The Friendliest Little Crime Fest In Reykjavík - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Friendliest Little Crime Fest In Reykjavík

The Friendliest Little Crime Fest In Reykjavík

Published November 19, 2013

Larissa Kyzer

Going into its first year, Iceland Noir, the first ever Icelandic literary festival dedicated exclusively to crime fiction, has already set a high bar: months prior to the event it attracted over one hundred and twenty registered participants, many of whom will be travelling to Iceland from abroad to attend. Arnaldur Indriðason will be the Guest of Honour, and among the panel participants are a number of much loved and lauded authors such as Ann Cleeves, whose Vera Stanhope novels have been adapted into a popular BBC TV show; John Curran, a leading expert on the life and writing of Agatha Christie; and 2013 Glass Key winner Jørn Lier Horst. And yet, the idea for the conference has very modest–and spontaneous–origins.

“It arose over a curry,” says British author Quentin Bates, who organised Iceland Noir along with fellow crime writers Ragnar Jónasson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. The trio met at the inaugural meeting of the Icelandic chapter of the Crime Writer’s Association–the first CWA chapter, it bears noting, which has been established outside of the UK. Quentin says that they all thought “it was odd that Iceland had never had its own crime fiction festival. By the time we met again a few weeks later at CrimeFest [another international crime fiction festival], the decision had more or less been made to organise Iceland Noir ourselves.”

Keep it simple

This decision was only made in May, but “as you might expect from Icelanders,” Ragnar says, “we thought, ‘let’s do it this winter.’ We all have the same mentality. We weren’t afraid to do this right away, and it’s been very enjoyable. We have zero budget, but still haven’t spent a single krónur–everyone is volunteering and all the events are free.”

True to this communal spirit, none of the authors appearing at the conference are being paid appearance fees, and all of those who are travelling from other countries are paying their own way. Neither has there been a shortage of organisations and participants willing to freely offer their services: the Nordic House has made its facilities available for panel and reading events free of charge; the BBC and iTV allowed the festival to screen the first episode of the forthcoming “Shetland” series (based on books by Ann Cleeves) without paying for the rights; Eymundsson is staffing a pop-up bookstore stocked with books by all the participating authors; All Iceland Travel Agency is independently organising sightseeing activities for overseas visitors (although participants will have to pay for such tours); and Irish crime novelist William Ryan is even teaching a free crime writing workshop for festival guests and participants.

The idea, Ragnar says, was to make the whole process as easy as possible–a particularly important point given that all three organisers have full-time jobs outside of their writing careers. (These aren’t your typical day jobs, either: Ragnar is a lawyer, Quentin is a journalist and writer, and Yrsa is a civil engineer.)

“One of the things that made this possible was that none of us were looking to make money out of it, beyond hopefully selling a few books,” agrees Quentin. “The plan was to set up a friendly, informal event with a bunch of like-minded people. Crime writers really do like to enjoy themselves when they get together.”

Keep it open

When they started organising the festival, Ragnar, Quentin, and Yrsa simply invited fellow crime authors who they knew to participate, and the response was quite positive. “We had hoped that Arnaldur Indriðason could be persuaded to take part, but when he did say yes it was a bit of a surprise,” Quentin says. Through word of mouth and a little advertising, other authors heard about the event, and asked to participate. “We haven’t said no to anyone,” Ragnar says. “It’s not an invite-only thing. Any crime writer who approaches us would be welcome.”

This open spirit is extended to readers and conference participants as well. Beyond opportunities to meet at special outside events, like a Christmas buffet at Hotel Borg, readers will also be able to speak with authors throughout the conference. Each author will be on hand after panels to meet conference guests, sign books, and chat. “There’s no fun in just writers meeting writers,” Ragnar says. “The point is to allow writers and readers to meet informally, to get to know each other.”

Looking ahead

Even before the first conference takes place, Iceland Noir has already exceeded the modest expectations of the organisers. “What has taken me by surprise,” says Quentin, “is that people are already asking when the 2014 event will take place. We hadn’t planned to do another one–or, rather, we had planned to see how this one pans out before making any decisions on any more. But such is the enthusiasm for it that we find ourselves in the position of having to organise another Iceland Noir next year.”

