Friday, 22 June 2018

'Short and Sweet' Interview with Kati Hiekkapelto

                           Kati with her punk band 'The Bearded Women'

Rotorua Noir will be your first visit to New Zealand. Tell us what you know about New Zealand and what you’re expecting to see and experience while you’re here?

"I know that New Zealand was the first country in the world that gave women the right to vote. This was in 1893. Finland was the third in the world and the first in Europe, in 1906. At the same time, and the first in the world, we allowed full political rights for women to stand for election. So, we Finns and Kiwis share a similar history of being in the front line of issues regarding women’s rights, which we should both be really proud of.

"I also know that you have amazing nature and I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes. I am planning to do a hiking trip before or after the festival. I would particularly like to see a local moose.
Naturally I am looking forward to Rotorua Noir too. It is always very interesting to meet other writers and readers, talk, listen, learn and simply have fun. Events and festivals are very welcome breaks in an otherwise lonely job. And what an opportunity they are to see the world too!
To see a local punk gig would be cool too..."

You’ve been to several crime writing festivals all around the world. How are you expecting Rotorua Noir to be different to the other ones you’ve been to?

"Knowing the organizer Grant Nicol, I’m sure that Rotorua will be different. For the same reason, I am expecting something very special, humorous and fun."

The weather in Rotorua during January will be very different to your country in the grips of winter. What steps are you going to take to combat the heat and humidity?

"I have already started to acclimatize to Rotorua - without consciously knowing it -  almost two years ago I decided that I will not spend winters in Finland anymore. This happened in Reykjavik in November 2016 (at Iceland Noir). I flew to Tenerife straight after Iceland Noir, where Grant was one of the organizers. I felt a kind of strange connection between these mysterious volcanic islands and now I am going to volcanic and mysterious Rotorua, organized by Grant too. I believe it is all written in the stars and that everything is connected and that islands are my destiny. I will have no problem with the heat or the humidity."

Next January you will find that New Zealand and Rotorua in particular is very different to the little island off the coast of Finland you live on. There is no snow in Rotorua and not one single moose either, so you will immediately feel culture shock. Also, there are no saunas in Rotorua but with the humidity here in summer you may not notice them missing. It is a particularly dangerous place to visit with huge spouting geysers, giant volcanoes, pits of mud so hot it bubbles and geothermal areas with pools so hot you can cook food in them. What makes you think you’re going to make it out of New Zealand alive?

"What can I say? I am shocked now! No moose!!!!  I’m not very worried about volcanoes and stuff like that but the lack of moose is definitely a problem. I’m not sure if I can make it without them. But I will try. Inshallah!"

Thursday, 14 June 2018

'Short and Sweet' Interview with Fiona Sussman.

So, Fiona, you’ve just got back from a writers’ retreat in Iceland? That sounds like a lot of fun. As you probably know I lived in Reykjavík for two years and worked on the Iceland Noir crime writers’ festival up there.

#1: What were your first impressions of Iceland when you flew into Keflavík airport?

The day I arrived in Iceland the weather was wild and the cloud cover so thick that there were no sneak previews from the sky. But far from being a disappointment, this only added to the mystery of the place. Once on the ground, while waiting for the airport bus, I enjoyed the most delicious toasted sandwich and coffee ever, and from that moment knew I was going to love Iceland.

En route to my hotel I stopped at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s iconic geothermal spa. Soaking in the intensely blue water was the perfect antidote to jetlag. The wind howled across the water, churning it into waves; the steam rose to mingle with the mist; and people with silica smeared on their faces sloped past like specters. I had this sense of having arrived on another planet.

#2: Iceland’s known for some crazy foods. Cubes of rotten shark meat, ram’s testicles and grilled sheep’s head are among some of the weirder ones. Did you try anything out of the ordinary while you were there?

Let me preface my answer by saying that I spent a night (the week prior to my arriving in Iceland) in Tofino Hospital – Vancouver Island, with food poisoning. So by the time I reached Iceland, my bravery for adventurous eats had evaporated. I did not try any of the foods mentioned above, nor the horsemeat, minke whale, or puffin on offer. However, in the ten days I was there, I didn’t have one disappointing meal; the seafood was absolutely delicious!

