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!

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