His name is Snorri, he’s Icelandic and he writes about Vikings who chop each other up with swords. Sound familiar? Well, he’s just published a brand new novel… You didn’t see that coming, now did you? “I follow in the footsteps of my renowned namesake, and spin a yarn about Ólafur Tryggvason [King of Norway at the end of the first millennium],” Snorri admits, chuckling at the fact that he could be confused for Snorri Sturluson who wrote Prose Edda.
‘Swords of Good Men’ is Snorri Kristjánsson’s debut novel, the first part of a trilogy. “It’s a thriller about Vikings who live through a momentous time in history, when Christianity was hovering over Norway,” Snorri says, trying to explain to me in a few words what the story is about. “The plot centres on a conflict between representatives from these old and new worlds, but there’s also a love story, a dash of magic and a bunch of big guys hitting each other on their heads woven into it too.”
Becoming His Characters
That’s it, I tell him. I’m sold. After all, as an Icelander, I grew up reading awesome stories about Viking violence. But, wait a minute, why is Snorri writing a novel about Norwegians, in English? Where’s our beloved Iceland in all this?
“At the time when the story is set, in 996, Iceland was so isolated that it would have been such a hassle to have the characters travel to and from Iceland. It was just much easier to set a lot of Viking Age action in southwest Norway,” Snorri explains.
He also wound up having to do a lot more research than he had anticipated, noting that some of his decisions lead to frustratingly detailed efforts of research. “I decided that one of the main characters should be an herbalist which I soon realised meant I needed to be one too. So I did a lot of online research and worried my wife a bit when she saw numerous links to ‘how to poison someone with plants’ in my browser history.”
No Demand In Iceland
The decision to write in English was also practical. “I moved to England a few years ago to do a diploma in classical acting at LAMDA [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art], so I was acting in English. And then when I thought world domination would come easier through stand-up comedy, I started doing that in English too,” he says. “So when the idea of writing came up it was just natural to write in English. Also, I myself had only ever read fantasies in English so I’m far more used to thinking about this sort of world in English than Icelandic.”
But it’s not as if publishing companies in Iceland have shown any interest in printing ‘Swords of Good Men’ in Snorri’s mother tongue either. “They haven’t even bid on it. They simply state that those Icelanders who like fantasy stories read them in English, which is of course perfectly logical if the stories in question are never published in Icelandic,” Snorri says, winking deviously.
Nonetheless, Snorri isn’t too concerned about Iceland’s lack of interest. After all, he’s landed a triple book deal with a London-based publishing company, and his first novel is so far coming out in Britain, the United States and Poland. He’s also just too busy thinking about the last book in his trilogy, having just finished the manuscript for book number two.
Even though the market in Britain, or the English-speaking world, is considerably larger than the Icelandic market, Snorri says he was surprised to find that relatively few authors are full-time writers.
Snorri teaches English and other subjects at the Southbank International School where he has been solicited to write this year’s school play after writing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream last year. And, on top of that, he’s written two unsolicited scripts for feature films, which two production teams are currently trying to finance. Needless to say, he’s busy.
As an Icelander with no history of writing fiction, Snorri feels fortunate to have scored a book deal in London. “Well, being Icelandic might actually help, people do find it a little peculiar,” Snorri reasons, “but my road to getting published is truly the less travelled one. It happens so rarely that I have to admit I was ridiculously lucky.”
In short, a literary agent happened to attend one of Snorri’s stand-ups, approached him and asked whether he had ever considered writing a book. Snorri pitched her a few ideas and she liked his idea of “emo Vikings” so he sat down and wrote it.
“This book is the result of many, incredible coincidences, but it’s also the result of a few hundred man-hours,” he reiterates. “I was lucky enough that on the eve of the day that the Icelandic banks started collapsing, I was doing stand-up in a comedy club in London and an agent noticed me because she thought it was hilarious that an Icelander was telling jokes while Rome was burning, so to speak.”
Then hard work took over. “From that day, I woke up at 6:20, taught from 8:30 til 16:00, went to a coffee shop for three hours to write, then did stand-up in the evening, went to sleep at midnight and woke up the next morning to do it all over again,” he says. “Luck has nothing to do with efficiency.”