Gearing Up For The First Iceland Writers Retreat - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Gearing Up For The First Iceland Writers Retreat

Gearing Up For The First Iceland Writers Retreat

Published April 4, 2014

Q&A with three visiting authors

Larissa Kyzer

Q&A with three visiting authors

The inaugural Iceland Writers Retreat will be held in Reykjavík from April 9-13 and features an exciting line-up of seminars and workshops lead by acclaimed authors from around the world, including Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks and Man Booker Prize nominee James Scudamore. Three of the participating authors spoke to Grapevine prior to their arrival here in Iceland, sharing their thoughts on Iceland, literary inspiration, and the view from their desks.

Registration for the Iceland Writers Retreat is mandatory (and now closed), but the public is invited to an open reading at the Nordic House at 8:00 PM on Tuesday, April 8. Each of our interviewees will be participating in the event, as well as Geraldine Brooks, James Scudamore, Susan Orlean, Joseph Boyden, and Andrew Evans. See more information about the event here.

Randy Boyagoda (Canada) is Chair of the English Department at Ryerson University in Toronto and a professor of American Studies. He is the author of two novels, Governor of the Northern Province (long-listed for the 2006 ScotiaBank Giller Prize) and Beggar’s Feast (long-listed for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize). He will be leading two workshops at the Iceland Writers Retreat: “Great Expectations: Beginning Literary Fiction” and “Fiction and Family History.”

Have you been to Iceland before?

Yes, once, for about two hours – an airport layover en route to Paris. The landscape looked beautiful and striking from a terminal window!

What do you think will make the Iceland Writers Workshop a particularly unique or interesting event? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss writing and work on craft?

I think the curators have brought together a lively group of instructors and struck the right balance between instruction, community, and time for the most important thing, writing itself. Traveling somewhere new and distinctive is always a great help to your creativity: experiencing this in a place like Iceland will be all the more meaningful, I imagine.

Who is an author whose work has been in some instructive for your own?

William Faulkner ranks as the most important influence on my own writing. He was able to explore the complexities and universalities of human experience with a force and beauty matched by few in 20th century literature, and he did this by focusing his attention on the lives of people living in a remote and deeply-rooted place.

Who is an author whose work you love to read, but would never want to emulate?

I enjoy David Foster Wallace’s fiction and I’m glad someone wanted to write like this and did it so well.

What is one aspect of writing that you find particularly difficult? Do you have any tricks for approaching that challenge?

I’d say the aspect of writing I find particularly difficult is finding time and mind-space to write when you have a full-time day job and a busy family life (my wife and I have four daughters aged eight and under). Tricks: making notes about fiction while in workplace meetings and/or getting up extremely early in the morning.

Where do you do most of your writing? When you are sitting in your workspace, what are three things that you see?

I have an office in the basement of our home. When I’m writing here, I see a portrait of my wife that a painter friend of ours gave us for our wedding; I see stacks of books that have various relationships to my various writing projects; I see stacks of lego that have made it into my office somehow…

***

Iain Reid (Canada) is the author of two comic memoirs: One Bird’s Choice (winner of the CBC Bookie Award for Best Nonfiction Book) and The Truth About Luck (named one of The Globe and Mail’s top 100 books of 2013. He will be leading the workshops “Writing Your Life” and “Reading to Write.”

Have you been to Iceland before?

I’ve been to Iceland once before. A few years ago, I spent about a month wandering around Iceland. I was mostly in Reykjavík, but also made it up to Akureyri and did some hiking and sea swimming. I saw the Northern Lights while lying in a natural hot spring.

What do you think will make the Iceland Writers Workshop a particularly unique or interesting event? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss writing and work on craft?

The opportunity to meet and chat with other authors and the delegates, from different backgrounds and countries, will make for an interesting, enjoyable retreat. And the chance to meet the volunteers and other Icelanders, too. Iceland seems like the ideal place for this event. Not only is Iceland physically unique, beautiful, but it has such a rich literary culture and tradition.

Who is an author whose work has been in some way instructive for your own?

I think most of the stuff I’ve read, and read, good and bad, has been, and is, instructive in some way(s). But I know that’s a boring answer so I’ll say Antonya Nelson.

Who is an author whose work you love to read, but would never want to emulate?

I don’t think I ever want to (consciously) emulate any writer. I hope not anyway. I read great stuff all the time, admire it, enjoy it, and know I could never write like that. In this way, I’m a pluralist. That’s a good thing, I think.

What is one aspect of writing that you find particularly difficult? Do you have any tricks for approaching that challenge?

Just getting started, on any project, can often be a particularly difficult part of the process. I like to eat a lot when I’m writing. I snack perpetually. When I get hungry, I sort of lose my focus, like those Snickers commercials. So I always have snacks, or snack debris, on and/or around my desk/floor.

Where do you do most of your writing? When you are sitting in your workspace, what are three things that you see?

I do most of my writing slippered, at my desk. I wish I could tell you something interesting, like my view is some large body of water, but it’s not. My desk is facing a blank, yellowish wall. I sometimes just stare at the wall, or will take breaks by lying down on the floor and looking up at the ceiling. I do have a note I wrote to myself a long time ago on a blue sticky pad. It reads: “What are you doing?” It’s still up on the wall and sometimes I look at it.

***

Sara Wheeler (UK) is a travel author whose acclaimed bibliography includes several accounts of journeys around Antarctica: Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica and The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle. Her workshops at the Writers Retreat will be “Finding the Story” and “Dialogue in Travel Writing and other Non-Fiction.”

Have you been to Iceland before?

Yes, but not properly – four years ago I got off a Russian icebreaker in Reykjavík after a voyage across the Arctic Ocean. I had a day – of course, visited the Blue Lagoon! I am looking forward to seeing more of the country.

What do you think will make the Iceland Writers Workshop a particularly unique or interesting event? Is there anything that you think will make Iceland a particularly good (or bad) place to discuss writing and work on craft?

I think the dramatic landscape of Iceland will inspire us all. It is a unique opportunity for participants and tutors alike to immerse themselves in writing stuff in a fresh setting quite unlike any other – at least that is how I imagine it.

Who is an author whose work has been in some way instructive for your own?

I would cite the travel writer Norman Lewis, who died a few years ago. A wonderful author with perfect pitch.

Who is an author whose work you love to read, but would never want to emulate?

Probably V.S. Naipaul. A genius, and arguably the greatest living writer of English prose. But what a monster.

What is one aspect of writing that you find particularly difficult? Do you have any tricks for approaching that challenge?

Writing is hell! Few tricks, except read all the time, and write every day. Then rewrite.

Where do you do most of your writing? When you are sitting in your workspace, what are three things that you see?

I do most of my writing in my office at home in Hampstead in north west London. I look out on huge, old plane trees, the sky, and when I look to one side I see my ice axe hanging on the wall with my name painted on the side. It takes me far away to happy times in the Antarctic.

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