The organisers have some ideas about how future conferences could expand a little–perhaps host some panels outside of Reykjavík to give foreign guests some exposure to the Icelandic countryside, or look for a larger venue so that more people could attend–but they aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“Ask me once it’s all over,” Quentin says. “We will have to take stock of it all once Iceland Noir is over and figure out what to do next year. One of my goals would be to attract writers from further afield, as there are so many of them in far-flung parts of the world. I’d also like to maybe move it between locations. We’ve joked about Iceland Noir in the Faroe Islands in 2017–but who knows?”


TALKING CRIME IN ICELAND

With more than 25 authors participating in this year’s Iceland Noir festival, there are plenty of well-known names from the Icelandic crime scene–including Guest of Honour Arnaldur Indriðason and co-organiser Yrsa Sigurðardóttir–as well as many notable authors, critics, translators, and scholars who will be arriving from the UK, Norway, Germany, and The Netherlands. In anticipation of the event, we reached out to participating authors to find out what they are most looking forward to about talking crime in Iceland.

Anna Yates

Anna Yates is an English-Icelandic writer and translator. Her translations include crime novels by Arnaldur Indriðason, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Árni Þórarinsson.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

I think it will be fun to have the opportunity to see, and hopefully meet, authors and other translators. For our visitors from abroad, I should think it will offer a great opportunity to see the real-life context of the Icelandic crime novels that have been selling so well internationally. But I hope the visiting authors don’t get so inspired that they all go away and start writing books set in Iceland!

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

I’m on the panel which will discuss The Perils of Translation – Does Icelandic Fiction Translate? along with Arnaldur, Árni, Óttar M. Norðfjörð, and German translator Tina Flecken, and I’m sure that’s going to be a highly educational experience for me. I’m also interested in the panels on A Sense of Time and Place and Writing Crime and the Future of Publishing – Do-It-Yourself and E-Books, so I’ll definitely try to get to those.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

I’ve been very impressed with Ann Cleeves’ Shetland and Vera books, and I‘ve recently discovered M. J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk novels, set in the Canadian Arctic. So I hope I may have a chance to meet them during the conference.

Do you write your own crime novels, or do you write in other genres?

No, I’m not a crime writer. I started out as a writer and translator with Iceland Review, and I wrote a book about the Norse discovery of America, which I’m hoping to republish in a revised edition soon.

Which of your translations is your favourite and why?

I’m particularly fond of Árni Þórarinsson’s ‘Tími nornarinnar,’ or “Season of the Witch.” I love Árni’s original voice and wicked humour, and I enjoyed the challenge of putting it into English. And it was a real pleasure to get to work with Árni!

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of translating (crime fiction) is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

The crucial thing for me is that the text should read naturally in English, but without obliterating what makes it Icelandic. I feel it’s important to retain some sort of “exotic” feel that is specifically Icelandic, without risking putting the reader off with complicated patronymics and place names, or getting bogged down in explanations about specifically Icelandic phenomena. But certain aspects of Icelandic society need some explanation, and Icelandic writers are always referencing the sagas and folklore, and, of course, the weather tends to play a major role.

I try to look at the text from the viewpoint of a reader who knows nothing about Iceland, but I bear in mind that many English-speaking readers have some background knowledge. I try to minimise actual “intervention” in the text. It’s always a judgement call: sometimes you can phrase things in a way that clarifies an issue. In other cases, I‘ll substitute something familiar to the English-speaking reader which has a similar resonance. And, of course, I‘ll occasionally decide that a detail is not that important, and chuck it out.

James Oswald

James Oswald is a Scottish livestock farmer who became an overnight sensation when his self-published Inspector McLean series sold over 350,000 copies. James has also authored the epic fantasy series “The Ballad of Sir Benfro,” comic strips, and short stories.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

Any place is good to discuss crime writing, I think. In the main, I’ve found crime writers to be very friendly and supportive people, always happy to discuss their craft and their favourite authors – especially when there is alcohol involved. Iceland, with its long, dark winter nights will be very atmospheric, and Reykjavík is a wonderful place to host such an event.