A standout for me was a visit the tomato greenhouses at t, where over a ton of tomatoes is produced every day by the innovative harnessing of geothermal energy and carbon dioxide, and using bumblebees to pollinate the plants. We got to enjoy a delicious tomato-themed meal inside one of the hothouses, surrounded by tall green walls of tomatoes. Tomato cocktails, tomato soup, tomato ravioli, tomato-and-strawberry crumble . . . You get the gist. A truly unique culinary experience.

#3: The Iceland Writers Retreat was founded by the lady who is now the First Lady of Iceland. Did you get to meet her while you were there?

Yes, I did meet Eliza Reid. She is a delightful, very interesting person. She and Erica Jacobs Green, with whom she co-founded the retreat, are involved at every level – from planning the four days of immersion in all things literary, to engaging with participants. I didn’t actually realise she was the First Lady until I attended a function at the President’s residence; and there, standing beside the President, was Eliza. I think I slapped her on the shoulder in jest and said something really embarrassing like, ‘Eliza, it’s you!’

#4: As you can imagine I have a few friends in the crime writing scene in Reykjavík. Did you get to meet many of Iceland’s super-talented crime writing gang?

Yes! Thanks to Craig Sisterson’s introductions, I had the opportunity to share cocktails and some crime writing banter with Oscar Gufdmundsson, Lilja Sigurdardottir and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who were in the thick of plotting Iceland Noir 2018.

I was also fortunate to hear Yrsa give a reading from her latest book, at the home of the late Halldor Laxness (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955). This was a real highlight, as Yrsa was on the international judging panel for the Ngaio Marsh Awards 2017.

#5: Did you get to do any sightseeing while you were there? A lot of people say that Iceland and New Zealand are a little bit similar but there are some big differences too aren’t there?

After the retreat, my husband and I hired a car and travelled along the Southern Ring Road to Hofn– a spectacular five days of waterfalls, black sand beaches, basalt columns, lava fields, geysers, glaciers, and glacier lagoons. Icelandic scenery is moody, atmospheric, and vast.

There are definitely similarities with New Zealand – the geothermal activity, volcanic backdrops, black sand beaches . . . However, the landscapes are more intimidating in their expansiveness and wildness.

#6: You’ll be appearing at Rotorua Noir next January. What are you looking forward to the most about the festival?

It is very exciting to be involved in Rotorua Noir’s inaugural year. I have no doubt it will be a great opportunity to engage with crime writers and readers from all over the world, while showcasing and reveling in our unique literary culture.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

'Short and Sweet' Interview with Alan Carter.

Alan Carter was born in the UK but now resides in New Zealand and will be appearing at next year's Rotorua Noir writers' festival here in the Bay Of Plenty. He was recently asked to appear at Newcastle Noir in England and I caught up with him for a quick Q&A just after he returned.

#1: So, Alan, you’ve just been to the wonderful Newcastle Noir crime writers’ festival in England. It’s organised by a friend of mine, the fabulously crazy Jacky Collins who will be a panel moderator at Rotorua Noir. It sounds like everyone had a great time at Newcastle Noir. What was your favourite part of the festival?

"Newcastle Noir is a great festival held in a grand old building, the Lit & Phil, which oozes history, books, and grand thoughts. Jacky is indeed a dynamo who knows her onions (how is that for atrociously mixing your metaphors). There were so many great sessions and top rank authors lining up and all credit to Jacky for her obvious powers of persuasion. I think my favourite was Crime in Translation - Lilja Sigurdardottir and Roxanne Bouchard reading from their works in the original Icelandic and French and their respective translators reading the English equivalent and discussing the perils and art of what they do."

#2: You were born not too far from Newcastle? Do you get back there very often and what are your fondest memories of growing up there?

"I was born in Sunderland, about 20km away, but a world apart if you support the wrong football team. I loved the coastline, I grew up ten minutes’ walk from the beach at Seaburn and there are some specky limestone stacks just along the road at Marsden which I couldn’t resist including in Marlborough Man."

