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 author 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!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Two Girls On A Train

Somewhere between the cities of Hull and London (Grantham perhaps?), on a train, the idea for Rotorua Noir was born. Two good friends of mine (who shall remain blonde, Nordic and nameless – for the time being at least) starting chatting to each other about the possibility of a crime writers festival in New Zealand. As I was well over 11,000 miles away at the time I can only guess as to why this topic of conversation came up but that’s exactly what I’m going to have a crack at right now. You see, I had just returned home after a disastrous relationship and I suspect it may well have had something to do with that. One of these fine ladies knew that I had found myself at something of a loose end back here in New Zealand and she had guessed (very correctly) that I needed something to keep myself occupied. And she’d have been right. I was in dire need of something to do to take my mind off things.

So when she finally got home she got in touch with me and told me about their idea. The idea that was born on a train. First of all I thought it to be nothing more than a rather flimsy flight of fancy but the more I thought about it the more it appealed to me. Why shouldn’t we have a festival of our own? I had attended a few in the UK while I’d been living there and even helped organise one while I’d been living in Iceland. I knew how they worked and people loved them. They’re a great way of getting writers and readers together and that always has to be a good thing. It’s hard to think of a more disconnected job than writing books and the need for authors to get out there and meet their fans is a very real one. On top of that I had seen the visibility of Kiwi crime writers swell significantly over the last few years. Thanks mainly to the publicity they were getting through the work of Craig Sisterson and his Ngaio Marsh Award. I had met Craig in Reykjavik at Iceland Noir and knew that he was the man to help me see this through. He was the first person to ever write anything about me – on his Crimewatch blog – and I knew that that piece of exposure had led to many more. And I also knew that I couldn’t possibly be alone in feeling this debt of gratitude to him.
Surely other Kiwi crime writers would feel the same way. It was time to find out one way or another.

So I dusted off my old Facebook page which I’d happily mothballed over two years ago and got to work figuring out how many crime writers we had in New Zealand. It was a laboured and rather awkward job at first and I’m still not sure I know exactly how many there are – but after talking to Craig in great depth about this it appears I am not alone in this – but at least I was able to put something of a list together and find most of these wonderful people out there in cyber land. After that it was just a matter of testing the waters and seeing who might be interested in coming to Rotorua in a year’s time to meet everybody else. As it turned out pretty much everyone I contacted was keen to do just that and so the idea first conceived of by two girls on a train somewhere just outside of Grantham (I like to amuse myself) took root in the volcanic soil on the shores of Lake Rotorua and I now find myself about to put tickets on sale for the first ever crime writers festival to be held anywhere in Australasia. Yes, that’s right, we’ve got another one over on the Aussies which is just the icing on the cake really.

The festival will be held at the home of a local theatre company here in Rotorua. The Shambles Theatre was formed in 1951 and puts on three major productions a year. Rotorua Noir will be held during a short break in their rehearsal time on the 26th and 27th of January 2019. There will be two days of panels and interviews at the Shambles as well as a day of workshops at a different venue held by Kiwi crime writer, radio host and TV presenter Vanda Symon. The idea of the workshops is to engage aspiring writers and to encourage the next generation of novelists in New Zealand to learn their craft. To that end we will also be running the Rotorua Noir Short Story Competition. Entries will open next week and will close on October 31st. The stories should be set in or around Rotorua and in keeping with the theme of the festival they should be of a dark or vaguely menacing nature. Or even extremely menacing if you like. They should also be no longer than 10,000 words long. The winner will be announced in December and will win a free pass to the festival, access to Vanda’s workshops and the opportunity to read from their work on stage at the festival.

Details on how to enter the competition will be on the Rotorua Noir website which will be up and running next week along with a link to take you to the ticketing site where tickets for the festival will go on sale March 1st.

As far as who you might get to see at Rotorua Noir, well, as well as the two mystery girls on a train who are definitely coming because it’s basically their festival, we’ve already had two other international writers agree to appear for us. One Scot and one Australian. We’re going to keep their identities under our hats for just a little but longer though but you’re going to love them. That’s one thing I am happy to tell you right now.

Interest in attending the festival has not been limited to New Zealand either or to just authors. Fans of the genre from Australia, America and the UK have already been in touch to let me know that they will be scooping up tickets as soon as they go on sale.
So it seems that from darkness great things can indeed grow. With a little help from a couple of girls on a train. I’m starting to feel like a certain Ray Kinsella staring at what was once an Iowa cornfield slowly becoming more convinced that if I build it they will in fact come.

Rotorua Noir – January 26th and 27th 2019 – Shambles Theatre Rotorua – Two days of awesome panels and interviews – One day of inspirational workshops – Four international guests of honour and a whole bunch of Kiwi and Australian authors – Two girls no longer on a train.