There seems to be a great deal of enthusiasm in the country for crime fiction and for Iceland Noir itself. If my experience the last time I visited is anything to go by, I am sure our Icelandic hosts will make it the perfect place to discuss crime writing.

How did you become involved in the festival?

I met the author Quentin Bates for the first time at CrimeFest in Bristol this year, and he mentioned in passing that he was trying to get an event organised in Iceland. I said I’d be interested if one got off the ground, and leapt at the opportunity to be involved when it was announced.

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

Probably the opening panel – ‘What is so special about the north?’ I have to admit to being woefully ill-read in all crime fiction, but Icelandic and Scandinavian especially, so it will be interesting to hear more on the subject and perhaps pick out a few names to start reading.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

I think they are all interesting, and the biggest problem will be finding time to get to all the panels. That said, I would like to learn more about Icelandic fiction, so the panels and speakers focusing on that will get most of my attention.

Which of your own novels is your favourite and why?

The next one! Because I hope I am always improving.

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of crime writing is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

For me, the biggest challenge is finding time to write! I run a livestock farm, with Highland Cows and Romney Sheep, that take up most of my day. Recent success has meant that I’ve been able to hire in help during the most busy periods, but it’s still a struggle sometimes.

On the other hand, I love the farming, and having something completely different to do helps me with the writing as well. It’s a family farm, too, so not something I could easily walk away from even if I wanted to.

Your self-publishing success story is rather inspiring! Now that you are being represented by Penguin, how has your writing (or editing) processed changed?

I now have an editor giving me feedback, which is wonderful. I also have deadlines, which are less so! Before, when I had no publisher and before my self-published success, I used to take my time with the books, polishing them endlessly. Now I have six months for each book, so I have to be a lot more focused and organised.

Have you been to Iceland before? Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing/doing for the first time, or seeing/doing again?

My partner Barbara and I had a wonderful week in Iceland about five years ago, staying mainly in Reykjavík, but also hiring a car and traveling around the south west for a few days. The weather was mostly dry, but incredibly windy, especially the day we visited Snæfellsjökull, when it was almost impossible to stand up. I’ve always wanted to come back, which was another reason for jumping at the opportunity when asked if I’d like to be involved in Iceland Noir.

Unfortunately, we can’t stay for long this time, so will just be in Reykjavík for a long weekend. As long as we can get to a good wool shop, Barbara will be happy.


John Curran

John Curran is an expert on the life and writing of Agatha Christie, and the author of two books analysing her creative process. He is working with her grandson, Mathew Prichard, to establish the Agatha Christie Archive, and wrote his doctoral thesis on Christie and her contemporaries at Trinity College, Dublin.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

I think the setting is a unique selling-point. And, ironically, the fact that until recently Iceland had no history of crime-writing and that this is the first ever convention to be held here makes it a significant one.

How did you become involved in the festival?

My friend Ragnar invited me to participate. I’ve known him for some years and as I was always talking about visiting Iceland, this seemed to be the ideal opportunity.

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

Well, I have to say my own Q and A interview with Ragnar! But I also look forward to the guided walk through Reykjavik in the footsteps of Erlendur and the interview with Ann Cleeves.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

I have met Yrsa Sigurðardóttir briefly at another convention, but I hope to meet her properly this time round!

What are some the greatest challenges you’ve faced in developing the Agatha Christie Archive? Can you share any unusual or little known facts about her with us?

One of the biggest challenges is the fact that Christie herself had little idea of the significance of her work and so was not interested in preserving her own material. There are lots of gaps!

She never went to school; she is the only female dramatist ever to have had 3 plays running simultaneously in London’s West End; and you can read a different Christie book every month for 7 years!

What are a few mysteries (other than Agatha Christie’s) which you particularly enjoy reading?

I enjoy the novels of Christie’s contemporaries, but of more modern writers I admire Colin Dexter, P. D. James, Elizabeth George, Charles Todd and, after my weekend in Iceland, lots of new Nordic writers!

