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.

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