Let’s face it. These are strange times. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Most of us are just trying to get by. Amid all of this confusion, Óttar M. Norðfjörð, novelist and head writer for ‘The Valhalla Murders’ (‘Brot’ in Iceland), has compiled his thoughts on the epidemic into a journal. Published in Mannlíf in Icelandic, the journal reveals the artist’s experience surviving in these chaotic times.
Stress and lockdown
Óttar lives in Spain with his wife and their two year old son. They have another baby on the way. While he and his family are healthy and safe, the entire country is currently on lockdown, meaning that people must stay inside except for absolute essentials.
Some people find this easy to deal with. “I’m a writer. I can work from home, in a way it’s not different from my everyday life,” Óttar says, adding that it’s not as easy for his wife, who is a photographer and used to being outside. However, since she is 33 weeks pregnant, they have decided to keep her away from the general public until the baby is born. “She hasn’t left the house now for twelve days,” he says, “So I go out for food like a caveman.”
This situation has, naturally, resulted in an increase in stress. Initially, Óttar intended to write about the situation in the form of a novel as a coping mechanism. “Since I write novels and screenplays, I thought fiction would make sense,” he says. But every time he sat down to write the novel, he hit a wall. “I failed miserably in the first days,” he admits. In the end, he decided he was too close to the crisis to write a fictional account of it. “I need distance. I need time away from this.”
Around the same time, the editor of Mannlíf approached Óttar to pen a longread in the form of a diary about the life of an artist in quarantine. The diary format felt comfortable to him, and Óttar had a draft ready in half an hour. “I realised there was so much stuff going on in my head about this that I really needed to get out,” he says. By the time the first draft was finished, he had to restrain himself from writing more. “I could have gone longer, but at the moment I feel like I got it out of my system.”
Besides sticking to word count, the biggest challenge for Óttar was trying to say something new. “There is so much stuff, memes, articles and blogs, and it’s endless,” he says, adding that he tried to bring some new perspective to the table. Since he is in Spain—a country on lockdown, with more than 4000 dead at the time of writing, and 56,188 infected—perhaps his account will serve as a warning for the Icelandic government to take the virus and its spread more seriously.
“Iceland feels like Spain felt two weeks ago,” Óttar says. “I guess Iceland will be in our position in, I dunno, two weeks?” That’s a chilling idea.
Check out the journal (in Icelandic) by Óttar M. Norðfjörð here.
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