Have you been to Iceland before? Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing/doing for the first time, or seeing/doing again?

This is my first visit and I am particularly intrigued by the prospect of darkness! But I am also told not to miss the Blue Lagoon and, hopefully, the Northern Lights.


Jørn Lier Horst

Jørn Lier Horst is the former senior investigation officer in the police department in Larvik, Norway. He is the author of nine crime novels starring Police Inspector William Wisting (also of the Larvik police), and is the first crime novelist to bump Jo Nesbø from the top of the best seller lists in Norway.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

I think Reykjavik is the perfect place to gather writers with a criminal mindset to talk about writing crime and meet with like-minded readers. The cold, dark climate of Iceland is the perfect setting for a crime mystery. I imagine that there are doors bolted and curtains drawn, and those who live here are taught to hide their emotions and keep their secrets.

How did you become involved in the festival?

The crime writer community in the Nordic countries is relatively small. I know two of the festival organizers, Quentin Bates and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, from before. Yrsa and I publish books through the same publishing house in Norway, and we have travelled around in Norway and visited bookstores. The fact that I received the Glass Key award [given to the best Nordic crime novel each year] for the book ‘The Hunting Dogs’ this summer is probably the main reason why I was invited to Iceland for the festival.

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

The organizers have put together a large and varied program. I look forward to attending the Opening Panel on Saturday to talk about “What is so special about the North?” with Ann Cleeves, Ragnar Jónasson, Sabine Thomas, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

I look forward, of course, to meeting my good friend Yrsa again. Ann Cleeves is starting to become very popular in Norway, and also I look forward to hearing more about her Shetland Mysteries.

Which of your own novels is your favourite and why?

I always think that the last novel I wrote is the best. Here in Norway “The Caveman” was just released. Otherwise, it would be my last book “The Hunting Dogs,” for which I won both the Norwegian Riverton Prize and the Glass Key. This comes out of a very personal story from which I have gained experience: I myself was a police officer unjustly accused of crimes and subject to internal investigation in connection with one of Norway’s largest racketeering cases.

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of crime writing is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

There are several things. Firstly, it must be a good and compelling story, but one of the major requirements that rests on the shoulders of a writer of police novels is the portrayal of interpersonal relationships. My novel is not just about what Wisting does with his cases, but also about what the cases do with him. That’s why Wisting changes from book to book, chapter by chapter—indeed almost from hour to hour.

But the most important element of a crime novel might still be credibility. My job as chief investigator for the Larvik police has obviously been an advantage for me. My strength as a mystery writer lies in my ability to portray police work from the inside. Part of my work is going behind the scenes, among the remains and traces of serious crimes. Another part of the job is to talk to the people who carried out the crime and the people who have been exposed to it—sometimes just with dependents and survivors. It helps to create a feeling of authenticity in my books.

What kind of challenges do you face when trying to incorporate your real life police experience in your novels?

Only my first novel was based on reality, and I had to balance the content between fiction and fact. In a way, I started my career as a writer on my first working day in the police: December 8, 1995. This was the day when Ronald Ramm was found raped and murdered in his own home in my hometown Larvik. It was a thrilling experience to be in such a crime scene, seeing how there had been a fight to the death going from room to room until it ended up in the outer corridors where Ramm was found slain and with hands tied. For a young policeman, it was a very special feeling to stride over the threshold into a murder scene, knowing that I went in the footsteps of an unknown killer. The murder of Ronald Ramm has been described as one of the most bizarre and brutal killings in recent Norwegian criminal history.

What really happened at that time, 18 years ago, is still not known. The killer has never been caught. The murder mystery has engaged me ever since. My debut novel, ‘The Key Witness,’ is based on this unsolved crime mystery, and offers a fictional solution.

Have you been to Iceland before? Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing/doing for the first time, or seeing/doing again?

I visited Iceland the first time when the book ‘Closed for Winter’ was released. At that time, I my wife was with me and we had a nice trip. We rode Icelandic horses and got to experience Geysir. This time, I’m coming with my son, and it’s possible we’ll have time for a jeep safari in the exciting Icelandic countryside.


