This October, a new Icelandic author launched into the expanding genre of Scandinavian crime fiction available in English. Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s thriller ‘Snare’ is the first in her Reykjavík Noir Trilogy, published by UK-based Oreanda Books, home of fellow crime author Ragnar Jónasson. Early reviews of ‘Snare’ have mentioned that it brings something fresh to the genre.
Lesbian crime fiction
One aspect of this freshness could be that a major theme of the book revolves around an unstable yet passionate love affair between two major protagonists—both women in their forties. For Lilja, writing about queer characters originates both from personal interest, and an interest in creating something new for the world of crime fiction.
“It’s all about untold stories,” Lilja explains. “Most of Western literature revolves around straight white men. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite books and plays are in that category. But I find it interesting that the world today is waking up to new stories that haven’t been told before. Creating characters that are different—in my case, lesbian characters—is a wonderful experience, because it’s something new for the reader, but also because I have a passion for it.”
The importance of foreign markets
This freshness might also be grounded in the unique voice she has as an Icelandic woman writer on the international literary scene. Despite a resurgence in translations in recent years, the availability of Icelandic female authors in English is low when compared to the gender balance of the local literary landscape, despite one of Iceland’s best known crime authors being Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.
“Yrsa has been a great inspiration to me, and one of my main supporters,” Lilja says. “Foreign markets are very important for Icelandic writers, as they offer larger sales than our mini-market here at home. They also offer connections and inspirations. I learn so much when I go to festivals where I get to meet other crime writers. I’ve noticed, though, that being from such a small, strange place makes you an ambassador wherever you go. People ask me as many questions about Iceland as about my books. I think that’s wonderful. I’m very proud to represent Iceland abroad, and do my best not to embarrass my compatriots.”
A crime writer and a playwright
Lilja has also earned critical acclaim as a playwright, and won the Play of the Year award in 2014. She says there are many similarities between writing crime fiction and writing for the stage. “I like form,” she says. “That’s why I love writing for the theatre. You can play with form but a play still has to have certain elements to work for an audience. Crime fiction is the same. It has to work for the crime fiction reader, who has certain expectations, but it also likes to bend the rules. I find this battle with the form fascinating. It’s a real struggle to get right at times.”
The theatre also gave Lilja an affinity for some of the traits that a crime author must have. “Working with actors improved my skills for constructing dialogue,” she explains. “Using humour as a key also comes from the theatre. When you have a funny scene or an awkward moment people let down their guard and open their hearts a little. That’s when you have a chance to jump in and break their heart or scare them to death.”
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