own hieroglyphs, the ups and downs of his short life and his very long afterlife.
What is it about Egyptology that really fascinates you?
On a general level, it is the basic humanness that connects us to the people of the distant past. The more you study, the more you understand we have so much in common. Fears, hopes, love, sorrow.
The surroundings may be different, but I can feel a connection to these people who lived thousands of years ago by seeing their emotions reflected in their everyday objects, their letters, how they buried their dead. The reason I write children’s books and fantasy books about ancient Egypt is to get children and young adults interested in history.
How much time goes into research before you sit down to write and draw for a book?
The research takes about a month or so. I have about 300 Egyptology books on my own bookshelf, so I make notes from them; also online, from trustworthy sources such as JSTOR. I write down what facts I need to bring out in the book, and in which order.
Then I plan the pictures necessary to illustrate the facts. After which I do another round of research, this time finding the details I can use for my drawings. Of course, I don’t expect to find every detail for my drawings before I start. I research as I go along. The writing process itself is pretty fast.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while writing your books
Details, details, details. To find the correct details for the time in which the books are set. The timeline of ancient Egypt is very long. Habits change, and designs change during thousands of years. I wouldn’t want to put in Ptolemaic details in a New Kingdom story.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Mr. Mummific sort of selected his name on his own. You may have read how he appeared on my sketch pad when I was taking a break from my Egyptology studies. I looked at the little fellow grinning at me, and I just “heard” how he exclaimed “Mummific!”. It sort of stuck as his name.
As I am not a native English speaker, I scroll around the websites searching for names I can use, and then checking to make sure those names aren’t too old-fashioned.
What book would you have liked to have written and why?
The Lord of the Rings. I adored that story when I was young. And of course, I tried to write something similar. Thankfully, I think those efforts disappeared a long time ago.
My stories aren’t about a ground of elves, dwarfs, dragons, and what have you, embarking on a never-ending sightseeing tour in an effort to get rid of magical objects. I prefer human mythology and to create my characters from these myths.