Quentin Bates

Quentin Bates is a British journalist for a nautical trade magazine and one of the organizers of Iceland Noir. He spent over a decade living and working in western and northern Iceland as a net maker, factory hand and trawler man. He has authored four crime novels set in Iceland, starring “country copper” turned city detective Gunnhildur.

What/who are some of the panels, events, or speakers you’re most looking forward to, either as a participant or as an audience member?

I can say that I’m dreading the panels I’m taking part in, as speaking in public isn’t something that comes naturally. But hopefully it’ll go down well on the day. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to the Perils of Translation panel, partly because I have particular interest in translation and also because Arnaldur is taking part in that one. Also, the final panel, Crime Does Pay! should be a good one.

What has been your experience as a non-Icelander writing about an Icelandic character in Icelandic settings? You use Reykjavík as a setting in some of your novels, but you’ve also used fictional Icelandic villages–is it more difficult to write about real places?

I found writing an Icelandic character came quite easily. I lived in Iceland for long enough and have been married to my own Icelander for almost thirty years, so I should have some idea of how they think. The younger generation is more of a problem to write about as so much has changed in the last decade or so.
As for the fictional location, it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where the model for Hvalvík is. I wanted to use a small community as rural/small town Iceland is so different from the Reykjavík area, but I didn’t want to be portraying any real-life mayors, café owners, taxi drivers, etc. It wasn’t so much the fear of getting it wrong as the fear of getting it inadvertently right and someone in a small town by the sea thinking I’d produced a deliberately unkind portrait of them.


Ragnar Jónasson

Ragnar Jónasson is a lawyer and one of the organizers of the Iceland Noir crime fiction festival. He is the author of the Dark Iceland crime series, set in Northern Iceland. His novels have been translated into German and the series is currently being developed for television by Sagafilm in Iceland.

Several aspects are consistently discussed when talking about Icelandic (or Nordic) crime novels: the austere, cold, grim settings; the general lack of crime; the stoic detectives. Do you think these are representative traits of Icelandic crime fiction? What kind of responses have you received from people who are familiar with the real locations you use in your own novels?

It is partly true that the setting is usually quite strong in Icelandic crime novels, because we live in such an unusual country. The land, the nature, and the weather are all quite important to us. And it is so close. So it is hard to write a book set here without those elements. I set my books in the North, and use real places. Arnaldur uses Reykjavík. Yrsa has used the West Fjords, the Westman Islands, and even Greenland.
I used my father’s hometown, Siglufjörður, as the setting for my novels. I’ve spent a lot of time there and no one has complained. A lot of people seem to have read my books and apparently enjoy the setting. I try, of course, to be very accurate in describing the streets and places. I wouldn’t write about a place if I hadn’t been there.

Who are some other Icelandic crime authors you’d like to see gain a greater audience?

All of them. They all have a claim to a greater audience, although some are already quite successful. If Iceland Noir could help to put some Icelandic authors on the map, that would be very enjoyable result.


Susan Moody

Susan Moody is an English novelist who has authored two crime series starring amateur detectives Penny Wanawake and Cassandra Swann, as well as many stand-alone mysteries. She has also written a number of dramatic and romantic novels, and is a former chairman of the Crime Writer’s Association as well as the former president of the International Association of Crime Writers.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

Iceland has a reputation as having a very high level of literacy, and one of the largest sales in the world of books per capita; it’s always a pleasure to visit a country where the printed page is still a primary source of enjoyment. This tradition must come from the Sagas, and the fact that telling stories – often reading from books – was one way of entertaining people in the freezing dark of winter.  These factors immediately mark Iceland out as an excellent place to discuss writing of any kind.

In addition, crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason now has world-wide best-selling status, closely followed by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and there are several other crime authors coming up behind them at a fast clip. And the landscape of the country itself is intriguing enough to make any festival held there unique. In addition, Quentin Bates and Michael Ridpath, both English authors, set their novels in Iceland, thus expanding the circle of exposure to your fascinating and unusual country.

