Friday, 10 June 2016

How I Got Here From There (Iceland 2016)

In 2009, the year after the banking crash in Iceland, and the rest of the known universe, I decided the time was finally ripe for me to visit the unique North Atlantic hideaway and tick another country of my to-do list. It was back then a somewhat mysterious little island hidden away near the top of the world that I knew remarkably little about and yet I was very aware of its fearsome reputation for being cool as hell. A reputation that is, I can now categorically confirm, well deserved. Seven years later and here I am reflecting on exactly how that trip changed my life. I was so taken with the tiny nation of just over 300,000 people that I returned the next year and over and over again until I had somehow made six visits in the space of five years and finally decided that I was going to leave the UK behind and have a crack at making Iceland my home. I moved to Reykjavík from Belfast eighteen months ago and not only have I made the place my home but I would now seriously struggle to imagine myself leaving it. I read somewhere once that home is not where you come from but where you no longer want to run away from. Well, that’s what I’ve found.
Since my first visit here I have published two books ‘On A Small Island’ and ‘The Mistake’ which are both set in and around Reykjavík and now have a third and a fourth book on the way. I have been embraced by the close knit crime writing community here and am on the organising committee for the 2016 Iceland Noir crime writing festival which will be held at Nordic house in Reykjavík this November. Two years ago I attended the festival as a fan and this year I’ll be moderating the closing panel. That’s how quickly the weather can change around here. In the years between my first visit and my actual move here I spent a lot of time reading any translated crime fiction I could get my hands on from Iceland and got to know the work of authors such as Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Árni Þórarinsson, Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Since arriving here I have discovered that in addition to them there are many other local crime writers as well whose works are only now being translated into English or will be soon.

The crime writing scene here is much bigger than I could have ever imagined and everybody is very supportive of each other in a way you might not experience in larger countries. I can now count Sólveig Pálsdóttir, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Jónína Leósdóttir, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson among my friends here as well as British author Quentin Bates who spent ten years here before moving back to the UK and whose books are all set in Iceland. All of these lovely people will be appearing in one shape or another at Iceland Noir this year.

The idea for Iceland Noir was dreamt up in 2013 by Ragnar Jónasson, Quentin Bates and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and to their immense credit the initial one-day festival went ahead after only six months of preparation. In 2014 Reykjavík was the host city again before the festival moved to the Shetland Islands in 2015. It is now back in Iceland again for 2016 before it takes to the road once more and heads to Hull in England next year. It is one of the smaller crime writing festivals around but that is definitely part of its charm. Its size makes it very easy to mingle with writers and other fans, something that is not always easy at some of the larger festivals. When you couple its intimate size and its lovely local authors with the picturesque setting of Europe’s most northerly capital it really is a combination not to be missed. Just in case you need some more convincing to head up this way here is the website for the coolest crime-writing festival in Europe:

As well as the local writers we also have a superb selection of visiting authors from all over the world including Val McDermid and Craig Robertson from Scotland, Viveca Sten from Sweden, Sara Blædel from Denmark, Leena Lehtolainen and Kati Hiekkapelto from Finland as well as Alexandra Sokoloff and Jeffrey Siger from the US. There will also be one and two-day guided tours following the festival with local crime writers showing off some of their favourite destinations around the country and settings from their books including a tour to Siglufjörður with Ragnar Jónasson to see the locations from his Dark Iceland series.
There is a gala dinner with the authors at a luxurious inner city hotel on the Saturday night and a city crime walk with readings from a few handpicked local authors including myself on the first night of the festival. So it is definitely one to keep in the back of your mind if you’ve ever entertained any thoughts of visiting Iceland. 2016 might just be the year to do it. It really is a wonderful place and very easy to get to from the UK, mainland Europe and the US. In November the weather will be chilly and the days short but that will only add to the feeling that you are tucked away safe and sound at the top of the world with a bunch of crime-writing lunatics.

The festival coincides with the advent of the ‘Noir in the North’ conference at Háskóli Íslands (the University of Iceland) and one of our participating authors Val McDermid will be appearing at both events. The star of Icelandic crime fiction is very much on the rise at the moment with the huge success of Ófærð (Trapped) by RVK studios here in Reykjavík. In Norway the show drew 500,000 viewers per episode which is 10% of the Norwegian population and in the UK it pulled 1.2 million viewers per episode on BBC4. Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series has been optioned for television, Lilja Sigurðardóttir has sold the film rights to her book ‘The Trap’ and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s book ‘I Remember You’ has already been shot here in Iceland and will be in cinemas this Christmas. Iceland is quickly becoming a hot seat of Nordic crime fiction action after many years of being in the shadow of Sweden and Denmark with their shows such as The Killing, Wallander, The Bridge and those movies about the girl with the dragon tattoo. I can quite easily see this year’s Iceland Noir being the best yet and needless to say I’m really looking forward to it. In the next month I will be publishing my third book ‘A Place To Bury Strangers’ through Fahrenheit Press who will also be republishing my first book ‘On A Small Island’ while I finish work on book number four so it’s shaping up as a pretty busy year for us all and that’s just the way we like it here in Iceland. And now I’m off to the shops to get some more coffee.

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