#3: You would have met quite a few authors while you were at the festival. Who were the stand out personalities for you either on panels or in person?

"Lilja is of course a real live wire and I enjoyed chatting with Mari Hannah who is building a large and devoted following with her NE (North-East England) set books. Newcastle Noir is good like that, intimate, with the chance to mingle with your peers and heroes (and heroines). Even managed a brief fanboy moment with Val McDermid who has said nice things about my Cato series."

#4: You’ll be coming to Rotorua Noir next year. What do you think we have to do to keep up with the likes of Newcastle Noir? Do you think for example that there might be some musicians hidden in our ranks?

"If there are they’ll have to be pretty good to match up to the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers - there's some serious musical as well as writing talent there. I think the intimacy and inclusiveness, not just among authors but between author and audience, which characterises NN (Newcastle Noir) is a good thing to aim for."

And given the size of the venue and the vibe that I will be bringing to the festival here in Rotorua, that is exactly what I'll be shooting for, Alan! 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

'Short and Sweet' Interview with Jacky 'Dr. Noir' Collins (Founder of Newcastle Noir crime writers festival)

 #1: What was the inspiration behind Newcastle Noir? Were you trying to recreate festivals you’d already been to or were you trying to do something in your own vision?

I’ve worked at Northumbria University (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) some 25 years now and in 2010 I moved from the Modern Languages department to concentrate on studies in Film and TV. I was keen to look more at crime fiction from Europe and the Scandinavian countries in particular. As part of this study, I set up the European Crime Fiction book club at Newcastle City Library and was tasked with creating two final year student modules in European Crime Fiction in Translation and European Crime Fiction in Film and TV.

In November 2013 I went to Reykjavik to attend the inaugural Iceland Noir festival and there met the amazing Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Queen of Icelandic crime fiction. A year or so before that I’d invited her to speak about her work in Newcastle, but ultimately was unable to host the event. Graciously Yrsa promised that when the time was right she would indeed come to Newcastle. At that first Iceland Noir, Ann Cleeves introduced me to Yrsa and before I knew it, she and I were plotting something similar to Icelandic Noir for the North East!

Six months later, thanks to the support of Kay Easson at Newcastle's Lit and Phil Society Library, Newcastle Noir came into being on May 4th 2014, when we held a crime fiction afternoon there. There were only three panels with a total of 9 authors, but when we asked the audience if they wanted to come to a similar event again, there was a resounding yes. Newcastle Noir was born in both name and spirit!

#2: What was your greatest challenge in getting the festival started?

Getting the festival started wasn't too difficult. However, it has proved more tricky as it's grown over the years to ensure that we can accommodate as many authors as possible on the programme and also to secure the finance to pay each author a small fee for their appearance, whilst still maintaining ticket prices that are accessible to all.

#3: You’re going to be coming to Rotorua Noir and helping us out by moderating a couple of panels. What are you looking forward to the most about coming over to New Zealand and taking part in our first ever crime writing festival?

I am thrilled at the chance to visit a country I have never seen before and I am keen to gain insight into NZ crime writing to know as many authors as possible. I'm even hoping to tempt some of them over for Newcastle Noir 2019!

#4: I’ve seen footage of the most recent Newcastle Noir including what appeared to be a bunch of crime writers singing a Rolling Stones song on stage. Out of all the criminally talented writers you managed to assemble this year who has the best voice?

If you're talking musically, I would have to say Christopher Brookmyre. If we're talking speaking voice, for me it was Lilja Sigurđadóttir. As you can probably imagine, I am very fond of the Nordic accents and Lilja's Icelandic lilt combined with her knowledge, wit & humour make her one one most engaging crime writers on the festival circuit. I know the NZ audience will love her.

#5: If you could wish for one thing to happen to you at Rotorua Noir what would it be?