How did you become involved in the festival?

I had the great pleasure of meeting the energetic crime guru, Ragnar Jónasson, at a crime conference in Bristol earlier this year and was delighted and honoured to be not only created an Honorary Icelander, but also to be immediately drafted into the new Icelandic branch of the British Crime Writers’ Association. After much earnest literary discussion over glasses of this and that, a mini-festival in Reykjavik seemed to be not only inevitable, but absolutely essential.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

As a member of the International Association of Crime Writers (AIEP), I have had the pleasure of meeting several Icelandic authors at previous crime events, including the occasion on which the annual AIEP conference was held in Reykjavik. I therefore greatly look forward to meeting many of them again in November.

Which of your own novels is your favourite and why?

I like them all, otherwise I wouldn’t have written them! But if I had to choose, it would be “Falling Angel,” “The Colour of Hope,” (which was translated into Icelandic) “Loose Ends,” or “Losing Nicola.” The latter two are among my more recent books. “Loose Ends” I particularly like because a) it’s a good story, b) it’s had tremendous reviews in the US, and c) because it was such enormous fun to write.

“Losing Nicola” was also an enjoyable book to work on because it took me back to my childhood in a small seaside town, a few years after the end of WW2.  Reliving the past is always interesting, especially when viewed from the perspective of the present, though I certainly don’t look back on those much simpler and more spartan days as being idyllic or rose-coloured.  Life wasn’t easy back then, and people – especially the English – were so much more inhibited.  Hooray for the 60s, and the final snipping of the Victorian umbilical cord!

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of crime writing is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

Finding new ways to involve a non-professional sleuth in murder grows increasingly complicated, especially as today the police have so much more technology at their finger-tips.

But the crime novel has grown in literary stature over the past decades and is important as documentation of the way we live now, reflecting our social and cultural issues in a way no other fiction does. Crime fiction writers have become social historians. It’s therefore significant that while we bear in mind that crime fiction’s major function is to entertain, all good crime fiction has a didactic element within its pages, a sub-text which looks at major contemporary issues such as racism, trafficking, child abuse or sexism.

In my view, it is of particular importance that in crime fiction, women are treated as people, and not simply as victims to be raped, terrorised, and sadistically murdered, with each detail of their degrading deaths salivated over. So getting this message across should be a challenge that the responsible writer must face, as many of them do.

Is there anything that makes writing a stand-alone crime novel easier or harder than writing a novel in a series?

I find stand-alone novels more satisfying to write, because they are usually longer than a series, which gives the author much more room to develop character, plot and setting. A series character can very easily grow stale, and there is, too, the problem of deciding whether time stands still, so that each new book takes place at more or less the same time as the last one, or whether to age the character with each successive novel.

Have you been to Iceland before?

I’ve been to Iceland several times, mainly because my son lives there with his beautiful Icelandic wife and my grand-daughter.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing/doing for the first time, or seeing/doing again?

I’ve never seen the Northern Lights, nor whales, and I would particularly like to see both.  I don’t think this time of year is the best for Northern Lights: maybe the whales will be around, though. Otherwise, there is the National Gallery, the restaurants, the cathedral, and various other museums, which I always enjoy.


Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Sólveig Pálsdóttir is an Icelandic author, actress, and teacher. She has published two crime novels—‘Leikarinn’ (“The Actor”) in 2011, and ‘Hinir Réttlátu,’ (“The Righteous”) in 2013.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think makes Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

As far as I know, Iceland Noir is the first literary festival held in Iceland that’s specifically tailored to crime writing. Ragnar Jónsson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Quentin Bates have worked incredibly hard on preparing the festival and have done an amazing job. There’s obviously a lot interest in it, both in Iceland and in other countries. We’re expecting a lot of guests, which is not surprising given that there are few places in the world better suited to the discussion of dark and dreary things than Iceland in mid-winter.

