Iceland Noir: it’s happening again!
People thought we were nuts at the time, when in reality we were suffering from good old Icelandic gung-ho enthusiasm. This year, we ought to know better. Three of us—Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and I—got together last year to organise a small crime fiction festival in Reykjavík. After all, how hard could it be? We had all been to a few of these, and it didn’t look like it could be all that much of a headache.
It had seemed odd to us that Iceland didn’t have its own crime fiction festival. After all, there are plenty of them elsewhere. Denmark has a big one, as does Norway. There are a couple held every year in Britain, several in Germany and there are a great many in France, as well as no shortage of them in the States. But not Iceland. Like Sweden, Iceland has plenty of literary stuff going on, but not crime fiction. We felt it was time to put Reykjavík on the crime map, in a fictional sense, of course.
In fact, we organised last year’s one-day Iceland Noir in record time, a matter of months, and it worked out pretty well. It didn’t do any harm that we had some great names who agreed to take part; Ann Cleeves can take the credit for getting us off the ground, as without her instant and unequivocal “yes” when we enquired whether she’d go to Iceland in the middle of winter for a new crime festival, we might not have been so quick off the mark.
Then there was Arnaldur Indriðason, the king of Icelandic crime fiction. The lineup was already looking good with the crime writers we had press-ganged into making the trip to Iceland, but there was a sudden flurry of additional interest when we were able to announce that he’d be taking part last year.
Now, the second Iceland Noir is about to take place at Reykjavík’s Nordic House, on the 21st and 22nd of November. At the moment there are a few seats left. Being able to use Nordic House has made it all possible, but it is limited in size. As we daren’t bust the max capacity, and as we need to cover the cost of the coffee and the programme, this year we’ve also had to charge a festival fee. Tickets are available at the Reykjavík City Library—if you’d like one, email the trusty Úlfhildur (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details.
Intense criminal activity
There are a few more changes this year. To begin with, we invited Lilja Sigurðardóttir to join our informal board of organisers and her input has been a huge help. Iceland Noir is also two days this year instead of just one, as we figured that with so many people coming from abroad, we needed to offer them more than just one day of intense criminal activity. We had been concerned that we might not be able to fill up a two-day schedule; it turns out we could probably have filled three.
We have a fine lineup of local and visiting crime writers, from the big names of Peter James, David Hewson, Vidar Sundstøl and Johan Theorin to first-time authors with some interesting and challenging new ideas, ranging from those writing traditional whodunits, to some of the hardest-boiled crime writers about, to those with a supernatural tone to their work. Crime fiction is a remarkably broad church, with plenty to choose from.
As well as the Icelandic crime writers taking part in two days of panels and discussion, there’s a very varied crowd visiting for Iceland Noir, mainly from Britain, but also from Norway, Sweden and Finland, one from Greenland, one from Romania, a few from the US, and a writing partnership from South Africa. They all bring their own unique take on things, and a perspective on their home countries, or those countries they write about—the two aren’t always the same.
Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir and the Reykjavík City Library are taking part with a crime walk through the city streets. Last year was the Erlendur crime walk, starting at the Hverfisgata police station and finishing up by the library, but this year a whole new programme for the crime walk has assembled, starting at the Nordic House and taking in locations that feature in crime novels by a bunch of Icelandic and visiting authors—with some of the writers on hand to read excepts from their work at those very locations.
Although we’ve made Iceland Noir bigger and, we hope, even better this year, it hasn’t strayed from the original brief, which was to have a good time with a bunch of like-minded people. It has to be said that those people who sit in a dark room dreaming up intrigue and foul murder over a hot laptop tend to be a bundle of fun when they’re released into the daylight. Crime writers like to have a good time and things are never dull when they congregate. They buzz with curiosity, imagination and bonhomie, and appear to have an innate sense of direction for the nearest convivial bar.
Reykjavík is fortunate to have a very diverse crowd of visitors who will be here for a few days in November, starting with the Icelandic Crime Syndicate’s annual reading night at Sólon on the 20th (doors open at 8pm), with a scattering of visiting writers among the Syndicate’s members.
My personal list of what to look forward to? Norwegian writer Hans Olav Lahlum, Guinness world record holder for the longest interview (30 hours, one minute and 44 seconds) is on two panels. Louise Millar, Craig Robertson and James Oswald are coming from Scotland, each with their own outlook on crime fiction, and Craig’s latest book is set in the Faroe Islands—probably the first time an outsider has set a crime story there. Then there’s the new blood, a panel of debut authors, each of them with an exciting new story to tell. We’ll undoubtedly be hearing more from AK Benedict, David Swatling, Sverrir Berg and Sarah Ward in the future, but you saw them first at Iceland Noir.
Iceland Noir: Crime Fiction Festival
The Nordic House
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