As I mentioned earlier, having never been in that part if the world before, I'm looking forward to experiencing as much of the culture as possible. However, if I have to pick just one thing from the festival, I hope to return home with fresh inspiration for Newcastle Noir 2019.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

'Short and Sweet' Interview with Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Rotorua Noir will be your first visit to New Zealand. Tell us what you know about New Zealand and what you’re expecting to see and experience while you’re here.

Well, the first thing I think about when I think of New Zealand is of course my friend Grant Nicol :) He is the first Kiwi I really got to know and I have to say the man sparked my interest in visiting the country. If all New Zealanders are as lovely and talented as he is I might move there.
Another thing I think about is that it was a surprise for me to learn that the country was not named after Sjælland in Denmark (we Icelanders tend to think everything is named after Denmark, our former colonial masters) but after a place in Holland. I have of course seen photos of the amazing natural beauty and the very varied fauna and flora, tropical north and penguins in the south and all that. But I also heard that you launch a lot of rockets into space....what’s that all about?

You’ve been to quite a number of crime writing festivals all around the world. How are you expecting Rotorua Noir to be different to the other ones you’ve been to so far?

Well, my hopes are that I will get to hear New Zealand authors speak about their books. And I expect them all to be as friendly as Grant Nicol. I really expect the festival to be a friendly festival, not so very unlike Iceland Noir. I like festivals where you can get to know the other authors, engage in conversation with the readers and have many coffee-chats with different people. I hope it will be like that.

The weather in Rotorua during January will be very different to your country in the grips of winter. What steps are you going to take to combat the heat and humidity?

I will take a paracetamol in the morning to lower my body heat slightly and drink the water at room temperature. I was partly raised in Mexico so I have some tricks up my sleeve. One of them is to eat a lot of chillis. They seem to work for me in heat.

Along with being a playwright and crime novelist you also divide your time with some other very important duties. I have it on good authority that you are responsible for the quality control of all pies, pickles, sauces and condiments that are brought in from the UK to Iceland. Primarily pork pies and certain brown sauces that go very well with them. Along the way you have picked up the nickname the ‘Icelandic Minister for Food’. A role where you have been critical in the past of some of Iceland’s more traditional foods. 

Yes, I am a foodie. I love to cook and eat and talk about food, therefore my very respectable title amongst friends. (‘Minister for Food’). After having lived in many countries I tend to miss certain delicacies from them and go out of my way to get my hands (and mouth) on them. But regarding Icelandic delicacies...hmmm. We have a very mixed tradition of food here. First of all we have a very old tradition dating back to the Viking age and most of that food is rather.... shall we say... interesting. At that time people were desperate to preserve food for our long winters, as we did not have any salt because we didn’t have any firewood to boil sea water, we leaned on more traditional ways of preserving meat. This food is rather sour in taste and I do like it as I was raised on it, but for the younger generation of Icelanders and foreigners I guess it is not really considered food. We have a number of traditional ways of preserving food such as smoking, curing and even rotting it.
The other culinary tradition we have is Danish in origin and the Danish make lovely food as they learned most of what they know from the French. Most of our baking derives from Denmark as we did not really have any wheat here before the Danish rule.

My imaginary scenario revolves around these two extra-curricular activities of yours. Imagine two people you know are visiting you from the UK on separate days. The first person you like very much and want them to feel as at home as possible while they’re in Iceland. The second person you can’t stand and as far as you’re concerned you never want them to return to the country.

For the first person you make them a cup of Earl Grey tea to hand them as they walk through the door. What else do you bring them out of your personal stash of goodies from London to serve with their cup of tea?

I would serve them a slice of English pork pie to go with their tea. But I would also serve this person something nice and traditionally Icelandic, as we do - although the horror stories might not suggest it - have some lovely Icelandic food. How about a roast leg of lamb, some smoked trout as a starter and skyr with cream as dessert?

And for the second person, what traditional Icelandic dish do you make them to ensure they spend the rest of the afternoon on the toilet and never return to Reykjavík?

How about a burnt face of lamb, served on the skull, with some pickled ram testicles and maybe a little rotten shark? No? Really? You don’t even want to taste it?

No, Lilja… we don’t want to taste it. Thanks for asking though!