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

I will be participating in a panel called “Writing Crime and the Future of Publishing” and I’m a bit nervous because it’s my first time doing anything like this. I find it a lot harder to talk about writing and my books than to actually write them. Although I’ve never in my life been called shy! But I’m really excited to listen to the other authors.

A panel that has a personal connection to me is “Transferring Crime Fiction to the Screen” since my first novel, ‘The Actor’ is about to be adapted for the screen in the next few years. Another one is “The Perils of Translation – Does Icelandic Fiction Translate?” Both my novels, “The Actor” and “The Righteous Ones” are being published in German. It’s a very special feeling having your work translated into another language.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

There are loads of exciting and interesting authors attending the festival. I have read the work of some of them but not all, so I don’t feel fully qualified to pick a favourite yet. The guests of honour, Arnaldur Indriðason, Ann Cleeves and Dr. John Curran all have a lot of experience and a lot to share.

Which of your own novels is your favourite and why?

The book I’m writing each time is my favourite. Right now I’m busy working on my third, which is both exciting and demanding, but also very rewarding. My first novel “The Actor” was published in spring 2012 and the “The Righteous Ones” last spring. Both those novels have taken on a life of their own and have even started to travel the world! So they don’t really need me anymore. My new novel, on the other hand, is still in its infancy and thus needs a lot of nurturing.

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of crime writing is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

Writing good crime fiction is a big challenge. In Iceland, the genre is relatively new, although of course we have written about death and murder since the island was settled. The Sagas are full of both and can be really suspenseful even though you know the outcome beforehand, which wouldn’t work with modern crime fiction.
When you write crime fiction you need to weave a web of multiple strands, parts of which the reader can see occasionally, but you also need to be careful not to give too much away. Additionally, you need to do a lot of research and keep your facts straight. Creating characters and the interaction between different characters has always been my favourite part of the process. I’ve always been very interested in what makes a person who they are. Being an actress for ten years and then a teacher for fifteen can teach you a lot about human nature.

Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson

Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson is the author of seven crime novels, and has been twice nominated for the Glass Key Award. His book ‘Daybreak’ was adapted for the 2008 TV crime series ‘Mannaveiðar’ (“Manhunt”).

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

There is almost no daylight in Reykjavik in late November. That will set the Noir atmosphere. In the other hand Reykjavik´s residents welcome all visitors and in the tourist off season the service can be pleasant and relaxed. Our foreign guests will feel comfortable because most Icelanders speak English (like me: with a funny accent and rather limited vocabulary).

How did you become involved in the festival?

As a new CWA member, I just tagged along. Ragnar, Quentin and Yrsa are doing all the work. I am just an interested participant.

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

Without my knowledge, I was added to the panel Transferring Crime Fiction to the Screen. So that is the one I‘m most interested in at the moment.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

I have met authors who were not much fun to be with, but I’ve never met a boring crime writer. I look forward to meeting and getting to know all of them.

Which of your own novels is your favourite and why?

Which of your children is your favourite? There are not many who can or are willing to answer that question. “House of Evidence” was with me for many, many years, “The Flatey Enigma” takes place on a very special island I knew very well, “Daybreak” was the first of my books to make it to the screen. Everyone of them is special in some way.

I believe that you have a full time job in addition to writing—is it difficult to balance these two work lives? Would you want to write full time if you could?

My life is good as it is. I have a day job I really like, excellent co-workers and a decent coffee machine at the workplace. Occasionally it’s fun to think of new ways to kill people, but I don‘t need to do that all the time.

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of crime writing is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

My genre in crime writing is the slow-paced mystery. It has to have a riddle which an observant reader can solve before the solution is revealed in the story. To muddle the process, red herrings are scattered all over the story. But in general, writers of crime fiction face the same challenges as authors of all genres, which is thinking up a damn good story and writing it in a readable style. The way to do it is hard work and never settling for cheap or strained solutions.

Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel when she was fifteen, and created the no-nonsense Charlie Fox after receiving death-threat letters as a photojournalist. Her work has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards, as well as twice for the CWA Short Story Dagger.

What do you think will make Iceland Noir a particularly unique or interesting festival? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss crime writing?

The traditional place for storytelling is round a campfire. The cold, dark, glittering Icelandic winter nights seem the ideal setting for some equally dark noir crime fiction. And the landscape of Iceland itself will attract visitors who, like me, have been just itching for a good excuse to visit such a beautiful place. Plus the line-up of authors is stellar, and having the events free to the public should ensure a good crowd.

How did you become involved in the festival?

I saw the Iceland Noir festival’s page on Facebook and commented on it. Iceland strikes me as a fascinating place and I’ve always wanted to go there, so I was delighted to receive an invite from one of the organisers, Quentin Bates. I’ve just had a research trip to the Middle East this summer, as well as going out to the Bouchercon World Mystery convention in Albany, New York, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get away again before Christmas. But the first year of any new festival is always special and I’m so glad that I’m able to be there.

What panel are you the most interested in participating in?

I’m lucky enough to be on two panels. I’m moderating one called ‘Writing Crime and the Future of Publishing — Do-It-Yourself and E-Books,’ with Quentin Bates, James Oswald, Sigurjón Pálsson and Sólveig Pálsdóttir. I’m reading books by these authors at the moment in order to prepare. The route into publishing is so different in Iceland from the way it is in the UK and the States, plus the fact that the whole industry is in a state of flux with the advent of viable independent publishing. It should prove a fascinating discussion.
My second panel is called ‘Crime Does Pay!’ with Jake Kerridge moderating. I’m appearing alongside Maxim Jakubowski, Susan Moody, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and Ӕvar Örn Jósepsson. There are a lot of different interpretations of this topic, so it will be very interesting to see where our moderator and my fellow panellists decide to take it.

Who is another author at the festival that you are interested in meeting or hearing speak, and why?

I’m very keen to hear just about all the authors at Iceland Noir, although I know it’s not practicable to go to every panel. But because there is only one panel track running throughout the festival it gives a much better chance to be able to catch most of my favourites. I’m particularly keen to hear the views of the Icelandic authors on the problems and opportunities they encounter on their way to publication.

Which of your own novels is your favourite and why? How did the experience of writing a stand-alone novel compare to writing your Charlie Fox series?

I always say my favourite is the NEXT novel — the one I have yet to write. I view myself as a craftsman rather than an artist, and so I am always working to improve my craft with every book. Writing the stand-alone mystery thriller “The Blood Whisperer” was a tough experience, firstly because the third-person viewpoint narrative required a change in style from my usual first-person series protagonist, Charlie Fox. I was also world-building from scratch. After ten books, a short story collection and a novella with that character, I knew her and the landscape in which she operates intimately. Setting the stand-alone in a new location, with a new heroine — ex-London CSI turned crime-scene cleaner, Kelly Jacks — was a challenge. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I found that when I finished edits on “The Blood Whisperer” and then wrote the Charlie Fox novella, “Absence of Light,” this summer, I did so with renewed enthusiasm. I intend to mix up series books and stand-alones more in future.

What do you think one of the most significant challenges of crime writing is, and what are some of the ways you approach that challenge?

My challenges now have two distinct aspects to them. For my series, I try very hard to keep the stories fresh and to keep thinking of new challenges to throw into Charlie’s path. I also want to keep the character growing and evolving in a realistic way. She is a complex and at times deeply flawed human being—a woman with the ability to kill when the circumstances demand it. It would be very easy to allow her to slip into caricature, something I’m very keen NOT to do. As for my stand-alone book, I intend Kelly to be the first in a line of strong female protagonists — but not Charlie Fox clones—whose first response when everything blows up in their faces cannot be to go to the police. The challenge will be to make each story compelling, appealing to readers, but also unique. So, no pressure then …

Have you been to Iceland before? Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing/doing for the first time, or seeing/doing again?

This will be my first visit to Iceland, but it has been on my agenda for quite a while. I hope to see the Northern Lights while I’m there, and also to venture out onto the glacier and see some of the fabulous countryside. I can’t wait!

Iceland’s First Festival of Crime Fiction takes place between November 21 – November 24 at the Nordic House. Admission is free.

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